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'Anti-Islamic' bus ads appear in major cities

A group called 'Stop Islamization of America' is promoting ads on major city public transportation that urge people to leave the Muslim faith. The anti-Islamic campaign is sparking thought about the religion's place in American society.

By Stephanie RiceContributor / July 28, 2010

The group Stop Islamization of America paid for bus ads, such as this one in San Francisco, to promote its viewpoint. The ads, which read, ‘Leaving Islam?,’ are intended to be a resource for former Muslims. Muslim rights groups and others consider the ads to be anti-Islam.

Stephanie Rice

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San Francisco

The growing debate over Islam's place in America, which is escalating in light of plans to build a mosque near ground zero, is increasingly playing out on city streets across the country. On the sides of buses, to be precise.

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Several groups are engaging in something of a religious ad war over the merits and misconceptions of Islam, a religion that remains a mystery to many Americans.

Ads by a group calling itself Stop Islamization of America, which aims to provide refuge for former Muslims, read: "Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get answers!"

IN PICTURES: Billboards around the world

Those ads, appearing on dozens of buses in the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami, and New York, are a response to ones from a Muslim group that say, "The way of life of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam. Got questions? Get answers."

In New York, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community sponsored this campaign: "Muslims for Peace. Love for All – Hatred for None."

The ads are part of a larger conversation over Islam's image, which Muslim organizations say has been hurt by extremists both at home and abroad. But many conservative groups say that concern about the spread of Islam isn't alarmist, pointing to evidence of imams in this country inciting militancy and a growing number of American Muslims arrested for plotting terror attacks.

A self-described "anti-jihadist," Pamela Geller is the conservative blogger and executive director of Stop Islamization of America who conceived of the "Leaving Islam" ad campaign. Her bus posters, she says, were partly inspired by the ongoing Florida case involving a teenage girl who ran away from her Muslim parents after converting to Christianity. The girl, Rifqa Bary, made headlines last year when she claimed her father threatened to kill her for becoming a Christian.

Ms. Geller described her campaign as "a defense of religious freedom," in an e-mail response to questions. The goal, she says, is mainly "to help ex-Muslims who are in trouble" and also "to raise awareness of the threat that apostates live under even in the West."

But some religious rights organizations contend that the real intent is to incite fear about a faith that, according to recent studies, remains misunderstood. A 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent believe Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions.

"In this post-9/11 world … it's almost like there's some political and spiritual currency to be gained by being anti-Islamic," says Steve Spreitzer, programs director for the Detroit-based interfaith group Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.

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