PHILADELPHIA - The fact that Rasheed Scrugs allegedly announced he was going to kill a cop and then shot Philadelphia Police Officer John Pawlowski with a gun hidden inside his coat pocket has detectives digging deeper on Scrugs.
They're still gathering evidence and trying to unravel why Friday night's senseless murder happened, Fox 29's Dave Schratwieser reported.
"Pawlowski didn't stand a chance," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said Monday, as Philadelphia continued to reel over the killing.
A key witness went public Monday with the chilling words he heard the gunman say before the shooting.
"If you call the cop, I'll kill you and kill the cop," said Manuel Dias, who works in a newsstand at Broad Street and Olney Avenue, repeating what he told detectives.
Police believe Scrugs planned to shoot officers when they answered a 911 call about a fight on the highway at Broad and Olney at 8:20 p.m.
"This individual was very violent and was bent on killing someone," Ramsey said.
Scrugs was shot by Pawlowski's partner and another officer. He's now awake and talking, but he refused to be interviewed by homicide detectives.
Sources say Scrugs told a hospital staffer he was high on drugs at the time of the shooting and allegedly said, "I can't believe I shot a cop."
"Well, he's a cold blooded killer is what he is, and he knew exactly what it is he wanted to do," Ramsey said.
Ramsey told Fox 29 News that police are now trying to determine if Scrugs -- who also goes by the alias Rasheed Abdulghaffer -- may have converted to a radical form of "jailhouse Islam" during his years in prison.
Ironically, Ramsey said he was briefed by FBI agents on Friday about this radical form of Islam. That was just hours before Pawlowski was shot.
Ramsey said there's a growing concern among law enforcement.
"This is a radical form where certainly committing crime and killing police officers and so forth is part of it," Ramsey said.
Police experts and the FBI are now researching whether Scrugs and Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski' accused killers -- Howard Cain and Levon Warner, who are accused of wearing Muslim clothing during that murder -- were schooled in jailhouse Islam.
"Since Steve Liczbinski got killed, this issue has really been something that has struck home here in Philadelphia," Ramsey said.
Police sources said the .357 Magnum that Scrugs allegedly used was from out of state. Federal ATF agents are tracking the gun's owner down. Ramsey said whoever sold or gave the gun to Scrugs may be prosecuted.
Police said Scrugs had 19 packets of crack and 19 extra bullets in his pockets at the time.
Dias said he was watching Friday night when Scrugs carried through on his violent threat.
"As soon as the cop asked him to take his hand out of his pocket to give him something else, he just pulled the gun and shot the cop for no specific reason," Dias said. "Some screamed 'Help! Help!' right here, and they tried to put him on the car. I was afraid to die because this is serious."
Dias hid on the floor of his newsstand, fearing for his own life, as police shot and wounded Scruggs.
Pawlowski's church community is gathering Monday night to hold a "life celebration" at his parish, St. Anselm's in Northeast Philadelphia. The mass begins at 7:30 p.m., and attendees are expected to hear a statement from the fallen officer's family read by his brother.
Last May, Philadelphians were stunned when police officer Stephen Liczbinski was shot in cold blood during an altercation with burqa-wearing robbers. But that murder, and other recent violent acts in the city, has its roots in a form of Islam being taught in our prisons and being funded by Middle Eastern extremists
By Matthew Teague
ONE MORNING THIS past May, three men sat in a Jeep outside a Port Richmond bank and put on new identities.
To Western eyes, two of them became hijabi Muslim women who cover themselves by pulling on full-length black burqas. They became, in a sense, invisible. The bank sat inside a busy supermarket, where shoppers would surely notice the two monoliths moving among them; but just as surely, those shoppers would pass by with eyes cast down, or aside, or beyond. They may be drawn for a moment by the sheer otherness of the hijabi, but would dependably look away with a twinge of awkward guilt for having noticed.
