Author: Adab Ibrahim, Outreach Director at Al-Aqsa & Co-founder of Interfaith Peacewalk
Date: Wednesday, December 16, 2015
The Pig Head
This all started with a severed pig’s head that was thrown at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society one recent Sunday night. Surveillance footage shows someone driving a red pick up truck while another threw a barbecued pig head out the window. The pig’s head rolled two times before it hit the mosque wall. It could have landed on its side or with the severed neck side up, but this pig’s head landed in such a way that it stared right back at Germantown Avenue. It was cooked to a crisp with its mouth wide open, as if it was having a hearty laugh.This pig’s head became infamous. It made local and headline news. Even went viral on social media. Just Google “pig’s head” and the first few hits are about the pig head and my mosque.
Congregation’s Initial Reaction
Naturally, the congregation was worried about their safety. Anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise, primarily because of Trump’s recent comments on banning Muslims from entering the US. Hate crimes against Muslims have been reported all across the country, and now we have to contend with the fact that two vandals happened to target our mosque. While the police and the FBI were investigating the incident, we resigned ourselves to a ‘wait and see what happens’ approach. We thought, “This is bad, but I wonder how bad this will really will become?”
So when neighbors and community members began immediately calling, stopping by the mosque, bringing flowers, cards, and cookies, we were actually quite shocked! We were shocked, and then pleasantly surprised because we had honestly thought it would get worse before it got better! Well, by Tuesday, Mayor Nutter ordered a press conference in support of Al-Aqsa and Muslims, so we became really excited! On Wednesday, Governor Wolfe issued his public statement of support, and by then we were ecstatic!
In the hours that passed we continued to receive the most amazing messages from various faith leaders and community organizations. There were many touching messages from random people from all across the nation, places in the South like Kentucky, Texas, and Tennessee, where many anti-Muslim rallies have occurred! We even received a letter that came from as far as Australia.
I listened in awe as I heard local community members express their grief over the ignorance that has no place in our society. That’s when I came across neighbors and community members, like Derek Dorsey. I could hear the passion in his voice, I could feel his sorrow over what happened, and sense his urgency to do something as soon as possible! He suggested some type of rally, as so many other callers and community members also suggested. They clearly wanted some type of immediate action. The objective was some type of event to bring people together in unity and solidarity. I supposed the rally would attract such signs as: End Hatred, We Heart Al-Aqsa, Peace in the World, Trump is an A-hole!
A solidarity Cookout
As Marwan Kreidie, the mosque spokesman, and I began to discuss our options, things began to come together. We thought about this crazy warm weather and how much more we could do on a spring-like day in December. Ideas of having an Open House and loads of people having a good time in the parking lot turned into the idea of a cook out. Marwan kept mentioning, “grilled burgers” and after about the 7th time, I finally caved in! I reminded him of our countless vegans and vegetarian friends for whom I made a plea for falafel sandwiches! Putting all yummy grub aside, we figured this could be a chance to seize the moment to show our dear friends and supporters how much we appreciate them too! Why not take a moment to reciprocate the love? Derek Dorsey and his co-organizers named it, “Solidarity Picnic-United We Stand” and created the Facebook event with over 3.5k invited and about 375 confirmed guests.
Not Your Church Picnic
As Derek and friends spread the word about the event, it was our job at the mosque to make sure it was organized. After all, we were hosting, so we had to be prepared. The parking lot had to be divided in various sections, i.e., food, the podium, activities, and seating. Unbelievably, getting everything in place for 400+ people was not too challenging because there were so many volunteers on hand!
The food station was where most of the magic was happening. There were grills getting fired up, spicy hamburgers and hotdogs grilling, and a huge variety of foods from the guests pouring in to be assembled. The variety of foods was really astonishing. There were many Middle Eastern dishes such as falafel sandwiches, hummus, Turkish salad, spicy pilaf rice, but there were other tasty offerings as well. There were various types of pastas, Spanish rice and beans, and organic snacks. There was also a beverage section to make coffee and tea to accompany the assortments of desserts. The variation in foods was diverse as the rich cultures that were present that day. Delicious and uplifting!
As one of the organizers for the event, I also had the amazing task of being the MC and arranging the program. The program began with our Imam Shehata, who delivered the Opening Welcome, Prayer & Thanks in Arabic with his daughter Alaa Shehata translating in English. This was followed by a message from a representative of the Christian faith, Deacon Phil from St. Mark’s Church in Frankford. Rabbi Straus, from Main Line reform Temple offered a message from those of the Jewish community. Marwan Kreidie introduced Judge Rami, who spoke about the separation of religion and state. Police Captain Kappie of the 26th District was also on hand to express his thoughts. Derek Dorsey spoke as a community member who helped spearhead the effort. The President of Al-Aqsa Islamic Society expressed his appreciation for the support of the larger community, and Sofia Ali-Khan shared how her message to non-Muslims went viral and how vital it will be to vote against hate in the upcoming elections.
Even though this event was planned in less than three days, we managed to get some of our favorite community partners to host a table. Friends like Interfaith Peacewalk, ArtWell, The Interfaith Center, Mural Arts, and Philadelphia Photo Arts Center were on hand to provide information and share an activity.
There was a table to “Try a Hijab for Solidarity” where women had the chance to wear a head cover. This table was very popular, and women took turns covering their hair and transforming themselves. There were “Hijab Selfies” and chances for the women in hijab to become unrecognizable to their friends at the picnic! There was a banner-making table to paint your hand or peace symbol, with handy wet wipes for easy clean up! One of our favorite tables was the Henna Tattoo Station where you could get a floral design or your name in henna. There was also a name-tag station where you can wear a tag with your name written in Arabic. These activities were all family friendly and provided a chance for people to do something else if they didn’t want to deal with standing in the long food lines!
One table that stood out to many was the backdrop behind the podium. It was a table for those who came with an offering of fresh flowers or plants. We displayed all the cards, letters, notes, and other flowers sent by supporters over this past week. Many people were very moved by reading the notes and cards that were taped to the table.
We at Al-Aqsa would like to THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts. Your kind words, show of solidarity and unwavering support has lifted our spirits! It has revived our sense of hope to see the waves of beautiful faces who cared enough to be there, and to feel the love of those who could not be there, but were are also there with us in spirit! Thank you so much!
This picnic was so successful that we intend to plan this as annual event! Perhaps a Fall Unity Picnic because we can’t guarantee another 66 degree Saturday afternoon in December again!