Muslims are trying to show a different side of their faith in a high-visibility place: along Interstate 95.
A new billboard near the Boynton Beach-Delray Beach line encourages drivers to “Explore the life of the Prophet Muhammad,” and directs viewers to the Council on American-Islamic Relations Web site, www.Cair.com. The sign sits along the southbound side of the highway, but faces drivers heading northbound.
People who go to the Web site can request a book or a DVD on Islam, said Altaf Ali, CAIR executive director for Florida.
Ali said CAIR decided to go on the offensive after last year’s Danish cartoon controversy, in which 12 Danish editorial cartoonists depicted Muhammad in unflattering ways. Chapters throughout the United States began designing billboards to counter negative perceptions. Placards in California last year said: “Even a smile is charity. A message from your Muslim neighbor,” with smiling Muslims in the background.
“There are a lot of negative perceptions about Islam and the life of Muhammad,” Ali said. Many see the religion as advocating violence, but he believes those who study closely will see a peaceful, charitable faith.
“We’re not proselytizing. We’re just getting information to people,” said Rubina Hossain, a Muslim from Palm Beach Gardens. “A lot of it is our fault that we don’t get the word out.”
Hossain said her first-grade daughter brought home a pamphlet recently that explained the world’s many faiths, but Islam was not included.
“People think we don’t believe in the same God, that we’re a tribal, desert cult,” Hossain said.
CAIR, a national civil rights group, estimates about 70,000 Muslims live in South Florida, with about 7 million in the United States.
Ahmed Hijazi, a Muslim from Pompano Beach, hopes the campaign encourages drivers to open up to a new view of the faith.
“Maybe they have a friend who is a Muslim and there are things they always wanted to know,” Hijazi said.
The I-95 campaign will last for a month, Ali said. So far, only one person has contacted CAIR for a DVD, he said.
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