The men Howard Cain, Levon Warner and Eric Floyd were themselves Muslim, and knew to expect this reaction. Counted on it. Wagered their freedom on it, as they stopped their vehicle in the fire zone outside the market's door and turned on the hazard blinkers. They climbed out of their dark blue Jeep Liberty and approached the bank. They hadn't put on mere masks. They had put on entire hemispheres.
Inside the market, two of them Cain and Warner, who wore a dreadlocked wig walked straight to the bank, according to police. The third man, Floyd, carried a cardboard box that police say held a Chinese SKS military-style rifle. He set it inside a shopping cart and moved to the store's adjacent produce section to wait.
Inside the bank, Cain pushed a female supervisor to the floor. He and Warner allegedly stole about $40,000 and headed toward the market's exit along with Floyd.
In the meantime, the supermarket's manager realized a robbery was happening, although he hadn't seen it himself. He picked up his cell phone and dialed 911 as he, too, moved toward the exit. So complete were the robbers' identities so perfect their invisibility that the store's security cameras recorded the manager as he talked to an emergency dispatcher, and walked out between two of the disguised figures.
The robbers climbed into their Jeep and sped away, not knowing that after turning just a few corners they would encounter police sergeant Stephen Liczbinski in his patrol car. What followed was a clash not only of cops and robbers, or even good men and bad, but of two distinct societies.
The confrontation would reveal something dark at the heart of Philadelphia: a prevalent but scarcely mentioned brand of radical Islam that has appeared almost unremarked upon like the misused burqas that day, present but so uncomfortable to examine fully in several of the city's worst modern moments. And which has, over recent decades, entwined the city from its lowest streets to the pinnacle of public power.
The cost of averting society's collective gaze, as illustrated by what happened next, can be deadly.
ACCORDING TO THE head of Philadelphia's anti-terrorism squad, here's what happens the day you arrive in a local prison, fresh from a conviction for whatever crime: You get word. It could come while you eat your first lunch. While you're standing in the yard, maybe, or sitting in your cell.
The word is clear: Join.
Depending on the color of your skin, your choices are to join Neo-Nazi skinheads, the Latin gang, or most prevalent, in Philadelphia Islam, in one of several variations.
The question arises, then: What happens to prisoners who have none of those particular inclinations? Inspector Joseph O'Connor, commander of the police department's Counter-Terrorism Bureau, laughs quietly at the idea. "They'd get inclined," he says. "It's about survival, at first. And then indoctrination."
A few factors complicate the situation O'Connor describes. The first is race: Philadelphia's overpacked prisons hold more than 9,000 inmates, of whom a whopping three-quarters are black.
The second is religion: Unlike secular prison gangs, radical Islamists enjoy the Constitutional rights that come along with legitimate prison ministries run by mainstream imams, pastors, rabbis and so forth. It's important to note, here, that those moderate Muslims may play a saving role for the city, and also to address a surprisingly difficult question: What exactly is Islam, in Philadelphia?
It's difficult to get a sense of just how big Philadelphia's Muslim population is. Estimates range from less than 100,000 to twice that many. Its importance is clear, though; Sylvester Johnson, for instance, served as America's first Muslim metropolitan police chief. Along with many other adherents in Philadelphia, he found Islam or some form of it, at least decades ago, when the Nation of Islam came to town.
The group had little to do with true Islam the Nation has said that its founder, W. D. Fard, appeared as God's reincarnation but by the 1970s, its strident message of black supremacy seemed tailor-fit to Philadelphia. Malcolm X himself oversaw North Philadelphia's Mosque No. 12. Frank Rizzo, widely seen as a racist boss, rose to become police commissioner, then mayor. Industry in the city collapsed, and many white residents fled for the suburbs. The remaining population was angry, underemployed, and about one-third black. Converts flocked to the Nation of Islam: By the 1970s, Mosque No. 12 claimed membership of 10,000.
In a city electrified with potential for violence, Mosque No. 12 provided a particularly good conduit. From their base in North Philly, some of the mosque's leaders called the Black Mafia or Muslim Mob, at the time perpetrated some of the worst crimes in the city's history.
