At the end of Ramadan, Kenney pledges against Islamophobia
On Friday morning, everyone wore their Sunday best.
Al-Aqsa Mosque on Germantown Avenue was a sea of two-piece suits, starched dishdashas, and colorful hijabs. Hundreds of Muslim families in North Philadelphia gathered to celebrate the beginning of Eid Al-Fitr — the three-day celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.
"Kul ‘am wa antum bi’khair!" they greeted each other.
May every year find you well!
After 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting and prayer, some 1.5 billion Muslims will celebrate Friday in communities just like this across the globe.
But not everyone will be posing for photos with Jim Kenney.
“I’ve never seen this much excitement for a local politician,” Marwan Kreidie, director of the Arab American Community Development Corporation, remarked as entire families stopped to greet the Democratic mayoral nominee.
Kenney was invited to the Eid kickoff at Al-Aqsa for another reason, though. Inside the brightly muralled building, he signed a non-discriminatory pledge towards an issue close to the hearts of the city’s Muslim community.
Back in March, an anti-Islam group began running controversial ads on the sides of SEPTA buses around Philadelphia. The ads analogize Islam with Nazi Germany, and call for an end of U.S. aid to all Islamic countries. Al-Aqsa, the Arab-American CDC, and other local interfaith groups have denounced the message as hate speech.
Kenney spoke about the persecution his Irish ancestors experienced in the mid-1880s. He also spoke of how the vitriolic ads had affected SEPTA workers.
“Sometimes Muslim bus drivers...could have driven those buses. My understanding is that within the union Christian bus drivers agreed to take the routes over so that they didn’t have to drive the bus with those ridiculous insults on the side of the bus.”
Although geared towards Islamophobia, the pledge was more broadly “...to uphold civil discourse and not engage in bigotry, whether it be in speech or actions, and to speak out against those who do."
This wasn’t Kenney’s first introduction to the Al-Aqsa community. After 9/11, Philadelphia was one of several major U.S. cities that experienced a violent backlash against Muslim communities — albeit far less harsh than some other major cities.
Khalil El Banna, a business owner and longtime member of Al-Aqsa, recalled how Kenney welcomed an Islamic prayer at a City Council session in the wake of the 2001 attack.
Recently, Kenney spoke out against the Catholic archdiocese after a school fired a teacher for being in a same-sex marriage. When asked about moral disputes that may arise between himself and the Muslim faith, Kenney promised the same treatment.
“Well, they haven’t fired anybody that I’m aware of any time recently,” Kenney said. “I speak up when I think it’s fair to speak up.”
In addition to Kenney, a host of other local politicians — former Gov. Ed Rendell, 7th District Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Councilman At-Large David Oh, Democratic Party Chairman Bob Brady, and three-time mayoral candidate Sam Katz — have visited Al-Aqsa to collaborate and converse.
Both Philadelphia’s Muslim and Arab-American communities have kept their ears on the political pulse over the years.
“The critical thing is that we need to make sure that Arabs and Muslims are not regarded as the other,” Kreidie said. “Everyone here is just as American, good or bad, just as Philadelphian as anybody else.”
Ed Rendell already signed the pledge. Kreidie said he intends to reach out to Republican mayoral nominee Melissa Murray Bailey to do so as well. Just a few days ago, Kreidie and other community leaders criticized Bailey for her call to remove Philadelphia's sanctuary status.