An anti-Islam billboard near Georgia State University has been circulating lately on social media as many Muslims condemned it as hate speech targeting the religious minority.
The ad that read “Godless. Fearless. Ex-Muslim” was placed back in September 2019 in Atlanta, Chicago, and Houston, according to the Virginia-based organization.
“Isn’t this a form of Hate Speech?” Adeel M Syed asked on a Facebook group for Muslims living in Atlanta, Georgia. “When was the last time you saw an advert promoting leaving Christianity or Judaism.”
“I saw this in downtown a few months ago. It was disturbing to see and I wondered who posted it and whether this statistic was correct…,” Serene Hawasli commented on CAIR-Georgia’s Facebook post about the anti-Muslim billboard.
The Georgia branch of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia) has promised to launch a “productive and positive” response following a wave of anger over social media.
AboutIslam.net spoke with the Vice President of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Georgia State University, Abdulrahman Abdulkadri, who expressed deep sadness and the importance of dawah around campus to fix the image of Islam among non-Muslim students.
Not an Isolated Incident
“This isn’t the only incident around our campus,” Abdulkadri explains.
“Every now and then conservative Christian protestors come to the free speech area in front of our Student Center, primarily protesting against what they feel are the perils of modernity. Abortion, marijuana, and Muslims… They hold very offensive placards which slander the Prophet and mischaracterize the Hadith.”
GSU has around 300-400 Muslim students studying at its main campus, according to Abdulkadri. The student body at the public university is one of the most diverse in the US with students from 49 states and more than 160 nations and territories.
Hijab is commonly seen on and around campus. Niqabis, women wearing a full-face veil, are also occasionally seen around campus. Abudlqadri says that a Niqabi student is on the Student Government of another GSU campus.
Georgia houses one of the largest Muslim communities in the US with over 70 masjids mostly focused around metro Atlanta. Since 2012, there have been 22 anti-Muslim incidents, according to New America.
“With regards to hijab, I have never been told or heard of stories where sisters were explicitly told to remove their hijab,” Abdulkadri explains, “but instead they feel professors have treated them differently or professors grade them with greater scrutiny because they have the perception that their English must be poor, even though most sisters are native-born.”
Confront Hate with Dawah
On the other hand, there is room for dawah as a way to counter hate against Muslims in the US.
“Our MSA’s primary way of tackling Islamophobia was throwing our ‘dawah table’ in front of the student center. We offered pizza to those who come and have conservations with us about Islam and we try our utmost to answer questions they have,” Abdulqadri said.
Commenting on CAIR-Georgia Facebook post about the billboard incident, Sayel Al-Maani said, “I support freedom of speech. Why not. What we should do it put a dua [sic] booth right there and answer any questions. Islam will always prevail subhana Allah it’s just a chance for us to gather some good deeds.”