The Muslim Mob deployed an army of clean-cut, well-dressed men under the guise of bringing discipline to city streets. Paul Dandridge, then a city judge, picked one of those young men "Captain" Clarence Fowler to head a government-funded program called Safe Streets. Fowler ran a paramilitary unit at Mosque No. 12 with the unlikely name "Fruit of Islam," an outfit that provided security for the mosque and its leaders. Unwitting politicians such as Arlen Specter, then district attorney, helped funnel money to Fowler's Safe Streets program. Fowler promptly cut a check for $100,000 in Safe Streets money to his superiors at Mosque No. 12. A year later, in 1970, police arrested Fowler for murdering a Baptist minister.
For all their claims to be cleaning up Philadelphia, members of the Muslim Mob did just the opposite; they distributed heroin, extorted business owners, and murdered scores of Philadelphians. They shocked the city in 1971 when several Mosque No. 12 members (Fowler was not among them) filed into DuBrow's furniture store on South Street, pulled guns, bound the employees with electrical cord, and beat many of them. The men doused one employee with gasoline and set him alight, shot another to death, and then set the building on fire. The intruders were, of course, not particularly interested in furniture; the store's owner had refused to pay them protection money.
Mosque No. 12's most famous crime unfolded a couple of years later, at one of basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's homes in the Washington, D.C., area. An orthodox Muslim leader there had done an audacious thing: Hamaas Khaalis had written a letter to several Nation of Islam mosques, accusing them of misappropriating Islam and using it as a cover for criminal action. So a team of Muslim Mob hit men traveled to D.C. and found Abdul-Jabbar's home, which he had lent to the local religious leader. Khaalis wasn't home, but his family was. So the Philadelphia men exacted the worst sort of revenge, killing two adults and five children, including an infant nine days old. It was the worst mass murder in D.C.'s history.
A few years later and the current relevance of this episode will become clear shortly "Captain" Clarence Fowler's murder conviction was overturned because police had used a flawed photo lineup. But during the six years Fowler spent in Holmesburg, he pioneered a new style of recruitment.
Instead of merely studying his Koran in his cell, he converted his fellow inmates to his brand of radical Islam, trained them in the marching drills employed by the Fruit of Islam, and taught them hand-to-hand combat.
CLARENCE FOWLER AND the Fruit of Islam, of course, only define their own, narrow version of the religion. It's worth dwelling a moment, then, on a broader view. There are several variations of Islam, similar in some aspects and vastly dissimilar in others. Some may blend into others. All hold a monotheistic belief in Allah and his prophet Muhammad, and hold to the Five Pillars: shahadah, or profession of faith; salah, or prayer five times daily; zakat, charity to the poor; sawm, fasting during Ramadan; and the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. The similarities end there.
Orthodox Islam adheres to those basic tenets, to the Koran, and to the writings of Muhammad's companions. It maintains that the Koran is the literal word of God, and is only fully valid in the Arabic language.
Radical Islam interprets orthodoxy in an extreme sense. It isn't synonymous with terrorism, although the two are plainly linked.
Orthodox Islamic teachings have little in common with what some imams call "jailhouse Islam." It's an undisciplined form that prisoners stitch together from bits of knowledge, along with other beliefs and motivations that may have no base in true Islam.
The Nation of Islam the most pervasive version in American prisons is poorly regarded by orthodox imams, because some of its teachings conflict with the sovereignty of Allah and Muhammad the belief, for instance, that founder W.D. Fard was God, or that an ancient black scientist created all other races. The Nation of Islam is often less pious than polemic; a couple of years ago, its leader, Louis Farrakhan, wrote a letter to Cuba's Fidel Castro, saying, "We long to see a government that destroys all borders and acknowledges every human being on the Earth as a citizen of the Earth, entitled to a share of all of the wealth that is beneath our feet."
So the shades of Islam are diverse. For now, though, the difficulty in Philadelphia's prisons is sorting out the purveyors of radicalism. "There's very little oversight of the teachings," O'Connor says. That's especially dangerous, according to one FBI report, because inmates make up a population that, by definition, has shown a tendency to operate outside social and legal standards.
