Among the many colorful billboards in New York City’s Times Square bodly advertising the latest movies, musicals or premium alcoholic drinks, one sign in particular stands out.

“Muhammad believed in peace, social justice, women’s rights,” the sign reads.

Those words are followed by the toll-free number 877-Why-Islam and the hashtag #WhoIsMuhammad. And New York is not alone in hosting such messages. The sign is one of dozens of similar billboards that have appeared in major cities around the country this summer -- all in an effort by a group of American Muslims to dispel misconceptions about the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

The Islamic Circle of North America, a national Muslim organization with about 40 chapters around the country, is responsible for the estimated 100 billboards in 32 cities, including major hubs like Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Memphis and Calgary, Canada. The billboards feature various messages like “Muhammad always taught love, not hate; peace, not violence” and “Discover Muhammad.”

The campaign, which is paid for by local ICNA chapters, was launched after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January.

“This year we were going to focus on the theme of faith and service, originally,” said ICNA national president Naeem Baig. “But after the attacks in France, we started to receive calls from other Muslims, asking what we were going to do and how we were going to respond. So we came up with this idea, to focus on the understanding of the life of the Prophet.”


Baig said that the Prophet Muhammad had faced much persecution during his life, but his response had always been a peaceful one. That’s the message ICNA wants to help spread with this campaign.

“There are people who made fun of the Prophet, ridiculed him, tortured him. There are historical references about how he responded with kindness and generosity. When he had power to take revenge, he did not. There was no bloodshed in the streets of Mecca. So how can Muslims shed blood in the name of the Prophet?” said Baig.

He added that it was important to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims alike about the way Prophet Muhammad lived his life.

“The education of Muslims is also very important," he said. "A lot of Muslims love the Prophet, but we don’t know how the Prophet lived his life. When it comes to dealing with people from other faiths, most Muslims aren’t educated enough to know how to respond.”

MEMPHIS 76744 POSTER CLOSEUP A billboard in Memphis, Tennessee, invites people to learn more about the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Photo: Courtesy of ICNA

To that end, ICNA is also hosting regional conventions and programs on the life of Muhammad in order to educate those both inside and outside of the Muslim community.

This billboard campaign is not the first of its kind; ICNA ran another one two years ago featuring signs that drew parallels between Islam and Christianity. The Council on American-Islamic Relations ran a campaign in 2013 to explain the meaning of jihad. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has also also run several billboard and bus campaigns featuring the slogans “Muslims for Peace” and “Muslims for Loyalty,” including a flashing sign in Times Square in New York.

The response to the campaign has been peaceful so far, said Baig, who added that the organization had received calls in response to the billboards. “The hateful and abusive calls are in small number as compared to the positive ones,” he said.