Billboard campaign aims to 'educate' Americans about Islam
Campaign by the mainstream Islamic Circle of North America could spark a backlash amid a spike in anti-Islamic sentiment marked by protests, advertising campaigns and sometimes vandalism.
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."
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 citiesto publicise 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.
"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 at Luther College in Iowa. "When you're a minority religion, you face a lot of pressure from the majority population not to proselytise."
By asking Americans to discover Mohammad, the campaign is similar in some ways to efforts by evangelical Christians whose roadside billboards, especially in the US heartland, have sought to draw Americans into their fold with messages promoting Jesus as the Messiah, he said.