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Bus ad invites all to Islam

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    Bus ad invites all to learn about Islam KRISTA J. KARCH Observer-Dispatch Thu, Feb 24, 2005 http://www.uticaod.com/archive/2005/02/24/news/20902.html Shahid
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 14, 2005
      Bus ad invites all to learn about Islam
      Thu, Feb 24, 2005

      Shahid Farooqi, regional coordinator of the Islamic Circle of North
      America, speaks at the Mosque of the Muslim Community Association at
      1631 Kemble St., Utica.

      UTICA -- It's just one bus in the city's fleet of 33, but the city-
      wide route was exactly what Shahid Farooqi was seeking.

      Everyone sees the bus, and that means everyone sees the New Hartford
      resident's advertisement -- a large poster on the back of the bus,
      urging the pious, the seeking and the just plain curious to go to
      www.WhyIslam.org or call (877) WHY-ISLAM.

      There, according to the Web site, "Associates are standing by ..."
      to answer any and all queries about one of the world's fastest-
      growing faiths.

      Drivers stuck behind the bus as it slowly rolls along slush-covered
      roads have little left to do but stare at the star-spangled sign
      that advises, "Misled about Islam? Get the facts."

      "Some ask whether Islam promotes terrorism and violence, and some
      ask about women's rights," said Tariq Zamir, one of the hot line's
      New Jersey-based volunteers.

      Others ask where they can find a mosque or request copies of the
      Quran, the Muslim holy book. Still others ask to be led in a
      profession of faith in Allah.

      Then, Farooqi said, there are those who call just to let off a
      little steam. Filled with anger against Muslims, they swear and use
      profane names toward whoever answers the phone.

      "We get all kinds," he said.

      The hot line is part of a national "WhyIslam?" campaign led by the
      Islamic Circle of North America, a Kingston-based nonprofit
      organization. Farooqi is ICNA's northeast regional coordinator.

      Calls go first to the hot line's New Jersey headquarters. If the
      full-time volunteers are unavailable, the call is transferred to a
      volunteer in the area from which the call is placed. Farooqi answers
      calls for the Central New York region.

      Since 2000, Muslims have collected funds to have an ad for the hot
      line appear in their own towns. Farooqi brought the ad to Utica a
      little more than a year ago.

      "When I see ads on the buses, I thought, 'I can put ads on the bus,
      too,'" said Farooqi, who moved from Brooklyn to New Hartford three
      years ago.

      It took two weeks to raise the $1,500 needed for a year-long spot on
      bus No. 590, which chugs along a different city route each day. When
      it came time to renew the ad, local Muslims were more than willing
      to reach into their pockets a second time.

      "Of course, this is for an Islamic cause, so I never feel reluctant
      to ask anybody," Farooqi said.

      The hot line averages about 500 calls each month, Farooqi said.
      Calls from Central New York have jumped since the ad was placed.

      Most calls come from those who are simply curious, but Farooqi hopes
      more will come from people such as Roger Perry, 21, of Oneida. Perry
      converted to Islam in October after reading articles on the
      WhyIslam? Web site.

      "I thought I would look just to learn something new, but as I read,
      I realized that it really fit my beliefs," Perry said.

      He called the hotline and converted by telephone, he said. Now,
      Perry prays five times daily and worships alongside refugees from
      eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East at the Muslim Community
      Association on Kemble Street, where Friday prayer services usually
      draw between 150 and 200 people.

      Utica's Muslim population numbers up to 6,000, said Sabur Abdul-
      Salaam, the mosque's board president. Most, like the mosque's imam,
      are Bosnian Muslims, resettled through the Mohawk Valley Resource
      Center for Refugees.

      "WhyIslam?" brings the message to the general population, he said.

      National campaigns, whether evangelical or informational, are
      uncommon, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-
      Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based Muslim civil liberties

      "It's encouraging," he said.

      The campaign highlights commonalities between Christianity and
      Islam, said Zamir, the New Jersey-based volunteer. It works against
      the media, which highlights the differences, he said.

      "The Muslim community is growing throughout the USA, as well as
      Canada and throughout the world," he said. "People are coming to
      accept Islam as a religion."

      Contact Krista J. Karch at kkarch @ utica.gannett.com



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