And then there's the matter of money specifically, Saudi money, according to Philadelphia police. The complexities of Middle Eastern religious politics are many, and vast. But it's clear to authorities that Saudi Arabian extremist groups namely, Wahhabis and Salafis, sects that seek to bring about the return of an Islamic empire recognize angry young American prisoners as easy targets, and pour money into radicalizing prisoners both during and after their incarceration. "[T]he immense wealth associated with extreme Wahhabism/Salafism makes the religion appealing to inmates," according to a 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Justice.
More recently, terrorism analysts at two schools, the University of Virginia and George Washington University, issued a broad report on prisoner radicalization in America. Their conclusion, in essence, is that prison inmates in America are converting to Islam of one version or another faster than the prison system can keep up. The lack of oversight from literature entering the prisons, to imams teaching there, to which groups are funding them makes prisoners a tempting target for militant clerics. The report said, "The U.S., with its large prison population, is at risk of facing the sort of homegrown terrorism currently plaguing other countries." And for years, groups like the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation which the U.S. says finances terrorism distributed literature in American prisons.
THE TWO CONDITIONS described so far the city's history with the Muslim Mob, and the contemporary scene inside its prisons create a climate of great force and risk for certain young men in the city.
Men like Howard Cain, Levon Warner and Eric Floyd.
Thirty-three-year-old Cain's rap sheet tells the story of his life. Among many arrests, he was convicted in 1996 of robbery and gun charges, and sentenced to what could have been more than a half-century of jail time. The dark-eyed, brooding Cain converted to Islam in prison, and threw himself into it wholly; he so riled up his fellow Muslim inmates that prison officials moved him to a separate area of the facility. He developed a dark zebiba literally, "raisin" on his forehead, a callus formed when a devout Muslim presses his head to the floor during prayer. He served nine years, and was released.
Levon Warner, 39, was a professional heavyweight boxer who had fought at venues around the mid-Atlantic, and had a long record of arrests similar to Cain's. In 1997 a court sentenced him to a potential 15 years for robbery and gun charges. He, too, converted to a form of Islam in prison, and he grew a long beard. After he was released in 2004, he returned to boxing and won several fights, but in September 2007 a last, crushing loss at the Blue Horizon ended his career.
Like parolees Cain and Warner, Eric Floyd had spent time in and out of prisons on numerous convictions for robbery and parole violations. Like them, he had converted to Islam along the way. Unlike them, Floyd had escaped. Last February, he was serving time at a minimum-security halfway house in Reading when he simply walked away and didn't come back.
The ease with which these men found their way back into society repeatedly baffles Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey. The three are only the latest examples in a long trend, he says. Several months ago, another multiple offender, Daniel Giddings himself a convert to jailhouse Islam who had broken laws even during his time in prison was released before serving his maximum sentence. A month later he shot and killed Highway Patrol officer Patrick McDonald in North Philadelphia, then shot another officer before falling to gunfire himself.
The very idea stirs Ramsey's anger.
"Bullshit!" Ramsey says. "I'm all for working with folks and rehabilitation and trying to give people a second chance. But do you give them a fourth, a fifth, a 26th chance? I don't think so."
The great danger, he and Inspector O'Connor say, is that repeat offenders don't sit idle in prison. "They network," O'Connor says. "They learn their craft."
And so in one narrow sense prison may do more harm than good, when inmates leave more hardened than when they arrived. They're exposed to radical ideologies, to new personalities and better strategies.
"Many of them come out more sophisticated than when they went in, but still intent on causing harm to the community," Ramsey says. "Not all, but some."
That was apparently the case with Cain, Warner and Floyd, who went in as disjointed criminals and came out more organized. More disciplined. After their respective releases, when the trio met in their North Philadelphia neighborhood, they didn't take long to devise a bold plan: bank robbery. They would use high-powered semi-automatic weaponry, the full covering of Muslim women's dress, and the hesitancies of Western society.
It's tempting to think their plan was a cynical aberration. To the contrary, it was just the latest in a rapid new trend.
