This week the first commercial on Islam was broadcast on TV in Australia. MyPeace, a group started by Diaa Mohamed, is behind the ad, which aims to promote Islam by addressing misconceptions about the faith and emphasizing similarities with Christianity. The commercial is part of a larger campaign, which began this past summer.
In addition to the commercial, MyPeace paid for billboards around Sydney as well as signs on 40 buses. The four statements on the billboards were: “Jesus: A Prophet of Islam,” “Holy Qur’an: The Final Testament,” “Muhammad: Mercy to Mankind,” and “Islam: Got Questions? Get Answers.” The billboards also had a phone number that people could call to ask questions about Islam and receive free literature and copies of the Qur’an. The billboards were not without controversy: the billboard on Jesus was vandalized one day after it appeared.
A similar billboard campaign was used in the the United States in August of this year. During Ramadan, over 50 signs were displayed across the country. The messages on the billboards were: “877-Why-Islam — Get the Facts” and “Ramadan — 1.57 Billion Celebrating. Find Out Why.” These billboard campaigns are examples of how both the Muslim American and the Muslim Australian communities are finding ways to reach out to the mainstream.
Muslim Australians, although a minority group, are the fourth largest religious group in the country. In a 2006 census, there were 340,000 Muslim Australians, which is about 1.7% of the population. Muslim Australians have deep roots in the country. It is believed that Muslim traders arrived in Australia as early as the 16th and 17th centuries. Small groups of Muslims continued to arrive in the 19th and 20th centuries to work in Australia’s pearling industry. The first mosque was built in 1861 in Marree in South Australia. Large scale migration of Muslims began post-World War II. Today, the Muslim Australian community is very diverse and is making an active effort to assert its place on the Australian landscape.
Even though the Muslim Australian community is an integral part of Australia, their loyalty to the nation is questioned and they face some of the same challenges faced by Muslim Americans, like Islamophobia. Thus, efforts like those of MyPeace will hopefully go a long way to dispel stereotypes and provide more opportunities for dialogue.
What do you think of MyPeace’s campaign? Do you think commercials and billboards are a constructive means to challenge stereotypes? What responsibility do Muslim communities in Western nations have to counter misconceptions? Please leave your comments below.