I just came across this campaign launched yesterday in the UK.

According to the press release, Inspired by Muhammad aims to improve public understanding of Islam and Muslims.  The campaign was commissioned by the Exploring Islam Foundation — a kind of Islamic crisis marketing solutions group made up of Muslim professionals, “patroned” by Lord Adam Patel one of the first Muslims to be appointed to the House of Lords and is currently championed by Kristiane Backer the European MTV presenter turned Muslim turned journalist. jjhjkh

The high profile media campaign includes a website, Tube posters, taxi decals, and adverts throughout London. Alongside of this, the results of a national opinion poll were released, illustrating:

  • More than half the British population associate Islam with extremism (58%) and terrorism (50%)
  • Fewer than one in seven believe that it is a religion of peace (13%)
  • Less than one in five Britons believe that Islam has a positive impact on British society (19%) with almost a third believing it is a violent religion (33%)
  • Two-thirds of people believe it encourages the repression of women (68%)

The campaign is aimed at challenging the stereotypes associated with Islam, Muslims and Muhammad, and covers the Islamic perspective on social activism, environmentalism, animal welfare, human rights, education, and women’s rights.

The campain material on women’s rights claims:

Muslim women gained full ownership over their money, while husbands had the responsibility to provide for them even if their wives were wealthier than them. Women had the right to divorce instantly on returning the dowry, something other religions don’t allow. One duty enjoined upon them was that of education. Early Islamic history saw the establishment of Muslim women as scholars, politicians, businesswomen, jurists and doctors. Fatima al Firhi founded the first university in 859 in Fez, Morocco; Razia al Din ruled the Delhi Sultanate in India in 1236; Umm Darda, a scholar from Syria, taught imams, jurists and even had the 5th Umayyad caliph who ruled from Spain to India as her student. In fact some eight thousand accounts of Muslim female scholars have been documented, many of whom in addition to theology and jurisprudence, were skilled in calligraphy and philosophy, women who not only contributed to their society but actively shaped it.

I like it.

But I also have a problem with claiming that the right to vote, hold property, etc were “groundbreaking ideas that Muhammad promoted in the 7th Century.”

The Media LOVES talking about traditional Islam. Pashtun gunmen in their Afghani-styled clothing, four wives and 18 children eat without utensils on the side of a dusty road. Traditional Islam. Salafi terror cells. Traditional Islam. A woman in niqaab buys a late from Starbucks. Traditional Islam.  In my definition (and others, such as Hamza Yusuf and Tariq Ramadan), “traditional Islam” is about going back to the basics — learning how Islam was taught and practiced by the Prophet and early Companions, and applying the spirit of these practices, this way of life, within a modern context. Which means: giving your daughters access to education; protecting them from harm; giving women equal access to the political sphere; the right to divorce; the right to inheritance and legal representation; and more.

Islam may have promoted these rights and values in the 7th Century.  They were certainly groundbreaking back then! But somewhere along the way, they were changed for political or nationalistic motivation. They were ignored for patriarchal constructs re-imagined under the name Islam. It became a religious norm or expectation that horrendous crimes be committed against women. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s GREAT Fatima al Firhi founded the first university.  Women were at the center for religious and secular learning for centuries. They helped drive the translation movement that gave the West lost Greek and Jewish philosophical works. Some of the greatest scholars in Islam were taught by women. Women ran the hospitals.  Women, including the Prophet’s wives were leaders when it came to passing on the hadith or sayings of the Prophet. ‘Aisha, his last wife, was in fact a political leader of Medina. The Prophet was breastfed by a woman. It just went wrong in some places. In a lot of places actually.

So while I absolutely applaud this campaign to help erradicate misconceptions, and I whole-heatedly agree with the reading material and informational videos, I hope it’s just a first step. Because I think similar information sharing and teaching should also happen amongst Muslims.  I just feel like the campaign isn’t really owning up to the fact that the misconceptions exist because some Muslims are… well… nutters. And perhaps they made a conscious choice not to go the apologetic route – but to be more pro-active in handing out the information.

In one aspect, I suppose they have started speaking to Muslims by including your “every day” Muslim ambassador as the focus of the campaign. I’d like to think that there are Muslim girls out there who will read Sultana’s story and think, “I’m going to become a lawyer too.”

Has anyone in the UK seen the posters yet? What do you think of the campaign?