Responding to offensive anti-Muslim ads on SEPTA

Organized by the Muslim Student’s Association, human rights advocate and lawyer, Qasim Rashid, gave a lecture at Haverford on April 23 in response to the anti-Muslim posted on SEPTA buses in Philadelphia this month.

Fostering educational dialogue over sensitive issues like Islamophobia is a vital tool to clarify misconceptions and create safer communities, says a corporate lawyer and human rights advocate who came to Haverford College’s campus to denounce anti-Islamic ads that have appeared on SEPTA buses.

“The Quran obliges Muslims to promote pluralism, understanding, and tolerance. Events like these allow the conveyance of Islam’s true messages of universal human rights, universal religious freedom, and universal compassion,” Qasim Rashid, who is recognized internationally for his advocacy on human rights issues and religious freedom, said during the Apr. 23 lecture. Haverford’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the Quaker Affairs Office (QAO) hosted “Islamic-Jew Hatred: It’s NOT in the Quran” in response to recent ads that have appeared on SEPTA buses in Philadelphia that proclaim “Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran.”

“It is important to demonstrate by action and education that this is what Islam teaches,” he said.

Rashid is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and has published two books: the critically acclaimed The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution & Perseverance and the Amazon No. One bestseller Extremist: A Response to Geert Wilders and Terrorists Everywhere.

Topics such as misconceptions about Islamic teachings, the concept of jihad, and Prophet Muhammad’s engagement with Jews were addressed during the talk.

“As a Muslim, I feel like these ads contradict the true teachings of Islam and are a misrepresentation of the religion,” said Saadia Nawal, co-head of MSA. “They are being sponsored by a hate group to spread anti-Muslim sentiment among the community, mainly for political gain. … However, what I am happy about is that because of these ads, we were able to discuss this issue through the event, which led to an increased understanding among the Haverford community.”

The virulent ads have provoked a lot of discontent, anger, and disappointment in Philadelphia, which has a significant Muslim population.

The ads were sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a nonprofit based in New Hampshire.  SEPTA went to court over the ads, but a federal court ruled that the transport authority would have to accept the ads under the freedom of speech law.

People from different faiths came together to denounce the ads. Additionally, a social media campaign, #daretounderstand, was organized by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia (ICGP). The campaign also was brought to Haverford on the same day as Rashid’s lecture by the QAO, Jewish Student Union, Chabad, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, and the Quaker Community (QuaC).

“I believe that some people are willing to take advantage of ignorance in distrust of others to stir up racial and religious hatred for political advantage,” said Walter Sullivan, head of the QAO. “When public relations campaigns of that nature, like the ads on the buses arise, I think that it is important for people of good will to speak up in support of understanding and tolerance.”



Additional information:

Click to listen to author and activist Qasim Rashid’s lecture.

Here are photos from the #daretounderstand campaign at Haverford.

—Hina Fathima ’15.