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Florida Muslims fight against stereotyping using bus banners
2008-12-13 12:26:08

Dade and Broward County transit systems display colourful banners to spread true knowledge about Islam.

The Nation Press -

By Altaf Ali - FLORIDA

Over the past several years, the image of Islam and Muslims has plummeted to the deepest depths of misunderstanding. The Muslims who have hijacked our faith and taken front and centre stage do not demonstrate the desire for peace shared by most believers, and for the most part have offended and harmed not only people of other faiths but also followers of Islam.


This trend continues unabated and those who truly adhere to the religion of Islam and try to speak out against terrorism have been sidelined. Their voices, although loud and clear, were not covered in the mainstream press.


Last week’s terrorist attacks in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, which left at least 174 people dead and many more injured, have added to our collective despondency.


It is high time that Muslim Americans make sure our voices are heard and define our faith for ourselves. As Muslims and as Americans, we should never let terrorist groups falsely claim to represent us or Islam. In addition to repudiating and condemning all forms of terrorism and religious extremism, we have to take a proactive stance in accurately portraying our faith.


We Muslim Americans owe it to our fellow Americans to put their fears at ease. It is our moral and ethical obligation to let our friends, neighbours and colleagues know the truth. We can no longer afford to be sidelined.


Two years ago the fear-inducing documentary Obsession infiltrated the synagogues in South Florida, and just before this year’s presidential election it was distributed to newspaper subscribers in swing states in an attempt to prey on fear and foster guilt by association.


Responding to the stereotyping and misunderstanding fostered by such initiatives, on 25 November the Muslim community in South Florida embarked on a historical project and launched the Bus Ad Campaign.


This initiative offers fellow Americans the opportunity to learn the truth about Islam.


For eight weeks, the Dade and Broward County transit systems will display colourful banners about Islam on the sides of 120 local buses. Floridians of all faiths are invited to call 1-888-ISLAM-55 or visit the website to discover accurate information about Islam and Muslims.


Even though we have been speaking out, many of our fellow Americans have not heard us; now they can. This project creates an avenue for dialogue and friendship. Through a direct line of communication all Americans will be able to make an informed decision about Muslims and Islam.


Already on the second day of the campaign an upset individual, whose call ended up in my queue, asked why Muslims wanted to dominate the world by converting everyone to Islam. After a 20-minute discussion we parted as friends: a Christian and a Muslim who found we had more things in common than different. Stereotypes were dispelled and the truth was told.


With all good things come challenges. Not only will there be success stories but also difficult stories. For example, the first caller I talked to was so livid about the campaign that his language was littered with profanity.


We will not change the mind of every caller, but we will create bridges with those interested in exchanging views.


It is our hope that Floridians will gain exposure to the true essence of Islam and better understand their Muslim neighbours through this campaign, setting the foundation for a more harmonious society, and fostering respect and understanding. Most importantly, our fellow Americans will know that the voices of extremism run contrary to the sentiments of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim Americans and the millions of Muslims worldwide.


Ninety-nine percent of the funds used for this campaign came directly from donations from Muslims in Florida. The way the Muslim community in South Florida embraced this project and supported it wholeheartedly demonstrates that the majority of Muslims want to reach out in understanding. The inauguration of the Bus Ad Campaign is a step in the right direction.


Altaf Ali is the executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at GCNews. It originally appeared in The Miami Herald.

Source : Ttenationpress serveciss
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