City of Brass

City of Brass


Dawah on the bus goes round and round

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

My apologies to my few remaining readers for my delayed absence – I was in the Bay Area from thursday morning until late last night and have rather enjoyed the hiatus from my electronic overlords. My email inboxes have certainly taken their revenge on me this morning, though.

While in San Francisco, I kept an eye out for buses carrying the “Why Islam?” adverts being placed by the Islamic Circle of North America, in conjunction with the 877-Why-Islam project. These adverts are different from the “Dial a muslim” campaign run by the Florida chapter of CAIR, which was less about Dawah and more about simple interfaith outreach (which I highly approve of). Instead, these advertiwhyislam.jpgsements are jarring, promoting Islam in a superficial and awkward way. ICNA has sponsored ads in partnership with regional Islamic groups on Bay Area buses and cable cars, the Chicago CTA, the New York City subway, the Seattle Metro, and others. They are also sponsoring billboards overlooking major freeways with the same general message, which reads:

Islam: Submission to God
The message of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad

I understand that some muslims interpret their faith as requiring them to do active Dawah (prosletyzation) but there’s something very heavy-handed about these ads which i think will rub people the wrong way. The attempt at linking Islam to the prophets of the other faiths, while theologically correct, comes across as condescending and arrogant. The message itself, “Why Islam?” is trite and reduces the complex decision of faith to a mere slogan. What next, a “Got Islam” campaign? (wait…)

If these ads did nothing more than make muslims seem like Jehovah’s Witnesses in the public eye (which would be an improvement, actually), then I wouldn’t care one way or the other. However, these ads also act to focus Islamophobia and thus are doing active harm. For example, the Why Islam? campaign in New York managed to draw negative attention from New York Representative Peter King (a Republican, of course – the GOP War on Muslims continues apace):

King, noting that the ads would be up during the seventh anniversary
of the September 11 attacks, said, “I’m calling on the MTA not to have
these ads, not to go forward with them, and I don’t see this as a free
speech issue at all.” King said he sent a letter to the MTA on Monday night demanding that it reject the ads.

The New York Post has reacted strongly to the ads, running a cover
photograph of Wahhaj on Monday with the headline “Jihad Train” and
posting an article on its Web site with the headline “Train-ing day for
jihadists” and the first paragraph saying, “Allah aboard!”

Instead of promoting Islam as a faith worthy of exploration, we now have a connection between Islam and 9-11, as well as the pushing of the Jihad meme – two of the most defamatory stereotypes about Islam and muslims that the muslim American community in the post-9-11 era. The ad campaign in Florida also drew in the mandatory accusation of anti-semitism, as well:

Some Jewish groups have protested the ads, describing them as
anti-Semitic and as provocative given the conflict in Gaza. Joe
Kaufman, chairman of Americans Against Hate, organized a protest Friday
outside the county government center that attracted 100 people.

Note how the idea of muslims exercising their free speech is considered sensationalist. The defenders of Western Civilization, so quick to cry dhimmitude and proclaim free speech as inviolate when criticism of Islam is at stake, are completely absent.

Still, as an ardent advocate of free speech, I don’t believe that ICNA should be prevented from running this campaign. They can do as they please; unfortunately the rest of us will have to deal with the consequences. In the spirit of responding to bad speech with more speech, here’s my own suggestion for a bus campaign:

bus.jpg(image courtesy of the Bus Slogan Generator)



  • http://www.bible.ca/jw.htm Nathan Easton

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are oppressive too, and worst come to my house with their apostate Gospel.

  • Your Name

    I called that number once, just to ask a few questions. This was a few years ago. I asked them about music: if I convert to Islam, will I still be able to play a stringed instrument and a woodwind instrument, which I’ve been playing since childhood.
    “No,” said the man on the other end. Most definitely not the stringed instrument (violin). That is forbidden. The flute, well, maybe, he wasn’t sure, he had to go check.
    I hung up. I didn’t wait for an answer. If I can’t play music for seniors or the disabled, or with my friends, because it is forbidden, then what else is forbidden?
    I was afraid to find out. This organization seems to have a hard-line interpretation of Islam that may scare off potential converts. It made me think twice…

  • Eruesso

    I think the Dial-A-Muslim Campaign in Florida is a genius idea. But this new ad campaign you mention seems to have a similar subtle off-putting message like the billboards here in Tennessee.
    “Life is short. Eternity isn’t.” -God
    Although, I do live in the Bible Belt so I don’t think there would be as many complaints.

