People of Sacramento, California recently found a series of unusual billboards in several areas of their city. Addressing the troubled, the text on the board asked: "Looking for the answers in life?" before providing the answer itself.
"Discover Muhammad," is the suggestion.
It is actually a nationwide open invitation both for Muslims as well as non-Muslims to better understand Islam and clear the widespread misconceptions about it among the masses.
An initiative of Islamic Circle of North America, the campaign is a welcome move to develop a softer image of Islam that has been marred in recent years due to a lack of understanding. However, at the same time, legitimate fears do exist that such an in-your-face brand of advertising could backfire big time and incite Islamophobic sentiments.
Just last month tensions arose when a biker gang decided to hold a Draw Muhammad cartoon contest just outside a mosque the southwestern U.S. state of Arizona. While the current Sacramento campaign's backers do realize the risks, they feel removing misconceptions regarding Islam and Prophet Muhammad, and forwarding their real message of peace and love is the only way forward.
"We thought a proper approach would be to actually educate the larger public about his personality, which exemplifies love and brotherhood," said Waqas Syed, ICNA Deputy Secretary General.
"Under the circumstances, it's a pretty bold move," said Todd Green, a professor who studies Islamophobia at Luther College in Iowa. "When you're a minority religion, you face a lot of pressure from the majority population not to proselytise."
As opposed to the Islamophobists' mission of draw Muhammad, the ICNA through its billboards encourages people to discover Muhammad before forming an opinion about him.
Their effort may encounter some stiff opposition from hardliners, but it is still encouraging to see that at least someone has stepped up to mend Islam's image that has suffered immensely due to the antics of a handful of bad sheep.