Egypt’s most prominent religious authority has issued a religious proclamation, or fatwa, blasting a controversial anti-Islam poster campaign that has been running on public transport in Philadelphia over the past week. The fatwa from Dar al-Ifta on Wednesday proclaiming the posters racist is the most notable international criticism to be added to the wave of condemnation against the campaign, which features slogans that link Islam to Nazism.
The posters include an image of Adolf Hitler having a sit-down meeting with Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Muslim Palestinian nationalist leader during the 1920s and 1930s, whom the ad characterized as “the leader of the Muslim world.” The ad urges an end to “aid to all Islamic countries” under the slogan “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Quran.” At least 84 buses in Philadelphia, the fifth-largest U.S. city, are scheduled to display the posters through the end of April.
The fatwa by the Egyptian religious authority condemned the campaign on the grounds that such a message not only portrayed Islam incorrectly but also spread prejudice, hatred and conflict in the U.S., a statement posted on the institution’s website said. “This hazardous campaign will leave the gate of confrontation and clashes wide open instead of exerting efforts toward peaceful coexistence and harmony,” it said.
The proclamation also argued that failing to respect Muslims in the U.S. would marginalize the religious minority from integrating into American society. Fatwas, which are nonbinding legal opinions issued by scholars, can be given on any subject, however these proclamations can often carry more weight when issued by top religious bodies such as Dar al-Ifta.
Other U.S. cities, including New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have previously displayed the ads, which are funded by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an organization based in New Hampshire that the Southern Law Poverty Law Center lists as an anti-Muslim hate group. The organization spent $30,000 to purchase the ads despite resistance from Philadelphia’s transport authority, which unsuccessfully challenged the ad buy in court. AFDI’s co-founder, political blogger Pamela Geller, has claimed that the bus ads were necessary in order to counter anti-Israel campaigns.
However, the campaign has garnered vocal opposition from public officials and civil rights and advocacy groups. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter led an interfaith rally calling for tolerance to counter the posters’ message, while Philadelphia’s Interfaith Center has also launched a dueling public messaging campaign that encourages people of all faith traditions to seek mutual understanding.
Cair (Council on American-Islamic Relations) called the ads bigoted, though it conceded AFDI’s right to run the campaign. “The First Amendment protects everyone, the hateful and the loving alike,” Cair staff attorney Ryan Tack-Hooper said in a statement. “Instead of suppressing dishonest and offensive speech, the American tradition is to respond with speech of our own. You can be sure we will.”