BY MANYA BRACHEAR
December 13, 2007
In the past month, I’ve received more than a dozen calls about a billboard erected near O’Hare Airport asking “Why Islam?” Why drivers have chosen to call me instead of the toll-free number on the sign frankly baffles me.
I decided to let Sabeel Ahmed, a spokesman for the group sponsoring the billboards, address some of the callers’ concerns.
Callers wanted to know why such a billboard was necessary. What did it accomplish? And who was funding such an expensive advertising endeavor? And who calls that number? (I started to wonder myself when my phone kept ringing.)
Most callers to the hotline seek translations of the Quran in English or Spanish or literature about the faith, said Ahmed, a spokesman for the Islamic Circle of North America. A smaller percentage asks specific questions about events in the Middle East. Some are Muslims grateful for the positive publicity. Some have made donations to help fund the campaign.
Some who have dialed 1-877-WHY-ISLAM have converted to the faith, Ahmed said. For them, the Chicago chapter of ICNA has started classes in Chicago and Villa Park.
Then, Ahmed said, there are the angry callers who just want to tell Muslims they’re wrong.
“Usually I listen to what they’re saying because they’re already emotional to begin with,” Ahmed said. “We want them to express their views.”
James Gustafson of Chicago was one of those drivers who called me instead of the number. He was indeed angry.
“They’re rubbing it in our face,” he said. “I don’t buy what they’re saying. These people are not standing up like they should against these radical Islamic terrorists.”
Ahmed has heard those sentiments.
“After they slow down, we go about explaining to them in the context. Suicide is forbidden by Islam and killing innocent people is forbidden,” he said. “We recite them words from the Quran that say that. Muslims should not be judged by the actions of a few people, just like Christians and Jews should not be judged by actions of a few.”
A quick glance at comments posted to The Seeker in recent months shows that a number of people harshly judge Islam, and occasionally other faiths.
Instead of asking “Why Islam?” I’d like to ask “Why so much hostility?”