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Facing backlash: US Muslims counter advertising campaign

06 16 15



SACRAMENTO, Calif. | By Sharon Bernstein, Jun 16, 2015
In California’s capital city of Sacramento this month, stark black billboards loomed over highways and faded commercial strips, offering solace to the troubled: “Looking for the answers in life?” one asked. “Discover Muhammad.”

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With messages that are part religious invitation to explore the Muslim faith and part public relations, the billboards anchor a national campaign to showcase Islam as a religion of love and tolerance, aimed at Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

But the campaign by the mainstream Islamic Circle of North America, which is sponsoring billboards in other cities to publicize the Muslim prophet’s message, could also spark a backlash amid a spike in anti-Islamic sentiment marked by protests, advertising campaigns and sometimes vandalism and violence.

“We thought a proper approach would be to actually educate the larger public about his personality, which exemplifies love and brotherhood,” said Waqas Syed, ICNA Deputy Secretary General.

The billboard campaign is not the first high-profile bid by a Muslim group to bolster Islam’s image in America, tarnished by militant attacks. But it is the largest such effort by ICNA, the group most closely identified with billboard campaigns in recent years, and it includes some billboards that are clearly evangelical.

“Under the circumstances, it’s a pretty bold move,” said Todd Green, a professor who studies Islamophobia, or fear of Islam, at Luther College in Iowa. “When you’re a minority religion, you face a lot of pressure from the majority population not to proselytize.”

By asking Americans to discover Mohammad, the campaign is similar in some ways to efforts by evangelical Christians whose roadside billboards, especially in the U.S. heartland, have sought to draw Americans into their fold with messages promoting Jesus as the Messiah, he said.

Organizers said they launched the program as a response to a deadly Paris attack by Islamist militants on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January over its anti-Muslim cartoons, aiming their message in part at other Muslims to say that violence is not an appropriate response to provocation.

By coincidence, the first billboards went up days after two U.S. Muslim gunmen were killed in May as they tried to attack a Texas exhibit of cartoons depicting Mohammad, and shortly before heavily armed anti-Islam protesters demonstrated outside a Phoenix mosque.

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A previous billboard campaign by ICNA two years ago invited Americans to see similarities between Christianity and Islam, which views Jesus as a prophet but not as the son of God as Christians do. A campaign by another U.S. Muslim group tried to show non-violent interpretations of jihad, such as a holy struggle to lead a moral life.

Both campaigns prompted angry responses, and in the case of the “My Jihad” campaign, an opposing group put up signs and billboards linking Islam with violence.

The latest campaign, paid for by local ICNA chapters, will eventually include about 100 billboards from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Atlanta and Miami.

Some signs, like those in Sacramento, are clearly invitations to explore the Muslim faith while others aim to portray Mohammad as a supporter of women’s rights and religious tolerance.

“Kindness is a mark of faith,” a billboard in Elizabeth, New Jersey, reads. In Miami, another offers, “Muhammad believed in peace, social justice, women’s rights.”

Sharing that view of Mohammad is more important to ICNA than proselytizing, Syed said, though newcomers who want to convert would be welcomed.

Muslims make up 0.9 percent of the U.S. population, but the number is expected to double by 2050, driven by immigration, high birth rates and a young population, the Pew Research Center says.

The first wave of signs, including those in Sacramento and Los Angeles, came down last week. New ones will be posted in San Francisco, Dallas and other cities in coming weeks. Despite tensions, the billboards have not been defaced, and negative responses have been few, said Imam Khalid Griggs, vice president of ICNA and leader of a mosque in North Carolina.

Last week, a group that fears radical Islam will grow in the United States erected billboards around St. Louis showing cartoon drawings of Mohammad, meant to flout the religion’s ban on depicting his image. In February, a Washington, D.C. mosque was vandalized twice in one week.

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, where one ICNA billboard went up, Tyler Coltelli, a 23-year-old Catholic, said the sign made him uncomfortable: “You should be able to practice your own faith, but I don’t necessarily agree with trying to convert people from the streets.”

But Bodia Wardany, a parishioner at the Salam Islamic Center in Sacramento said: “I think it’s a great idea, considering all the misperceptions about the faith and the terrorist, fanatical groups misrepresenting the faith itself.”

