A billboard was set up in Dallas in a bid to help clear the negative stereotypes associated with hijabs and Muslim women. After the billboard went up, however, the Muslim call center started logging about 200 hate calls a week.
Ruman Sadiq, who represents the Islamic Center of North America Dallas and GainPeace, stated that they felt compelled to take action after a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was allegedly attacked on December 30 at the Reunion Tower.
“What better way to take action than by educating people about why we wear the hijab and what it really means,” she stated.
The organization began by setting up booths around North Texas, with one in Klyde Warren Park, which was started in February.
Sadiq said, “They could try on a hijab for a day. They asked us questions on why we wear it and what rights Muslim women have. It was amazing how much positive feedback we received and how little people knew about our faith.”
This experience inspired the organization to implement a six-week public outreach campaign which included setting up the billboard on I-35E near Northwest Highway.
The campaign’s main goal was to show the public that the hijab was a symbol of empowerment, and not oppression. However, the response was completely different.
Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, the director of the call center at GainPeace, stated that ever since the billboard was put up, the call center got more hate calls “than from any billboard in the last 12 years of GainPeace’s campaigns.”
The call center did get callers who had genuine questions about the hijab, but they also had callers yell profanities and then hang up, and others who would tell them, “You are terrorists. Go home.”
Sadiq maintained that anonymous callers spewing anger would not stop the organization’s efforts, or the billboards.
She said, “Engage with us. That’s the only way to arrive at a better understanding of one another.”
When talking to hateful callers, the call center employees follow a few talking points:
- Muslims are not new to the USA, and have been living here for about 500 years.
- Muslims are as American as anyone else.
- Muslim women wear the hijab on their own accord, and are not forced by anyone - freedom of choice.
- If Christians can have billboards about Jesus, why can’t Muslims have theirs on hijabs?
- Hijab (modest clothing) is also found in Judaism and Christianity and was worn by Mary (mother of Jesus), Mother Teresa and Catholic nuns.
The Dallas and Houston billboards are scheduled to remain up for the next month.