For the past 12 years, sentiments among many Americans towards Muslims has been anything but smooth. Muslims have become perhaps the most hated group of people in America ever since the 9/11 (2001) attacks on the United States.
Mikail Asnwad, a Philadelphian, said he feels too many Americans hold “negative stereotypes” about Muslims irrespective of rather those practicing this faith are born in America or are immigrants.
“False portrayals of Muslims and Islam results in the feeling that everyone who is a Muslim is angry and wants to attack Americans,” Asnwad said during an interview at the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, an organization with its headquarters in the heart of Walnut Hill.
According to a Pew Research poll conducted in 2010, 38 percent of Americans hold an “unfavorable” view of Islam – the religion practiced by Muslims. Furthermore, the same poll also found that 35 percent of Americans believe the Islamic religion is “more likely than others to encourage violence.”
However, that Pew poll found a different viewpoint among Muslims in America on the topic of violence. Just four percent of Muslims in America agreed that support among Muslims for extremism is increasing.
Further, that Pew poll stated that “negative views about Muslims, discrimination and ignorance about Islam top the list of the problems Muslims in America say the face.”
Despite results of the Pew poll and other research findings revealing unfavorable views about Islam, most Muslims living in and around Walnut Hill do not feel any different than any other people living in the neighborhood.
Ruqayyah Munir said she encounters less overt hostility towards Muslims in Philadelphia than other cities she’s visited. “Philadelphia is easier than a lot of other places due to the large Muslim population here. Islam is accepted,” Munir said.
The Muslim population for the Philadelphia area has been estimated as high as 200,000.
Hajjamia, (who chose not to give his last name due to religious reasons) said he faces greater prejudices not only because he is a Muslim, but also because he is an African-American Muslim.
“The reality is I was experiencing [prejudice] before I became a Muslim,” Hajjamia said. “Now it just rolls right off my arm because I know what my purpose is. I am a lot clearer on that.” Hajjamia credits his religion for helping him. “What happened was I was a person of searching and this community makes my stomach feels full.”
Even though Hajjamia does not let prejudices impact his daily life that does not mean he does not think about the challenges that he has faced being an African-American Muslim.
“I was jumped just because I was trying to make a dollar to support my family. I was hoping it didn’t happen because of my religion. But sometimes we live in a society where people think they can have an opportunity to take your things.” Hajjamia said. This is just one example of many things that have happened to Hajjamia because he is not only Muslim, but also an African-American Muslim.
Similar to Hajjamia, Imad Chehab also has experienced great challenges as a Muslim living in Philadelphia. “I was one time in St. Joseph’s University and part of my job was to go in and check on the security systems. One of the kids saw me and said ‘what’s this terrorist doing here,’” Chehab said. “I went directly to the head of the dorm and told them I need to file a complaint about this kid.”
Chehab could not believe what the head of the dorm did next. “She came in, she sat everybody in the dining hall and she actually pointed the kid out and told him to apologize,” according to Chebab. “She was perfect. We need more of these people.”
Chebab felt particularly shocked by what happened because he was not only doing his job but because he is a veteran of the United States Army. When Chebab first enlisted, he thought that he might face racism because he was an Arab but he never did. He said members of his Army platoon, including his commanding officer, were more than understanding of his religious needs and restrictions. Overall, Chebab believes that Walnut Hill is a good community for him. “It’s a good experience.”
According to the Huffington Post, Pennsylvania is the 11th most Muslim state in the country, arguably a contributing factor for the religious tolerance in the Walnut Hill Community.
Hajjamia believes that there is no bad blood between anybody in the community partly because of a block party he and his fellow Muslims throw each year. Not only do they host that community gather but they also prepare a feast for everybody to enjoy as well as giving out toys to children.
“We welcome everybody and anybody. We feed the homeless and we give out 200 toys to children. Anybody is always welcome in this community,” Hajjamia said. “We prepare barbecue chicken. It’s beautiful to see the people happy from all walks of life because we invite a lot of people.”
Not only does the block party sponsored by the Islamic Charitable Projects provide an opportunity for people to share-in a dining experience, it also provides the Islamic community of Walnut Hill a chance to educate those about Islam.
“We have a wholesome conversation telling people how they should respect one another regardless of where they come from,” Hajjamia said. “I’m very grateful to be a Muslim and I’m very grateful to be a part of this community.”
The area around 44th and Market St, is home to many Halal restaurants which is a major plus in this heavily Islamic area.