Three new billboards around Atlanta declare that "Muhammad — peace be upon him — believed in peace, social justice [and] women's rights."
They're part of a new campaign launched by religious advocacy organization The Islamic Circle of North America as a way, the group's president said, to "talk about the prophet the way we see it."
The billboards are on Camp Creek Parkway at Desert Drive; at Mountain Industrial Boulevard at Stone Mountain Freeway; and at Chamblee Tucker Road at I-285.
"It all started after the Charlie Hebdo killing of journalists in France," ICNA President Naeem Baig said, referring to the January mass shooting that left a majority of the satirical newspaper's staff dead. The shooters were reportedly motivated by what they saw as a sacreligious approach to Islam.
Baig said the ensuing debate (when does the freedom of expression run afoul of the dignity of religious icons?) often felt very uninformed, and negative, about the life and work of the Prophet Muhammad.
He said the ICNA, which is dedicated to "establishing a place for Islam in America," according to its website, heard the same feedback from some of its members.
"That was really what triggered it," he said. The goal is to address what Baig said was misinformation about the Prophet Muhammad.
The first billboards in the campaign went up in March, and there are now about 15 billboards nationally — in Atlanta, Baltimore and Chicago, and in California and Florida.
The plan is to have at least 100 by year's end, Baig said. The ICNA, who in years past has organized educational campaigns around Sharia (or Islamic law), will also hold at least eight conferences throughout the country, all on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, he said.
The billboards include a web address and phone number, prompting people to reach out for more information.
"I must say the majority of the calls are from people who are, it's usually positive ... 'Yeah we saw your billboard, can you send us some literautre on Islam?' or 'Can you answer my questions?'" Baig said.
There has been some negative reaction.
"One time someone called me and [was] using very abusive, foul lanauge," Baig said. "I was quiet, didn't say anything. and the person said, 'Why aren't you responding?' And I said, 'My faith teaches me not to use the language you are using.'"
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.