The morning of Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, was bitter, one of the coldest days this fall. As he approached the entrance of the Khair Community Center in the predawn light, the community member briskly …
The morning of Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, was bitter, one of the coldest days this fall. As he approached the entrance of the Khair Community Center in the predawn light, the community member briskly fingered through his familiar key ring.
Like most Fridays in Islam, today was special. Fridays are the day of the week when many Muslims congregate together to connect and worship with their friends, family, and neighbors and affirm their commitment to their community.
In fact, this new mosque in Montgomery County had just hosted a huge community day the previous week with plenty of food vendors, elected officials, and members of varied faiths in attendance. The event got great press. There was even a nod to the symbolism of the center’s name, “Khair,” which translates to “goodness” in Arabic.
The community member took one last breath of cold air and lifted his keys to open the front door. An unfamiliar word written on the glass caught his eye. It stopped him cold. It was a painful word that would shock and traumatize the community that holy day and the days that followed.
I first heard about the Islamophobic defacing of the Khair Community Center from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) that Friday afternoon after my morning shift at the health center. I knew the Muslim house of worship well and spoke at its dedication with several other elected officials earlier this year. My cousin’s family also worships there.
Sadly, this was not the first local hate-filled incident I encountered this fall. Just a few weeks earlier, I attended a synagogue for a funeral for the father of a friend. On that October day, we evacuated the services early because someone called the police to report that someone had planted a bomb in the Jewish house of prayer where we mourned.
The devastating terrorist attack by Hamas in Israel and the ongoing violence in Gaza have brought ideologies of hate to the fore across the world -- notably antisemitism and Islamophobia. Incidents of hate, including violent assaults and harassment, have spiked.
Places of worship, where people go for fulfillment, should be sanctuaries where folks feel and are safe.
As your state representative, I am committed to helping ensure we direct state resources to keep our community safe, including our churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, and LGBTQ+ centers.
That’s why I introduced HB 1772 with our Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee chairperson, Rep. Jordan Harris, and an interfaith group of other legislators: Reps. Jason Dawkins, Jared Solomon, and Ben Waxman.
This bill would invest in the Non-Profit Securities Grant Fund to protect nonprofits vulnerable to hate crimes like houses of worship. These grants help these organizations afford investments in security cameras, protective lighting, metal detectors, and emergency communications equipment. Previously, the Khair Community Center applied for the program but did not receive support in the last round for what they believed was a lack of funding for this program. Our bill would recharge this grant program with $5 million in additional funding.
HB 1772 shows we won’t stand by while acts of violence and ethnic intimidation are committed in our most sacred spaces. Our bill passed the House 153-49 and now heads to the Senate.
Back at the Khair mosque, the community is still shaken, but is moving forward and has taken comfort following the hiring of full-time security and other increased safety measures. While the hate incident was traumatic, it also helped to bring the entire community together.
It breaks my heart that this community needed to hire armed security to feel safe in their own house of worship. William Penn founded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania based on religious freedom and acceptance. As your state representative, I will continue to work to ensure that our community groups feel welcomed and safe in the Commonwealth, and no one feels afraid to attend a place of worship. HB 1772 is one step towards that goal.
If you support this bill, please call the Senate president, Sen. Kim Ward, at 717 787-6063 and ask for the Senate to move on HB 1772. And if you’d like to learn more about the Non-Profit Security Grant Program, please contact our office at 215 482-8726 or visit pccd.pa.gov.
State Rep. Tarik Khan represents Manayunk, Roxborough, and parts of Chestnut Hill and East Falls.