UK Muslims in battle for hearts and minds

A campaign planned by one of Britain's oldest Muslim organisations includes posters on 100 London buses and visits to three million homes.

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London // Muslims in Britain are launching a "hearts and minds" campaign to counter growing Islamophobia in the country. The move comes at a time when polls throughout Europe are showing growing resentment of Islam's perceived influence on daily life following the arrival of millions of Muslim migrants in the past 20 years.

Right-wing parties are exploiting people's fears, abetted by radical Muslim groups that achieve enormous publicity for provocative stunts - such as a recent demand that Queen Elizabeth convert to Islam - which command practically no support among the Muslim community at large. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association (AMA), one of Britain's oldest Muslim communities, is now attempting to counter the negative images by launching a nationwide campaign this week that includes posters on 100 London buses and visits to three million homes across the country.

Meanwhile, another leading Muslim organisation in Britain issued a fatwa this week against suicide bombings and terrorism, declaring them to be un-Islamic. "The vast majority of Muslims want to live peacefully in their country but we are becoming the target of hatred and discrimination," Basharat Nazir, the spokesman for the AMA, said yesterday. "In Switzerland, this has been shown by the minaret ban and, in France, proposals to ban the burqa. This call is now being exploited by the [far right] British National Party and the UK Independence Party in Britain.

"What we are really worried about is that the government will start taking notice and take action against people's faiths and traditions. Mr Nazir said that his association decided to act because the behaviour of such "nutcase" groups as Islam4UK - an organisation which the government banned last week after it called for a parade of empty coffins through the country town of Wootton Bassett, whose residents turn out in silent tribute every time one of Britain's war dead is brought back from Afghanistan.

John Denham, the secretary of state for communities and local government, has expressed support for the campaign while Shahid Malik, the communities minister, praised the Ahmadiyya community for "promoting an understanding and exploration of Islam within wider British society". The AMA is promoting a message of "loyalty, freedom and peace" in its bus posters in central London, while members of the association will be visiting millions of people in their own homes, offering them the chance to ask questions and giving them leaflets on Islam's commitment to equality, respect and peace.

The organisation has also established a new website espousing its values: Rafiq Hayat, the national president of the AMA, pointed to a recent poll in which a quarter of respondents described Islam as the "worst religion" on earth. "The true peaceful Islam is poles apart from the hatred that is preached by a minority," he said. "Such extremists do not represent Islam and their words and deeds have a damaging impact on Muslims and non-Muslims every day.