CAIRO – With ads explaining the true meaning of Jihad and rival campaigns linking the term to violence, an advertising war is taking place on American streets between Muslims and Islamophobes about the spiritual concept.
“Unfortunately we have witnessed in front of our very eyes a central tenet of our faith essentially become tarnished,” Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told The New York Times.
“I was tired of hearing fathers tell their children, you know, ‘Don’t say jihad over the phone. Don’t say jihad in public.’”
The ad war began in September when anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller championed a campaign on New York subway linking jihad to savagery.
“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” the ad reads.
In response, CAIR launched a billboard campaign to explain the true and proper meaning of Jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims.
The campaign, which reached Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, includes putting up public ads on buses and trains as well as social media websites as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, where users are asked to tweet what their Jihad (struggle) is using the #MyJihad hashtag.
“My jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule,” says a hijab-clad woman lifting weights in an ad that started running on buses in December. “What’s yours?”
But rival ads championed by Geller appeared again on buses linking the Islamic term to violence and terrorism.
The ads quote people as Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010.
“Killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah,” says one ad, attributing the quotation to a Hamas television station.
The ads end with the statement: “That’s his jihad. What’s yours?”
When CAIR’s campaign began with a website Myjihad.org, the anti-Islam blogger bought the domain name Myjihad.us.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Geller said. “If CAIR is running them longer, I will run them longer.”
Americans lament that the anti-Jihad campaigns are fuelling hatred and intolerance in the society.
“It’s a further message of intolerance, furthering the flames that are currently out there between all different communities,” Lonnie Nasatir, Midwest regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The New York Times.
Heidi Beirich, who tracks hate groups at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has listed Geller’s blog since 2009, said her ads subscribe “bad motives to all Muslims.”
“It’s rejecting the idea that American Muslims can have different interpretations of their religion,” she said.
Jihad is often stereotyped by Western media as meaning “holy war”.
But Muslim scholars have repeatedly affirmed that the word Jihad, which is mentioned in the Noble Qur’an, means “struggle” to do good and to remove injustice, oppression and evil from society.
Karen Armstrong, the prominent and prolific British writer on all three monotheistic religions, has criticized stereotyping the Arabic word “jihad” as merely meaning holy war.
US Muslims, estimated at between seven to eight million, have been sensing hostility in recent months.
A recent report by CAIR, the University of California and Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender found that Islamophobia in the US is on the rise.
A US survey had also revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A recent Gallup poll had found that 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims.