Most of us walk past homeless people with nary a second glance.
Then there are those who stop and offer a hot meal along with a heaping helping of kindness. That’s what Ayisha Sims does.
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Every last Sunday of the month, the founder of United Ummah of Philly collects all the meat, vegetables, pasta, and rice she can and takes it to 16th Street and JFK Boulevard to distribute to anyone who’s hungry. No questions asked. She’s been at it for eight years.
All the good that she does, though, doesn’t shield her from the bigotry that comes from being a Muslim woman in America. On Monday morning, she got her first piece of hate mail. It was from a woman upset about a disturbing video that surfaced last week on a Facebook page belonging to the local chapter of the Muslim American Society.
Mind you, Sims had absolutely nothing to do with that chilling video, in which youngsters at the Muslim American Society Islamic Center in North Philadelphia are shown repeating some pretty awful things in Arabic.
One girl says, “We will chop off their heads” to “liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem. Another little girl reads, “We will defend the land of divine guidance with our bodies, and we will sacrifice our souls without hesitation.” (The Inquirer has independently verified the translations.)
This is scary stuff. Especially from children.
Sims was disturbed, too. Not just by the video, but also by the fact that a total stranger felt that she was somehow to blame.
An email she received from a woman who called herself “Catherine” said in part: “Your secret has been leaked out. Now we all know how your organization really believes and feels. My only hope is that those children are not permanently brain washed into believing that this behavior is acceptable. This [mosque] should be investigated by Homeland Security or the FBI."
Good message. Wrong target, though.
“It’s just ignorance. It’s just people not knowing,” Sims said.
That’s what’s so galling about religious-based bigotry. It’s based on ignorance. It doesn’t differentiate.
It doesn’t distinguish between actual purveyors of hatred and those who abhor hate-based, anti-Semitic rhetoric and disavow it, as the Muslim American Society has.
I point this out because when atrocities such as last month’s synagogue shooting in Poway, Calif., by an alleged faithful Christian churchgoer are committed, Christians everywhere weren’t stigmatized. John Earnest, the alleged shooter, wrote a lengthy manifesto that cited theology in his twisted rationale for his bloody rampage. But that didn’t smear all Christians.
That’s not true for Muslims. Too often, all followers of Islam are scapegoated for the actions of others. I was reminded of that last week after I wrote about a Muslim gun enthusiast and heard from readers claiming she was a terrorist and that I needed to “be in a straitjacket” for not calling her out on it.
“Do you not know that the Muslims have come here to kill all of us as infidels?" one caller said in a voice mail.
I wasn’t surprised at that message.
Sims was, though. The Wynnefield resident was inspired by her difficult childhood, during which she lived in homeless shelters and once saw her mother doing drugs. A graphic designer, Sims coaches Muslim moms on how to run home-based businesses.
“If she had Googled me, she would have seen that I’m not about hate," Sims said about the emailer. “I don’t support anything like that. I don’t teach my children that. I don’t teach anybody else’s children that. I just wish that people would learn the religion before passing judgment."