No hate, no fear
An interfaith community responded to an attack on a Philadelphia mosque by creating mural art.
On a mild December evening in 2015, a red pickup truck inched past an Islamic center in Philadelphia, just as the city was giving way to darkness. On its second pass, around 11 p.m., the passenger in the vehicle leaned out the window and tossed an object across the sidewalk.
The severed pig’s head rolled to the front door of the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, one of the largest mosques in Philadelphia. Pork is forbidden in Islam, and the pig’s head was another sign of growing Islamophobia in the United States.
Days earlier, a couple claiming allegiance to the so-called Islamic State stormed the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, shooting 14 people to death and injuring an additional 22 people. Donald Trump, then a Republican candidate for president, called for a complete and indefinite ban on Muslims entering the United States. Across the country hate crimes against Muslims were nearing a rate comparable to that after 9/11.
The perpetrators of the Philadelphia hate crime won that evening in 2015—they drove away from the crime. An investigation by police, the FBI, and the city’s Human Relations Commission has not caught the perpetrators. Yet members of the mosque and people of all faiths in the surrounding city have won every day since.
Within a week, hundreds of neighbors streamed into the Islamic Society’s parking lot for a barbecue. Islamic, Jewish, and Christian clergy led the group in prayer. Children played and community members interacted with one another, some for the first time, before sharing a meal.
The mosque’s response to the hate crime was not just a one-day event. The barbecue got attention, but they wanted to do something to inspire passersby. They wanted their message of peace to be seen from afar, so they turned their attention to the high-reaching mosque walls facing the parking lot. The leaders decided it was time to revisit a form of expression and peacebuilding that had united the community more than a decade earlier: mural art.