Local Muslims advertise their faith

January 28, 2009 4:37:45 PM PST
You may have seen the billboard up in north Houston. The sign asks you to call a hotline if you have questions about the Islamic community. It's part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about the Muslim faith. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

It's been more than seven years since September 11, 2001, but Muslims in the Houston area say that's the day they became the objects of suspicion. Even a Muslim prayer service got a lot harder for the faithful after that day. They hope to change that starting with one billboard.

"Especially right after 9/11. It was especially bad. I remember for the first and only time in my life going to the Friday prayer and actually fearing that something might happen," said Alp Aslandogan, President of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog.

That's why the Houston Chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America or ICNA put up the billboard on FM 1960. The billboard is emblazoned with the phone number 877-WHY-ISLAM.

"We've been here a long time, however 9/11 has blurred things and people have a different image of Muslims and we want to clarify that image," said ICNA member Mustafa White.

The billboard went up above this busy north Harris County road about a month ago. The cost is $3,000 per month, all money raised by ICNA.

The curious can call the number and reach volunteers in New Jersey on the other end, who are also Muslims and will answer questions about the religion of Islam.

"What is Islam? What does it literally mean? It means submission to the will of God. Who is a Muslim? One who submits to the will of God," said White.

On the street, people we talked to who took at look at the billboard though it was a good idea.

"I'd really want to know the behind the scenes, like the true meaning of Allah and all that," said Roy Mata.

But they aren't sure how effective it will be.

"For that kind of billboard, I think they need to put it somewhere else, you know, where people can actually really see it because a lot of people don't even look. They really don't," said Jennifer Hartley.

"People make up their own minds. If you work with someone, they're just going to think the way they're going to think," said David Losure.

The billboard is just one of dozens that have gone up around the country supported by local ICNA chapters. In the Houston area, members hope to be able to keep it up at $3,000 per month, for as long as they can.

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