In January 2007, someone wearing Muslim covering walked into the Wachovia Bank at Broad and Walnut streets and handed the teller a note demanding cash, then escaped.
A month later, the same: Just across the Delaware state line, someone in a burqa entered a bank and demanded cash, then got away.
Four months after that, in North Philadelphia, a woman wearing a burqa and gold-rimmed eyeglasses did the same at another bank and ran away on foot.
This past May, two men dressed as Muslim women robbed a real estate leasing office in Southwest Philadelphia, carjacked a van, and escaped. Police caught up to them, though, and when one of the men allegedly pointed a gun, police shot him in the arm and arrested him.
So, just two days after that incident, the three men in question Cain, Warner and Floyd set in motion a plan that fit the emerging pattern. And for the first half-hour, at least, their plan went well.
THE OTHER INTELLECTUAL temptation, aside from the question of aberration, is to assume that because such men are Philadelphians, their actions are merely local.
Is homegrown crime coincidental to radical and "jailhouse" Islam, and discrete from terrorism? Or are crime and terrorism just two points on the same continuum?
Authorities disagree. "Yes, the first can tip over to the other," Inspector O'Connor says. "If you study the targets these guys select banks, armored cars and their relative sophistication, I think you start to get a sense there's something more than street crime happening there."
Greg Montanaro, a terrorism expert with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a think tank with a highly conservative view on the subject, disagrees. While foreign extremists may penetrate American prisons, he said, "They would never trust operational or strategic details to a black American convert. There's a great deal of distrust between the two groups."
Whatever the relationship between Arabic and black Muslims, terrorism is quite possible in Philadelphia, the FBI says.
In January 2006, an employee at a Circuit City store in Cherry Hill realized the tape he was duplicating for a customer contained video of men training with assault rifles, and shouting "Allahu akbar!" He took it to police, who turned it over to the FBI. And so began a year-long sting operation to capture what would eventually become known as the Fort Dix Six: half a dozen men from in and around Philadelphia accused of plotting to infiltrate Fort Dix and "kill as many soldiers as possible." In December a federal jury convicted five of them of conspiracy to murder the soldiers.
On a more global scale, a secret, bugged meeting held in a Philadelphia hotel played a crucial role in the conviction of five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation, accused of funneling millions of dollars from America to the terrorist group Hamas. The 1993 meeting was a summit between Hamas members and their supporters in America, and the participants used code names and backward words "Samah" to communicate.
But contorted Islam and federal wiretaps came together most spectacularly in 2005, in the case of Shamsud-din Ali. The FBI was investigating the prominent Muslim cleric for a number of wide-ranging crimes, including racketeering; Ali was close to then-mayor John Street, had served on his transition team, and used his political connections to gain loans, donations and lucrative contracts. Authorities eventually convicted numerous people in and around City Hall. Ali, then 67, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison.
"I just don't understand how Shamsud-din Ali could climb that high, get that close to the mayor, without anyone realizing who he was," Police Inspector O'Connor says. That's because Shamsud-din Ali, in his younger years, went by the name "Captain" Clarence Fowler, of Mosque No. 12.
The reappearance of Fowler in Philadelphia's political system appears shocking at first, but on reflection, it seems to fit a broader pattern: a harking back to some of the city's darkest history, at worst, or a widespread lapse of memory, at least. In 2002, for instance, then-police commissioner Sylvester Johnson fathered a massive policing initiative and named it "Safe Streets." The city's managing director at the time, Phil Goldsmith, says he hadn't heard of the 1970s heroin-and-extortion program of the same name, and notes, "It's a pretty generic name." But in 2007, Johnson raised eyebrows and questions when he partnered with the Nation of Islam specifically, the paramilitary Fruit of Islam and the modern, milder incarnation of Mosque No. 12 to help clean up Philadelphia's streets by deploying an army of 10,000 volunteers to patrol the city.
Thousands of men showed up at a rally in November of that year, but a few months later, the program fell into financial ruin.
