Muslims are tired of people misunderstanding and mischaracterizing their faith. So, adherents have setup a 24/7 toll-free hotline (1-877-WHY-ISLAM) that people can call to ask questions about Islam.
In New Jersey, two 48-foot billboards feature a new Ramadan-focused, public information initiative being waged by the hotline's founders. NJ.com reports:
For the next month, northbound drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike near interchange 14E will find a billboard with a U.S. flag and a message: "877-WhyIslam — Get the Facts." A second sign, near the interchange 16 toll plaza, reads "Ramadan — 1.57 Billion Celebrating. Find Out Why."
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Sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America, the phone campaign will, according to proponents, hopefully clear up misconceptions that are perpetuated in the media. In explaining the initiative, Asim Khan, the president of of the Islamic Circle of North America New Jersey chapter, said:
"Rather than absorb knowledge from Fox News, we invite people to come hear it from the horse’s mouth. We invite them to ask us what our faith is about. There is a lot of curiosity about Islam, but also misinformation, uncertainty, and a sense of fear in approaching us."
The New Jersey billboards that are advertising this phone number are part of a larger, nationwide campaign launched by WhyIslam, a pro-Islam organization. They are among a total of 50 that will be posted on highways across America. Below, watch the group's video explaining Ramadan:
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WhyIslam, founded in 1999, experienced an influx of calls following the September 11 terror attacks that occurred just two years later. Ironically, one of the organization's founders -- Tariq Amanullah of Metuchen -- perished while working at the World Trade Center during the attack. NJ.com continues:
WhyIslam has launched similar advertising campaigns in the past with subway, bus, radio and TV ads. The Turnpike billboards are the first such initiative in New Jersey.
While Khan says, "We’re not here to convert people." We’re here to educate people," it isn't uncommon for callers to convert to Islam (some literally over the phone, some later on). Newsworks has more on the nature of the calls thus far:
Many of the questions so far address Sharia law, jihad or the holy month of Ramadan, said Ashfaq Parkar, the national coordinator for the Islamic Circle of North America, which runs the hotline.
"The vast majority of people come in with an open mind, seeking out what is the Muslim position on this question," Parkar said. "We do have a reasonable number of calls that come in, which are far more confrontational. And we've had many instances where the tone of the conversation really changes as you progress in the conversation."
It will be interesting to see how the general public reacts as the campaign spreads from New Jersey to other states.