Members of Philadelphia Muslim leadership are angry and disturbed by a spike of recent bank robberies and other crimes in which the suspects had the temerity to dress as Muslim women, fostering what they say is discrimination and disrespect.
On Tuesday April 24 a group of local Imams were joined by Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., and District Attorney Seth Williams in the City Council Caucus room at City Hall to announce a $20,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone who commits a crime dressed as a Muslim woman.
“The Muslim leadership of Philadelphia, represented by the Majlis Ash’Shura, unequivocally condemns the men who committed these crimes while disguised as Muslim women,” said Imam Isa Abdul-Mateen, Secretary for Majlis Ash’Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. “The Majlis Ash’Shura is announcing a $20,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of these men. Robbery and murder are abhorrent to the Muslim way of life. When criminals commit these acts disguised as our women they place them in danger of being stereotyped, victimized and ostracized by society. We regard this as discriminatory, and this is a hate crime against Muslims. Such cowardly, repugnant criminals are nothing but a plague in our community. We will work with all law enforcement agencies and citizens to remove this cancer from our streets.”
The announcement followed several recent crimes in which the suspects dressed in Muslim women’s attire; a deadly shooting inside an Upper Darby barbershop, and several bank robberies.
“This is a growing concern in our neighborhoods,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones. “In many ways I’m reminded of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, stereotyped because of a garment called a hoodie. The hoodie has become a symbol of fear for many Americans, and in Trayvon’s case, that fear was acted upon in a negative way. This concerns me because there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Islam and the attire they wear. For cowards to dress as [Muslim] women and perpetrate a crime is absolutely wrong. The district attorney is very concerned about this; the Muslim community is deeply concerned. This places young women in a stereotype and puts them in danger when people view their attire — not for what it is, but as a tool to perpetrate a crime. We cannot stand for this.”
On March 20 just before 12:30 p.m., two suspects entered a Sovereign Bank branch office at 8310 Stenton Avenue dressed in female Muslim clothing. After presenting a threatening demand note, they fled the bank with an undisclosed amount of cash. The same suspects are believed to have hit a Wells Fargo Bank located at 700 Adams Avenue on April 4. In another unrelated incident on February 18, Sharif Wynn, 27, allegedly shot and killed 35-year-old Michael Turner inside his Upper Darby barbershop on Copley Road. Police say that on the day in question, Wynn allegedly dressed in female Muslim garb, went into the Modern Hair Designs barber shop at 8 Copley Road and demanded money. But once Turner handed over his money, Wynn allegedly opened fire and killed him. Investigators said the motive was a love triangle.
“We’re seeing all too often, cowards who dress in the traditional garb of Muslim women robbing banks and shooting people,” said District Attorney R. Seth Williams. “One of the defendants who participated in the robbery in which Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski was shot to death was wearing Muslim women’s clothing. We have to make sure that women aren’t degraded by this. Give us information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the cowards that dress as women in a way that helps them commit their evil crimes.”
Abdul Mateen said these recent criminal acts place a black mark on the Muslim community - a community that has already seen discrimination and fearful reprisals against Muslims, especially following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said he’s also been following the reports of criminals wearing female Muslim attire and thinks the local leadership is handling the situation well. He said he is also concerned that these recent incidents only serve to enflame hatred against Muslims.
“Islamophobes love to see this sort of thing, because it gives them fuel to express their hatred,” Hooper said. “Now they can say, ‘See, this is why Muslim women shouldn’t dress the way they do.’ I think this offer of a reward is the right one in that it increases the likelihood that the criminals will get caught. Yes, this does serve to nurture discrimination — we’ve had reports of several situations where Muslim women were denied service because of the manner in which they dress. I think this is a commendable action, and I hope these men are quickly caught.”
On March 3, 2008 three men, two of them dressed as Muslim women robbed a bank in the city’s Port Richmond section. While trying to make their escape, Howard Cain, Eric DeShann Floyd and Levon Warner were intercepted by Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, who was consequently killed, allegedly by Cain, who was also killed in an exchange of gunfire with police.
“I stand with the leaders of the Majlish Ash Shura in condemning such gutless actions by these individuals,” Jones said. “These crimes are in direct opposition to the Islamic way of life, and I hope these criminals are brought to justice as soon as possible.”