ON THE MORNING of May 3rd, Dicksy Widing stepped outside her rowhome at the intersection of Schiller and Almond streets, in the Port Richmond neighborhood. Few people on this block have real gardens, so Widing makes do with various seasonal arrangements on the sidewalk.
She waved hello to her friend Donna, who was sweeping nearby.
She watched a dark blue Jeep Liberty approach, across the intersection, in a halting manner. Stopping, starting, hesitating. She saw a police car behind it. All moving slowly.
"Donna," she called out, "I think you should get off the street. Something's not right."
At the intersection, the Jeep came to a full stop. The police car did as well, and from the driver's door, Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski emerged. He was a few days short of his 40th birthday. Neither he nor Widing could have known the turmoil inside the Jeep. After leaving the bank, the three men had overshot the location of their second getaway car, and they were lost. Now a cop had found them. Warner sat in the backseat, and Floyd started yelling, "BANG HIM!"
Cain turned to Warner and said, "Give me the gun." Warner handed it to him.
Outside, Widing watched with wide eyes. The Jeep's front-seat passenger seemed to be pulling off a Muslim woman's covering. The passenger's door opened, and Howard Cain stepped out with one foot. He pivoted and placed the SKS semi-automatic over the top of the car.
Dicksy Widing screamed so loud that people two blocks away heard her wail.
Cain turned in her direction, and pointed the rifle at her. He squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened. His gun jammed.
While Widing watched, the man climbed back inside the Jeep and sped past her. Just then, 20-year-old neighbor Eric Krajewski emerged onto the street, having heard the shots and screams. He saw a police car idling near the intersection, with its door open. But where was its driver? He saw Widing standing in shock, pointing at the car.
Krajewski ran to it and saw Liczbinski lying on the ground. One bullet had ricocheted off his hip and eviscerated him. Another had more or less amputated his arm. Blood flowed everywhere. Other neighbors ran to get towels while Krajewski cradled the policeman's head. Someone had literally blown him apart.
Liczbinski looked up at him. "Tell my wife and kids I love them," he said.
A FEW SECONDS later, around a corner, Eric Floyd parked the Jeep, and the three men piled into their second getaway car, a Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
They made it a short distance before another police car found them. They tried to bail out of the van; Warner and Floyd ran, but Cain stayed and grabbed the assault rifle. He turned and fired at the police still jammed. The officers, in turn, shot and killed Cain.
Warner escaped on foot, but a short time later in a bold attempt to double back to normalcy he flagged down a police car and said he'd like to report a stolen vehicle. A Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
In coming days, police launched an enormous manhunt for Eric Floyd, determined to arrest him before their colleague's funeral. They acted on numerous tips, raiding buildings across the city in the search for the fugitive. A day before the funeral, a police squad found him in an abandoned building where for days Floyd and his girlfriend had smoked crack cocaine, used a bucket as a toilet, and waited.
When police found Floyd, they held him for an hour while they waited for one particular piece of law enforcement equipment: In Philadelphia, when a policeman is killed in the line of duty, his colleagues use his handcuffs to arrest the suspect. Finally, Liczbinski's good friend, Sergeant Tim Simpson, arrived and snapped the hardware onto Floyd's wrists.
It's not a tradition anyone had considered for a long time. A decade had gone by since a Philadelphia police officer had been killed in the line of duty, in a violent way. But in 2008 alone, four were killed, including two shot to death.
Sergeant Simpson, Liczbinski's buddy, took over his old spot in North Philadelphia. Then in November, in the neighborhood where Liczbinski died, a drunk driver fleeing police slammed into Simpson's car and killed him.
Meanwhile, a Germantown mosque stirred up an international controversy when its leaders refused to bury Howard Cain. Relatives complained that Cain was a devoted Muslim, and that regardless of the circumstances of his death, religious leaders had an obligation to attend to his interests in the afterlife. At the Germantown Masjid, managing director Tariq El Shabazz fielded calls from as far away the Arabian peninsula, which he says were mostly positive.
The decision to forgo the funeral didn't seem extraordinary to non-Muslims, initially, but it represented a critical shift in the way Philadelphia's Islamic leadership interacts with the general population.