  • Milky way

    Looks like the author did not do the homework before writing the articles. He did not get a chance to look the majority of the bus ads which had “You Deserve to know” inviting people who have a right to know. Most people made calls because of this slogans.
    Also perhaps the author don’t know that call generated by CAIR ads were also take by ICNA hotline in Chicago – gainpeace
    The bus Ad campaign in SFO is endorsed by CAIR also.
    About proselytism – ICNA local website states that
    “WhyIslam neither seeks to proselytize nor is associated with a religious or missionary institute.”
    http://icnabay.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10&Itemid=16
    Regarding outcry on subway ads CAIR is also most hated group for the Islamophobes, does this mean CAIR should also stop there work?

  • Hussein

    What you are calling prosletyzation and Dawah are essentially different. One is an attempt to convert the other is a way of giving information to those interested in it. And, allowing them to make the choice for themselves. I have been Muslim over 31 years and that is the definitive difference in the process. I have been involved in dawah for a number of years. The major problem with those not of the culture givining dawah to the masses is that they trully don’t understand the issues of the people to which they are giving dawah, and, that they do not understand the cultural mindset of the people to which they are speaking often times even after having been in the culture for some time. Not that this cannot be over come. but the fact remains that not enough attention is paid to giving dawah to one’s own self first before passing along the information to others. And, then stepping back allowing those interested to pursue that interest. Unlike, the so called evangelicals who insist on browbeating people into converts to their way of thinking. That is not the place of dawah. Even the Prophet (PBUH) gave dawah to his uncle, who never accepted the religion though this uncle protected this nephew until his dying day, and never tried to coerce a declaration of faith from him. That is because religion is not a matter of force, but, a matter of self realization of that which is greater than you.

  • Daniel Lyons

    Aziz,
    I saw the Why Islam? billboard here in Albuquerque, NM. My first reaction was basically one of being startled. But I did check out the website and I would say that it is extremely even-handed. It didn’t seem to me to be promoting conversion directly, except insofar as it was trying to dispel stigma and propaganda. As a convert to Judaism I can be pretty touchy but I didn’t see anything to be offended by; indeed it warmed me quite a bit just to see what looked to me to be a foundation for equianimous, friendly interfaith dialogue. Such a thing can only benefit a religion that desires converts.

  • Anglican Peggy

    Re: Theists all think God is great.
    That would actually be incorrect and a gross over-simplification. Its an assumption that simply doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny.
    For Christians, God’s greatness is not nearly as important as his goodness. Its his supreme and perfect goodness that makes him great as opposed to some ultimate abstract notion of “greatness” as the equivalent of exceeding all possible categories. The phrase “God is great” strikes me as nothing but a hollow slogan, like the fans of some football team obnoxiously bragging about the home team.
    For Christians, God’s goodness is so perfect and pure that his lowering of himself to our level is neither impossible, nor would it compromise his dignity, majesty, perfection, holiness etc. In short none of the qualities that make God, God can be compromised. In fact, we believe that his lowering of himself only perfectly and emphatically proves his goodness and love for us and therefore perfectly proves his greatness.
    We see Islam’s insistence on God’s greatness as a declaration of God’s brittleness and limitatation in that behind it is the theological concept that God is too great to have done what Christians testify that he did in Christ ie that he either was unwilling to do so which is nothing but a failure or limitation of his love, or else that he was unable to do so and remain uncompromised, which is nothing but a limitation of his power and purity.
    So, long story short, Christians and Muslims mean such different things when we use the word “great” in regards to God that there is in fact nothing in common between us except the spelling.

  • Loga

    JazakAllah khier for this article.
    I wanted to share some research for dawah I’ve posted:
    http://loga-abdullah.blogspot.com/2009/03/dawah-biblical-errors.html
    InshaAllah ta’ala it is useful

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