Five billboards were erected along Interstate 95 in Florida by the Islamic Circle of North America. The group aims to educate South Floridians about Islam and were prompted by growing levels of Islamophobia in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, France, in January.
Religious billboards are not uncommon for Florida highways, especially in the rural north, but these don’t give the typically Christian message. “Muhammad believed in peace, social justice, women’s rights” the billboard reads. Two are also printed in Spanish.
Major cities like Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago have similar billboards put up by the ICNA through the Clear Channel Corporation. They are part of a national campaign called #WhoIsMuhammed.
The billboards invite passersby to dial ICNA’s toll-free telephone number or visit its website to learn about misunderstood topics associated with Islam, Broward Palm Beach New Times reports.
The American Freedom Defense Fund, an anti-Islamic organization, tried to counter the billboards by submitting ones with new phrases but similar designs. AFDI’s read: “Muhammad believed in war, denial of rights to women, denial of rights to non-Muslims, deceit of unbelievers.”
AFDI is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. AFDI drew national attention when it tried to have advertisements placed on New York City public transportation vehicles that read: “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah,” reported The Washington Post.
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority had to ban political ads to prevent the inflammatory message, NY Daily News reports.
Broward Palm Beach New Times sent an inquiry to the ICNA website and was invited to visit the $3 million Islamic Center of Boca Raton.
There, Mohammad Assad said, “It’s easy to mix up the culture with the religion. Assad’s son, Hamid, organized pamphlets with titles like “Status of Women in Islam” and “What does Islam Say About Terrorism?”
“One of my favorite lines in the Quran tells people to treat their mothers better than anyone,” Nabeela, Assad’s wife, said.
The women of the mosque were segregated behind a prayer window. Nabeela whispered “It’s not that we don’t have the rights and that’s why we have to pray here.”
“We don’t want the men looking at our butts when we bend up and down!” she said.
Muslims at the mosque shared their experiences with Islamophobia in South Florida. Nabeela said that as a worker in a shoe store, customers have walked in, noticed her headscarf, and left. She sometimes stays in the back because “it’s better for business,” she said.
As a college student, Hamid has had to defend himself from ignorant comments about Islamic State group. “Muslims don’t believe that (Islamic State group) and those who practice violence are real Muslims,” he said. “We don’t support it. The Quran doesn’t say anything about that.”
Most Americans have false beliefs about Islam, worshipers at the mosque insisted.
President Barack Obama recently agreed with that position. He said at a dinner to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that, “Here in America, many people personally don’t know someone who is Muslim. They mostly hear about Muslims in the news — and that can obviously lead to a very distorted impression,” The Hill reports.
Photo Credit: Screenshot via Broward Palm Beach New Times