(Additional reporting by Sebastian Malo in Elizabeth, New Jersey and Laila Kearney in New York; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Lambert)

A billboard sponsored by Islamic Circle of North America is shown on a street in Sacramento, California in this undated handout photo released to Reuters June 16, 2015. Reuters/Islamic Circle of North America/Handout via Reuters

A billboard sponsored by Islamic Circle of North America is shown on a street in Sacramento, California in this undated handout photo released to Reuters June 16, 2015.
Reuters/Islamic Circle of North America/Handout via Reuters

Waqas Syed, Deputy Secretary General, Islamic Circle of North America, poses for a portrait at his office in Anaheim, California June 12, 2015. Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

Waqas Syed, Deputy Secretary General, Islamic Circle of North America, poses for a portrait at his office in Anaheim, California June 12, 2015.
Reuters/Mario Anzuoni


  • Larry A Singleton

    Too bad certain people are too gutless and cowardly to deal with Pamela Geller’s counter ads. Too bad that people literally have to fear for their lives from certain people in this “religion of peace”. That the real “backlash” is the mass murder of people who have “insulted” Islam and “offended” the perpetually agrieved Muslims.

  • Larry A Singleton

    “Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by Islamic Circle of North America”
    Read: “Hold on while we censor this comment”.

  • Larry A Singleton

    Too bad your religion of peace “inspires” people not to run Geller’s ads, not because of any moral decision; but because they’re afraid of being murdered by Muslims: “We’re the religion of peace. And if you say different we’ll kill you”. That’s the reality. That’s the “backlash”. (A ‘piece’ of you here. A ‘piece’ of you over there.)

    Read “Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future” by Horowitz and Spencer. Let’s see if this get past the ICNA censors.

  • Larry A Singleton

    Letter to Clear Channel 6-19-15

    Jack Jessen

    Regarding Clear Channel Refuses AFDI Ads Countering ICNA’s Lies with the Truth About Muhammad by Pamela Geller

    (See my comments on your Facebook page:

    Dear Sirs,

    Why have you chosen to be a shill for terrorists and those trying to destroy America? Did you not do even the basic due diligence and research into the Islamic Circle of North America and their Islamic Supremacist agenda, (ICNA), who you have allowed to spread its easily verifiable lies? As the article states, “Despite the carefully constructed myth surrounding Muslim Brotherhood groups in America, advanced by a hostile and pro-jihadist media, the truth about these subversives is out there.”

    Have you even read the Muslim Brotherhood “Explanatory Memorandum” mentioned in the above article? Do you know ANYTHING about this issue? Did you know that the Soviets are kicking over the furniture when it comes to Islamist’s success in infiltrating and subverting every level of the media, government and our universities? (A slight exaggeration because they have actually facilitated radical Islam. See “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.)

    Do you know the first thing about jihad? Or Taqqiya? Do you know when you’re talking to a “moderate” Muslim? Do you have a copy of the Koran or Sahih al Bukhari? Have you read Sheikh Abdullah bin Humaid’s article on jihad? I’m just a dumb-ass construction worker but I, at least, know how to do basic research. Which you, obviously did not do when it came to ICNA.

    Do you know who CAIR is? Who is also mentioned in the above article. Here’s a hint:

    Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future by David Horowitz and Robert Spencer

    Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld, (CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood), That’s Conspiring to Islamize America by Gaubatz and Sperry.

    Is CAIR a Terror Group? by Daniel Pipes (National Review Online)

    •”CAIR is a terrorist supporting front organization that is partially funded by terrorists”;

    •”CAIR … is supported by terrorist supporting individuals, groups and countries”;

    •”CAIR has proven links to, and was founded by, Islamic terrorists”; and

    •”CAIR actively supports terrorists and terrorist supporting groups and nations.”

    Getting to Know the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) (Assorted articles)

    CAIR: Islamists Fooling the Establishment by Daniel Pipes and Sharon Chadha (MEQ article)


    ICNA is an affiliate of CAIR and a shill for terrorists, Just As You Are! Bone up on CAIR and you’ll also have a basic understanding of who ICNA is and what it’s real purpose and intentions are.

    “Unbelievably jaw-dropping” would be a good description of your happy, almost giddy effort to fall all over yourself for a group almost certainly linked to terrorists.

    Larry A. Singleton
    Riverside, CA

    P.S. Subscribe to Jihad/Campus Watch and the Middle East Forum/Quarterly, Family Security Matters, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Gatestone Institute, FrontPage Magazine, American Thinker, The Clarion Project, NGO Monitor, Cross Muslims, Palestinian Media Watch, Muhammad unveiled, Religion of Peace and read Raymond Ibrahim, Andrew Harrod, Efraim Karsh, Frank Gaffney, Patrick Poole, Caroline Glick, Bat Ye’or and others.