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Muslims Turn to Bus Ads in Seattle to Create Awareness About Islam

09 14 08



The Seattle chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America is sponsoring bus ads to stir conversation and steer people toward information about Islam.
By Janet I. Tu, Seattle Times religion reporter.
The ads are simple and stark.
Running on the sides of several Metro buses, they merely say: “Q: Islam. A: You deserve to know,” with a phone number and Web site.

For Bilal Aijazi, a Bellevue software developer, the ads are meant to stir conversation and steer people toward information on Islam.

As a Muslim, Aijazi sometimes fields questions about his faith. Especially during Ramadan, which began about two weeks ago, people ask Aijazi why Muslims fast during this Islamic holy month.

Then there are the questions he gets other times of the year: Why some women wear head scarves; whether Muslims condone terrorism.

“We feel often Muslims don’t have a voice,” said Aijazi, one of about six people who helped coordinate the local effort to get the ads onto the outside of six Metro buses and the inside of about 25. About 10 local Muslims contributed to the nearly $5,000 campaign.

“This is just a way to present the community with a source of information about Islam that comes from Muslims themselves,” he said.

The ads, scheduled to run until November, were designed by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and direct people to a toll-free number and Web site sponsored by the group. ICNA is a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to educate people about Islam and has 22 U.S. chapters in the U.S.

In addition to Seattle, the New York and Chicago chapters plan to run ads on public transit this year. The bus ads haven’t stirred controversy in the Seattle area, but in New York, where 1,000 of the ads are scheduled to go up in subways later this month, U.S. Rep. Peter King urged subway officials to not display them.

In a letter to transit officials, the Republican congressman said he doesn’t oppose the ad’s content. But he objects to the campaign’s support by Siraj Wahhaj, a Brooklyn-based imam who was a character witness for an Egyptian cleric convicted in 1995 for conspiring to attack New York landmarks.

Wahhaj, who was the first Muslim to lead a prayer before the U.S. House of Representatives, was one of several imams the New York chapter had asked to tape video commentaries — posted to YouTube — in support of the campaign, said ICNA secretary-general Naeem Baig.

“Our goal is to create this awareness about Islam, that Muslims are Americans. That Muslims are your neighbors, your colleagues,” Baig said. “People may have questions in their minds but don’t know where to go.”

Marlina Soerakoesoemah, of Redmond, co-founder of Azizah, a magazine for Muslim women, likes the ads and says they make information about Islam more readily accessible.

“It’s great to get it out there in the public view,” she said.

But whether such campaigns have any effect is up for debate.

A 2007 poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 58 percent of Americans surveyed said they knew little or nothing about Islam — a figure that’s changed little since 2001.

And Americans’ attitude toward Muslims and Islam appears to have gotten slightly more negative in recent years. The same Pew poll showed that 43 percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Muslims, down from 48 percent in 2004.

“I don’t think the ads will change anybody’s mind,” said Aijazi, the Bellevue software developer. “People will have whatever feelings they’ll have about the issue. But at least they’ll talk about it.”

Article Courtesy: Seattle Times