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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Muslims get on the bus

By Rashid Abbara
Florida Muslims are putting ads on city buses to promote tolerance and teach their neighbours about Islam.

The voices of reason, moderation and tolerance in any faith must always be louder than those of extremists. Unfortunately, every time terrorists falsely claim Islamic justification for their violence, all Muslims are tarred with the same broad brush. The voices of mainstream Muslims condemning these unjustifiable acts are often drowned out by the inflammatory rhetoric of those same terrorists.

It is important that people of other faiths know that Muslims in America and around the world are speaking out against terrorism. That is why the South Florida Muslim community embarked on a campaign this fall, designed to reach out to our fellow Americans and teach them about Islam and Muslims.

Since November 25, and continuing for eight weeks, the Dade and Broward County transit systems in south Florida are displaying large, colourful banners about Islam on the sides of 120 buses. We thought the buses would be the most exotic way to promote our message. These large ads, floating around the city, are very visible to drivers and pedestrians. Similar campaigns in Chicago and New York have been successful and generated great curiosity. The public is used to seeing ads that promote products and services, but not ads like ours. This American Islamic awareness campaign is designed to bring positive awareness of Islam and Muslims to our fellow Americans.

Our campaign started on Thanksgiving, the beginning of the holiday season and gorgeous weather. This is a perfect opportunity for the Muslim community to bring positive awareness about Islam not only to Floridians but also to tourists to take back home.

It is time for mainstream Muslims to stand up and speak more loudly than the tiny minority of extremists who are dragging Islam's name through the mud. We hope that this positive, pro-active campaign will enhance understanding of Islam and encourage dialogue and mutual understanding.

At one fundraising event at a local mosque, we asked everyone to participate in the bus ad project and donate whatever they could afford, even if it was just one dollar. One child gave three dollars and said: "Now I could walk out and say I am a co-founder of this project that will defend Islam and Muslims." A Muslim man in his late 50s told us: "I don't have any money, but I could volunteer to drive the bus." It is this type of attitude that keeps us going. His words brought tears to my eyes, knowing that he is willing to do whatever it takes to demand respect and live righteously.

These are just small examples of ordinary Muslims who want to make a difference in this world. I remember a friend of mine telling me that it would be hard to raise $60,000 in a short period because the Muslim community cannot afford to sponsor another project in a period of economic hardship. I told him that we cannot afford to be misperceived as silent on the issue of terror.

Since its launch, our website,, has had more than 220,000 views. Our call centre has received hundreds of calls on our US toll-free number 1-888-ISLAM-55. Most callers had misconceptions about Islam and wanted to learn more about their Muslim neighbours.

It is through such initiatives that we will all come together as people of faith to marginalise the extremists so that the voice of moderation is heard loud and clear.

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