Thieves' Coverups Raise Concerns Among Muslims In Philadelphia Some criminals in Philadelphia have adopted a troubling disguise — they're dressing as Muslim women, with their faces and bodies covered in traditional Muslim attire. The Muslim community is outraged over the rash of crimes, which they say could subject women to unpleasant scrutiny and suspicion.

Thieves' Cover-Ups Raise Concerns Among Muslims

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Philadelphia police are calling on residents there to help them unmask the men behind a series of bank robberies and a fatal shooting. At least, they are believed to be men.

As WHYY's Elizabeth Fiedler reports, on bank surveillance tape, the robbers are dressed like veiled Muslim women.

ELIZABETH FIEDLER, BYLINE: The worst of the incidents happened in Upper Darby when Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood says someone who appeared to be a Muslim woman went into a barbershop.

MICHAEL CHITWOOD: The hold up man who was attired, dressed in Muslim female garb was covered from head to toe. The only thing that was showing was his eyes. He shot and killed the barber in the shop.

FIEDLER: Chitwood says police believe it was a love triangle case. The defendant knew the victim and an arrest was made. But he says without additional evidence, it would have been tough to identify the perpetrator. Kezia Ridgeway is horrified by the news.

KEZIA RIDGEWAY: It just makes me sad that they would, you know, portray our religion in this manner.

FIEDLER: Ridgeway isn't covered as much as some women. She usually just drapes a scarf around her hair. Sometimes with a long dress, other times pants and a shirt. She and her husband have talked about how the crimes might make people more suspicious of Muslim women.

RIDGEWAY: You can't see the face, so you don't know who it is that's coming into your store. And it's just really going to make it hard for Muslim women whether you cover your face or just you cover your head. It's just going to be something wherein people when they see someone who looks like me or they see another Muslim woman, they're going to think negative thoughts.

FIEDLER: Muslim leaders are worried too. Earlier this week, they joined Philadelphia politicians to announce a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of any person who commits a violent crime while disguised as a Muslim woman.

ISA ABDUL-MATEEN: My name is Imam Isa Abdul-Mateen. I'm the secretary of the Majlis Ash'Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley.

FIEDLER: Abdul-Mateen says fears about how the crimes could hurt Muslim women prompted the group to offer the reward.

ABDUL-MATEEN: It endangers our women. It disrespects our women. It makes a mockery of our women and Islam.

FIEDLER: He worries that women will be made to reveal themselves before entering shops and businesses. Sitting across from him, Aishia Muhammed says she's outraged that criminals are using the clothing that's part of her regular wardrobe. Her clothing billows out over her belly as she speaks. She's pregnant with her seventh child, and she says she likes being able to cover everything except her eyes.

AISHIA MUHAMMED: Modesty is a huge part of Islam, and it's something we love to do. We're not forced to do it. You know, it's not a hardship or anything. I love when I walk out the door that I'm dressed this way, and I'm comfortable, and it's a part of who I am.

FIEDLER: Even before the crimes began in December, Muhammed says storekeepers were on high alert when she walked in.

MUHAMMED: If I go into a store to purchase - maybe I'm shopping - clothes or something, shoes, there's definitely a lot of following...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MUHAMMED: ...following me around the store. Or people will say instantly, like, do you need help with something? Can I help you? And it's not polite, and it's a little aggressive.

FIEDLER: Abdul-Mateen says when criminals disguise themselves as Muslim women, he believes it's a hate crime against Muslims. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Fiedler in Philadelphia.

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