Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Takes Message of Peace to the Doorstep

Imam at the Islamic Center
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A controversial new ad on New York City's buses depicts a plane flying toward the Twin Towers and the words "Why There?" over a rendering of the proposed Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero.

Yet, that same fleet is also running an ad seemingly in contradiction. "Muslims for Peace," it proclaims, on a hundred buses throughout the city.

As debate intensifies over the lower Manhattan location, a cabbie is stabbed in an apparent hate crime, and members of a church plan to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11, a Muslim group is going door to door across the country with a direct message about faith.

Along with the bus ads, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have handed out about 250,000 "Muslims for Peace" brochures in locations as diverse as Michigan's Rochester Hills suburb, a busy street corner in San Francisco, and a state fair in Wisconsin.

"A minority have hijacked the message of Islam," said Naseem Mahdi, national vice president of the community. "The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful."

The message in the two-page, double-sided brochure is conveyed with the imagery of a dove, the word "terrorism" crossed out and a verse from the Koran: "Whosoever killed a person ... It shall be as if he had killed all mankind." A toll-free number and Web link is included as well.

This distribution is one among several outreach efforts by many Muslim groups, including open houses at mosques, community service projects planned for Sept. 11, and a public service announcement launched just this week featuring Muslims of diverse backgrounds. Three more PSA launched last week, one of which features Muslim first responders of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Muslim Sect has Deep Roots in U.S. History

Still, the direct interaction by handing out brochures is unique, according to Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a national advocacy organization. She said she had not heard of a similar effort.

"It's a really positive thing they're doing," said Lekovic. "They're putting a face on what it means to be a Muslim and putting themselves out there, engaging with people."

The Ahmadiyya community launched its campaign just two months after a May bomb scare in Times Square in New York City, with six members standing in the middle of Times Square handing out the flyers. Salaam Bhatti, 24, said that the majority of people he approached accepted the brochure with the phrase "Muslims for Peace" in large letters across the cover.

"They kind of do a double take when they see the words 'Muslims' and 'peace' in the same sentence," said Bhatti. "They seemed really intrigued by the message."

He recalled one man who looked at the paper, forcefully said "No!" and handed it back. "To each his own," said Bhatti, with a laugh.

This campaign may be new, but the message is not, said Bhatti. "We've been doing this for 120 years."

It was in 1889 that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded in India. The minority sect differs from the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam and now numbers about 160 million members in 195 countries. And it has deep roots in America, going back 90 years. The group said it is the oldest Muslim community in the United States, with an estimated 15,000 members.

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