PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia city commission said Monday it's investigating an event last month at which Muslim children were captured on video speaking in Arabic about beheadings and the liberation of Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site.
The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations launched a probe into the April 17 gathering at the Muslim American Society's Philadelphia chapter. A video uploaded to the chapter's Facebook page shows children moving to a revolutionary anthem often used by Islamist groups, and two young girls reading from a prepared text. One says, "We will chop off their heads, and we will liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque."
The contested site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The compound is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site for Jews. It has been a flashpoint of violence in the past.
The Muslim American Society took the video down — calling the video "disturbing" and condemning the words used in it — and said a school that rented space in the building was responsible for the program. It said the person in charge of the event had been dismissed.
The society also called the school, which it did not name, a "separate entity." But old Facebook posts that have since been taken down show that a school called MAS Leaders Academy operates at the Muslim American Society's Philadelphia location. Muslim American Society officials did not return phone calls and email messages seeking comment Monday on the relationship between the Philadelphia chapter and the school.
"Unfortunately, the video from the school was uploaded to the chapter's Facebook page without verifying the content of the video for appropriateness and making sure it conforms to our hate-free policy and values. The chapter will take further steps in assuring strict adherence to publishing and posting policies," according to a weekend statement from the society's national headquarters.
The Muslim American Society also shares space with the Al-Hidaya mosque, which serves a large number of Palestinian immigrants, according to Jacob Bender, executive director of the Council on Islamic American Relations' Philadelphia chapter.
He said Monday that the mosque has asked the council to hold a "workshop on diversity and religious tolerance" to help "members of the immigrant Muslim community have a better understanding of Jewish sensitivities and anti-Semitism, so that events like this don't repeat themselves."
Bender, who is Jewish, also said the incident "was not an example of radicalization," noting the mosque has good relations with Philadelphia city officials.
"This was a stupid decision by an untrained pedagogue and volunteer teacher," he said.
The city's human relations commission, meanwhile, said it is gathering information about the April 17 "Ummah Day" event at the center of the controversy. The commission works to mediate conflict among groups, among other things.
"The city of Philadelphia condemns bigotry in all its forms," Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement Monday. "Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. For this moniker to ring true, all our brothers and sisters — regardless of their background — must feel safe and welcome. We are committed to working together with partners representing all our communities to make this happen."
Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island.