And it offers a potential solution for some of the city's most pressing problems.
A STROLL THROUGH much of Germantown and West Philadelphia makes clear the Muslim population's vibrancy there.
Restaurants, shops, markets and services cater to Muslim customers along Walnut Street, Lancaster and Germantown avenues. Men wear the short, brimless kufi hat, and women wear hijab in various forms. Immigrants from Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan and other places all make their homes here.
The community's heart rests at Saad's Halal Place at 45th and Walnut, a venerable old Middle Eastern restaurant that serves ritually clean food. The patronage ebbs and flows through the day according to prayer schedules and school hours.
To focus on flair and flavor is to overlook some of the darker issues afoot in the community, though. Philadelphia is said to have the highest incidence of polygamy of any American metropolis, for instance, because so many people in this quarter feel it's acceptable under orthodox law. It's an uneasy reality at best, and at worst it's much, much worse: In April, for instance, a 48-year-old suburban woman named Myra Morton pleaded guilty to murdering her husband over his second wife in Morocco.
Laws are clean and clear, but people and religion and crime are untidy things that sometimes defy the law's best efforts. And so sometimes the best solutions to social problems may not only come down from the law, but also up from the people. One of the most powerful reasons for the downfall of the old Mosque No. 12, for instance, was that Muhammad Kenyatta gathered the courage to speak against the organization in the mid-1970s. Kenyatta was a brilliant, complicated man he was a black nationalist and changed his name to honor the leader of the Nation of Islam, yet he worked as a Baptist minister and his word carried a great deal of weight in the community. When he spoke out against the mosque, accusing its leaders of using it as a criminal base, its fortunes began to decline.
Two of Philadelphia's most respected Islamic leaders have been contemplating their role in the city, and their responsibility to counter the proliferation of radicalized Islam in local prisons. Riad Nachef, founder of the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects in America, and Omar Dimachkie, its current president, meet me in an upstairs office in their group's West Philly mosque.
The two men know about radical Islam in an all too personal way; four of their group's leaders have been murdered by extremists. One of the problems facing the Muslim community, the men have realized, is the reluctance of one Muslim to criticize another, regardless of how egregious his behavior. They say that's why, in the days following September 11th, so many Westerners felt that the condemnation from Islamic leaders failed to rise to the horror of the moment.
Islam doesn't require silence in the face of evil, Nachef says. Whether global or local, he says, it's every Muslim's responsibility to report radical dogmas to legal authorities. Both of the national reports mentioned earlier by the U.S. Justice Department, and by the universities concluded that the best way to stamp out radical Islam in America's prisons is to provide more moderate, fully vetted clerics to guide prisoners toward more disciplined, productive lives. It may be such clerics, alongside the police and courts, who stop thousands of Philadelphia's young men from cycling through the overloaded prison system.
Dimachkie takes off his shoes and bends to his knees on the prayer rug in his office, whispering toward the east. While he does, Nachef speaks with unusual candor.
"In the early '90s, the networks of the Wahhabi movement in this country, managed under the umbrella of freedom of speech, ended up having their own chaplains in the prisons. And that school of thought moved through the prisons throughout the U.S.," he says. "We found our own channels to get into the prisons and try to teach counter to that dogma. And we were successful to some extent. But our voices were muffled."
Without the support of oil-rich benefactors, he says, it's tough to compete.
"If somebody would come to me and say, You are a Muslim basher' because I am criticizing, I can produce incidents throughout history where the Prophet criticized people for ill-doing," he says. People who suppress honest criticism are succumbing to a false "tribal solidarity . This is not Islam."
Dimachkie stands from his prayer rug and joins Nachef; he speaks about the death of Sergeant Liczbinski in particular. "Those guys who dressed up in women's clothes," he says. "Truly, you cannot let something like that go" for the sake, he says, of both non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
From the outside, it seems like a small step, just like Muhammad Kenyatta's first criticisms of the powerful Mosque No. 12 more than three decades ago. But now, as then, it may offer the community hope of salvation from within.