Current News

/

ArcaMax

North Philadelphia mosque explains how children wound up reciting violent poem in video

Kristin E. Holmes, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA -- The children who recited a violent poem in Arabic and performed choreography to a song referencing the "blood of martyrs" last month at a North Philadelphia mosque did not understand the words' meaning, and the volunteer aide who chose the selections has left the private academy based there, according to a statement released Wednesday by mosque leaders.

Officials of the Muslim American Society (MAS) in Philadelphia and the Leaders Academy say that other aides at the April 17 event marking Umma Day did not understand the language, and those who did were not monitoring the translation during what was a hectic day. They called the performances "a grave mistake" and "ours to own."

The statement is the latest turn in a controversy that began after video excerpts of the students' performance -- one youngster mentions chopping off heads to "liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque," a holy site for both Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem -- were posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a monitoring group.

"We are deeply saddened to have hurt our partners in the Jewish community and beyond," the statement read.

Mosque and academy officials also apologized to the local Muslim community, in which some institutions have reported "hate calls and death threats" since the video was posted. Protests have been held outside MAS Philadelphia.

Nancy K. Baron-Baer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia, said she appreciated the apology and explanation.

"We also understand that mistakes can happen," Baker said. "However, the fact that children and adults did not understand what they were saying is neither an excuse nor proper pedagogy. It should be incumbent on the adults in the room to understand what is being said before agreeing to perform the songs and poetry. It is also important to recognize that words like the ones said are unacceptable in any language and at any time."

The songs and poem were selected to highlight the students' ability "to read and project Arabic rhetoric," but they had not yet "mastered enough grammar to comprehend the words," the statement said. Officials of the national Muslim American Society (MAS) said in an earlier statement that the two-hour Umma Day event, meant to celebrate the school's diversity, had not been "properly vetted" and that the recitations were "an unintended mistake and an oversight." Umma is Arabic for community.

 

The Leaders Academy is described as an independent organization based at MAS Philadelphia, which is also known as Al-Hidaya Mosque/Masjid. Called a "learning community," the Leaders Academy rents space at the mosque and offers students who use the PA Cyber Charter School curriculum a place to complete lessons alongside other students with the help of volunteer aides, said Timothy Welbeck, a lawyer for the Philadelphia branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Students who attend are in grades K-12.

The former aide at the school selected songs with Palestinian themes because the Islamic center has a large Palestinian community. One song, in which students sing about "blood of martyrs," was playing on a computer in the background as they performed choreography, which the statement said is popular on YouTube.

In addition to forming an advisory council to monitor and review operations, mosque and Leaders Academy officials participated in a training session on Judaism and anti-Semitism Saturday as part of an effort to insure that similar incidents are not repeated there, the statement said. Jacob Bender, executive director CAIR Philadelphia, led the training.

(c)2019 Philly.com

Visit Philly.com at www.philly.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Social Connections

Comics

The Lockhorns Wallace The Brave John Deering Gary Markstein Poorly Drawn Lines Barney & Clyde