A Muslim organization in Philadelphia has come under fire for anti-Semitism after an Arabic-language video of children speaking about beheadings at the Muslim American Society (MAS) Islamic Center in North Philadelphia surfaced on the internet.
In the first part of the video, children wearing Palestinian scarves are seen dancing and lip syncing to a song that includes phrases such as “Take us, oh ships, until we liberate our lands — until we reach our shores and crush the treacherous ones!” The Associated Press identified the song as the “revolutionaries’ anthem,” which it said is often played by Islamist groups.
Later in the video, a few girls recite words about using violence to retake the Al-Aqsa Mosque. That is the mosque that was built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
“We will chop off their heads, and we will liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque,” one girl says. “We will lead the army of Allah fulfilling his purpose, and we will subject them to eternal torture.”
The subtitled video was released by Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a watchdog organization that translates content from Arabic and other languages. The video was taken at an “Ummah Day” (ummah means community in Arabic) event last month and uploaded to the MAS Philly Facebook page.
MAS Philadelphia is the local chapter of MAS, which has more than 50 chapters in the United States, according to its website. The organization says its mission is “to move people to strive for God-consciousness, liberty and justice, and to convey Islam with utmost clarity.”
MAS Philadelphia said in a May 3 email that the video misrepresented the organization.
They said that during the “Ummah Day” celebration, children representing 18 different countries participated in songs and plays to represent their countries and traditions. The local chapter said that the video has been improperly translated, and the songs “recalled the culture of activism and resistance to the occupation of their historic homeland of Palestine.”
“Words of these songs posted on MAS’ online assets have been improperly translated and are being circulated online promoting the labeling of MAS as anti-Semitic,” the MAS Philadelphia statement said. “We at MAS categorically reject anti-Semitism and see any manifestation of anti-Jewish bigotry as equally abhorrent as Islamophobia and racism.”
MAS Philadelphia did not specify what part was improperly translated, but Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Philadelphia Executive Director Jacob Bender said that MEMRI’s translation was accurate. Amel Mili, assistant teaching professor and contact for Arabic study abroad course approvals at Drexel University, also confirmed the translation was accurate.
On May 3, the national MAS organization released a statement on its website condemning the words in the video.
The next day, the organization released an updated statement, calling the video “disturbing,” and said an investigation had found that the event was organized by a school renting space from MAS Philadelphia. This statement also said that the school board had dismissed the person in charge of the program and planned to form a commission for sensitivity training and supervision of future programs.
“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 national organization’s statement said. “The chapter will take further steps in assuring strict adherence to publishing and posting policies.”
MAS Executive Director Ayman Hammous told the Associated Press in an interview on May 5 that he couldn’t immediately recall the name of the school that organized the event and said it was a local leaders’ academy.
Bender identified the school as Alhidaya, which is also a mosque. Bender also said that Alhidaya had reached out to CAIR about leading diversity training on anti-Semitism and Jewish history. According to Alhidaya’s Facebook page, it is located at the MAS Philadelphia building.
“We are trying to move forward and bring knowledge of anti-Semitism and Jewish history to the Muslim community so they will be able to scrutinize and vet songs that are more appropriate for a multifaith cosmopolitan city, which was founded by the idea of religious tolerance and religious freedom,” said Bender, who is Jewish.
Two months ago, another local mosque, Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, came under scrutiny after a visiting imam made anti-Semitic comments, including calling Jewish people “the vilest” people.
Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Nancy Baron-Baer said news of this latest incident at MAS Philadelphia is particularly distressing as it coincided with a wave of fighting between Israel and Gaza.
“Since the time that the incident came to our attention, so did the launch of 600-plus rockets into Israel and Israel’s launch of rockets into Gaza,” she said. “The fact that there is such stress in the Middle East, to hear that people in America are teaching very young children about hatred and bigotry and violence is even more disturbing, because if we don’t capture the youth, both here in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and teach them about pursuing peace and accepting others, then we have no chance for peace. Those children are the next generation of leaders.”