‘Get out of America’: Pro-Islam billboards in Dallas a reaction to political climate
Source: Huffington Post
Driving down Dallas highways lately, you may have noticed an unusual billboard tucked among the more expected ones advertising Christian churches.
“ISLAM = Racial Equality,” read the 12 billboards that have popped up around Dallas and Fort Worth. They provide a hotline phone number and website for “Why Islam?”
The billboards were funded by the Dallas chapter of Islamic Circle of North America, using local mosque donations. The group has run these campaigns nationwide for years, but this one, which started Oct. 24, has stood out.
It has prompted more hate calls than the group has received in other cities.
“We need to do more of these [campaigns] in Dallas, given the amount of hatred we got this time,” said Imam Jawad Ahmed, who manages the hotline call center in New Jersey. “They would just curse the Muslims in general and say things like racial slurs, go back to your country, or get out of America, things like that.”
The group’s local spokesman, Furqan Ansari, of Irving, said the group decided to buy the billboards in an effort to combat what he sees as widespread misinformation about Islam that coincided with the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, and to show solidarity with people of color.
“We wanted to show DFW residents the things said in the election campaign were not true,” Ansari said. The political rhetoric, he said, “made people have a lot of hatred and discrimination against Muslims.”
The response to the billboards has mirrored the division of the country.
The medium of a billboard is useful, especially during these times of fractured media and liberal and conservative echo chambers. Regardless of what websites we read, we all sit in traffic together.
ICNA estimated its billboards were seen 24 million times in the past month.
“People have short attention spans — a billboard is short and punchy,” Esposito said. “You put something up there and it just grabs them. You get more attention than an op-ed in the newspaper.”
Even though the group’s goal isn’t to proselytize or convert people, Hunt said Islam, like Christianity, does urge its followers to encourage non-Muslims to join. Educational efforts often involve teaching that Islam is the true path to God, he said.
And now may be an opportune time.
“A lot of people are saying, if Christianity is Donald Trump, I don’t want to be a Christian anymore,” Hunt said. “So they’re naturally out looking.”