PHILADELPHIA - A new series of crimes involving men dressed in Muslim full face veil is sending shock waves among Philadelphia Muslim minority, resulting in increasing concerns of rising Islamophobia and stigmatizing of the religious minority in the US Northeastern County.
"It just makes me sad that they would portray our religion in this manner," Keziah Ridgeway, a teacher at the Al-Aqsa Academy in Philadelphia, told NewsWorks on Friday, April 27.
"You can't see the face and so you don't know who's coming into your store. It's really just going to make it hard for Muslim women, whether you cover your face or you cover your head," Ridgeway said.
"It's just going to be something wherein people, when they see someone who looks like me, or they see another Muslim woman, they're going to think negative thoughts."
The attacks started last March when two suspects dressed in female Muslim clothing robbed a Sovereign Bank branch office at 8310 Stenton Avenue.
The same suspects are believed to have hit a Wells Fargo Bank located at 700 Adams Avenue on April 4.
This is a growing concern in our neighborhoods, City Councilman Curtis Jones told The Philadelphia Tribune on Thursday.
This concerns me because there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Islam and the attire they wear.
The Philadelphia Councilman warned that there attacks might result in stereotyping the Muslim women.
"For cowards to dress as [Muslim] women and perpetrate a crime is absolutely wrong. The district attorney is very concerned about this; the Muslim community is deeply concerned, Jones said.
This places young women in a stereotype and puts them in danger when people view their attire not for what it is, but as a tool to perpetrate a crime. We cannot stand for this.
Worried about the increasing attacks, Muslim leaders joined Philadelphia politicians to announce a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of anyone who commits violent crime in such as disguise.
The Muslim leadership of Philadelphia, represented by the Majlis Ash'Shura, unequivocally condemns the men who committed these crimes while disguised as Muslim women, Imam Isa Abdul-Mateen, Secretary for Majlis Ash'Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, said.
The Majlis Ash'Shura is announcing a $20,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of these men. Robbery and murder are abhorrent to the Muslim way of life.
Abdul-Mateen, the secretary for the Majlis Ash'Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, warned that these crimes were already affecting veiled Muslim women.
"It endangers our women, it disrespects our women, it makes a mockery of our women and Islam," he said.
"When they do this, it puts the Muslim woman in a bad light. It subjects her to being ostracized.
"I'm told that some ladies were forced to reveal themselves before they go into different places of business, because of this," he said.
Aishia Muhammed, a childbirth educator, said she has already been facing stereotyping recently.
"If I go into a store, to purchase clothes or shoes, there's definitely a lot of following me around the store. Or people will say instantly: 'Do you need help with something? Can I help you?'
"And it's not polite it's a little aggressive," she says.
Proud of the way she is dressed, Mumammad believes her hijab reflects modesty.
"Modesty is a huge part of Islam and it's something we love to do. We're not forced to do it. It's not a hardship or anything," she says.
"I love when I walk out the door that I'm dressed this way, and I'm comfortable, and it's a part of who I am."
Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said he is concerned that these recent incidents only serve to enflame hatred against Muslims.
Islamophobes love to see this sort of thing, because it gives them fuel to express their hatred, Hooper said.
Now they can say, See, this is why Muslim women shouldn't dress the way they do.' I think this offer of a reward is the right one in that it increases the likelihood that the criminals will get caught.
Yes, this does serve to nurture discrimination we've had reports of several situations where Muslim women were denied service because of the manner in which they dress. I think this is a commendable action, and I hope these men are quickly caught, he added.
Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to from 7-8 million Muslims.
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil.
Scholars believe it is up to women to decide whether to take on the veil or burqa, a loose outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women.