The local chapter of a national Islamic advocacy group wants members of the Philadelphia Muslim community to be extra aware of potential backlash from the Boston Marathon bombings
Even before the full background of bombing suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his now deceased 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev have been fully reported, rumors have been swirling about their connection to Islam. A notion that is concerning to Rugiatu Conteh of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
“We do tell people to be extra vigilant and to ensure that they have their eyes out and are aware of the situation,” she said. “Thankfully, we haven’t heard of any sort of incidents coming in the Muslim community in the Pennsylvania area.”
Conteh tells NBC10.com CAIR-Philadelphia is considering sending out an alert to its members as to ensure they’re prepared for any possible issues.
There are an estimated 200,000 Muslims in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and 60 to 70 major mosques in Pennsylvania, according to the organization. Conteh says in the past, they’ve seen incidents against individuals and vandalism against mosques and community centers.
“We could have hate crimes of those persons who look visibly Muslim. For example, Muslim women who wear a hijab, a headscarf, or those women who cover their face,” she said. Men who keep a beard could also become targets.
“I wear hijab. I’m not going to take off my hijab, but I’m just going to be extra aware of the fact that there might be some crazy people that will look at me and associate me with those suspects.”
The Tsarnaev brothers are accused of planting two bombs made from kitchen pressure cookers at the Boston Marathon Monday. The bombs, filled with shrapnel, detonated in the middle of the race, killing three people and maiming and injuring 176 others. A massive manhunt has been underway for the two since officials identified them using surveillance video.
Conteh says incidents typically increase when national crises occur and where the suspect is perceived to be Muslim.
“We’re hoping that nothing happens and usually in our area….generally speaking people are tolerant, but you know what, you can never tell,” Conteh said.
The brothers have ties to Chechnya, a volatile part of the Russian Republic, according to NBC News. Since they were identified, people have been drawing conclusions that the brothers have ties to Islam. A lot of the chatter has been happening on social media, something that can be especially troublesome for young Muslims who are engrossed in the internet.
“There were a lot of really heinous things that were said on Twitter, Facebook and social media,” she said. “[Young Muslims] are in a stage right now where they’re forming an identity…and a lot of times when I’m speaking to the youth they tell me it’s hard to go to school because people are looking at them funny.”
As more information continues to be uncovered about the Tsarnaev brothers, Conteh says she hopes people will remember that two do not speak for all.
“I think we need to get to a point now that when anyone, whether they’re Muslim, Christian or Jew commits a crime, that we need to look at the individual person and not attribute it to their faith and ethnicity.”