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Page last updated at 09:47 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 10:47 UK
NY Islam ads cause controversy

By Sima Kotecha
Newsbeat US reporter

New York subway platform
Around 1000 of the ads will appear on the NY subway

A plan to put up advertisements promoting Islam on New York's subway system has caused controversy in the US.

The group behind the campaign say their mission is to explain the true nature of the religion to people who believe it's all about terrorism and violence.

However, the plan hasn't gone down well with many New Yorkers and one US politician has claimed the campaign is backed by extremists.

The ads feature key words or phrases about Islam such as 'Prophet Muhammad' and Head Scarf.'

On the opposite side they say 'You deserve to know' and the website address 'WhyIslam.org' is printed along the bottom.

Around 1000 of the posters are going up in New York's subway from September - timed to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Changing perceptions

It's hoped the ads will counter negative ideas about Islam by calling on people to ask questions about the religion and then look up the answers online.

lamic Circle of North America advert
It's hoped the ads will change some people's views on Islam

But some local residents are against the campaign and are worried it could scare people.

Christine Lacombe, 32, said: "Having lived in New York though 9/11, to see anything Islamic, I mean I wouldn't be human if it didn't scare me."

The group behind the campaign is the Islamic Circle of North America.

They describe themselves as "pioneers" who offer non-Muslims education and training to increase their Islamic knowledge.

Azeem Khan has been a member of the organisation for 15 years and worships at a mosque in the New York borough of Queens.

He explained the motivation behind the ads: "If you ask anyone 'When you first hear the word Islam what do you think of?', they immediately come back and say 'terrorist' - and the problem with that is it's not natural."

Extremist claims

Republican politician Pete King is of the most high-profile critics of the campaign and has called for the adverts to be banned.

He says Siraj Wahhaj, one of the campaign's backers, is an extremist because he was a character witness for Sheikh Omar Abel-Rahman - the man behind the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.

It's wrong for a government institution to allow this to happen
Pete King, US Congressman

King told an American news network: "These ads are an attempt to give credibility and respectability to people such as Wahhaj and I thinks it's wrong for a government institution to allow this to happen."

Wahhaj runs a Brooklyn mosque and has admitted knowing Abel-Rahman - currently serving a life sentence - but says he didn't realise it was a crime to be a character witness.

He said: "I don't apologise for doing that at that moment. They're asking me 'What do I know about this man?'. Now I can be fearful and quiet and say if I say something they're going to think I'm a bad person."

The campaign is costing around 24,000 and will run for a month.

Azeem Khan, from the group behind the ads, is hoping it will be money well-spent: "The reality is Muslims are a part of the American fabric. New Yorkers should realise we're in the fight against terrorism together."



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