By Mark Hicks, The Detroit News, February 2, 2014
Perched along Interstate 96 near Milford Road for the past month, a large red billboard asks travelers in the thousands of vehicles that pass it daily: “What is Islam? Who are the Muslims?”
The sign in Oakland County also lists a phone number and website for GainPeace, a Chicago nonprofit associated with the Islamic Circle of North America.
The curious who follow through have the chance to earn a free copy of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, and learn more about the religion, which is the aim of the group’s campaign.
“We want to do away with the misconceptions people have about the fundamentals of Islam,” said Sabeel Ahmed, national director of GainPeace.
The initiative, launched in cities nationwide and in Canada, started several years ago yet gained momentum in the wake of the controversy in 2012 surrounding the film “Innocence of Muslims.” The video shared online was considered anti-Islamic and sparked international outrage.
Inaccurate depictions and beliefs about Muslims have persisted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Ahmed said. Countering that with education, he said, is essential not only for improving perceptions but fulfilling one of the Muslim faith’s goal of educating others.
The campaign continues as the Council on American-Islamic Relations–Michigan has in recent years logged more complaints from Muslims of workplace discrimination, harassment by officials at the U.S.-Canada border and bullying at school, said Dawud Walid, the group’s executive director.
Intolerance rises after extremist acts some connect with mainstream Muslims, he said, and is supported when public figures share misguided views about the religion.
“We believe as a civil rights organization that much of the discrimination that Muslims face is based upon ignorance of our faith and who we are as human beings,” Walid said. “So the more education, the less likelihood that people who learn about Muslims will bully or harass them.”
GainPeace put up billboards last year in the Flint area as well as ran ads in newspapers and on a cable TV show featuring Islamic scholars, Ahmed said. Literature has also been distributed.
While some response was negative, others welcomed the efforts and there are plans for another billboard, said Mohammed Saleem, vice president of the Flint Islamic Center. “We are trying to educate our community, our neighborhoods,” he said.
Article Courtesy: The Detroit News