In a campaign to be run by Britain’s biggest Islamic charity organisation, London’s iconic red buses and public transport in other British cities are set to carry banner adverts prominently featuring the Arabic phrase “Subhan Allah” (Glory be to God), in a bid to encourage donations by British Muslims to support Syrian war victims.
A total of 180 buses in London will run the adverts during Ramadan, which begins at sunrise on 6 June and lasts until 7 July, Daily Mail reported. A further 450 buses will display the advert in cities including Birmingham, Manchester and Bradford which are predominantly Muslim areas.
An estimated three million Muslims are believed to live in London – around 50 per cent of the total British Muslim population.
The campaign will begin on the 23rd of May, a month after London elected its first Muslim mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan — who, coincidentally, is the son of a bus driver. Islamic Relief said it was a ‘nice irony’ that its ad campaign coincided with Sadiq Khan’s election as mayor.
The phrase “God is great” in Arabic would immediately trigger fears of an imminent terrorist attack in the present atmosphere of distrust and fear. However, for the majority of Muslims the phrase is what reminds them to live lives of peace and unity in accordance with the true teachings of the Islamic faith.
Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection for the Muslim community and many people choose to donate their Zakat, during the holy month, as Muslims believe the rewards for all good deeds are greater during Ramadan than during the rest of the year. Donations to charities and aid organisations soar. Almost half of the donations received by Islamic Relief are collected during Ramadan. Syrian refugees often receive part of this aid by Islamic Relief.
Imran Madden, a British convert to Islam and director of Islamic Relief’s United Kingdom Branch said: “There is a lot of negativity around Muslims at the moment involving things such as counterterrorism issues.
“We want to change for the better the perception of Islam. The bus campaign is about breaking down barriers and challenging misconceptions”.
Islamic Relief founded in Birmingham in 1984, operates in 33 countries, helping people “of all faiths and none”. It is running this campaign to recognise the great work aid organisations have accomplished over the past 15 years while also recognising that so much more work needs to be done to help those who are in need.
“International aid has helped halve the number of people living in extreme poverty in the past 15 years, and British Muslims are an incredibly generous community who give over £100 million (around $144 million) to international aid charities during Ramadan.” Madden said.
Islamic Relief hopes that while the campaign would encourage humanitarian aid it would also present Islam in a positive way.
“We have chosen bus advertising because it allows us to put our message across cost-effectively to a wide cross section of people. This campaign is about raising awareness as well as raising funds. We hope it will be received very positively because we have a positive message to share.
“In a sense this could be called a climate change campaign because we want to change the negative climate around international aid and around the Muslim community in this country.”
Islamic Relief, is the largest Muslim charity in the world and is recognised far beyond the Muslim community, which makes it one of the most qualified organisations to foster understanding and tolerance between different communities.
England cricketer Moeen Ali backs the initiative, saying: “This campaign is a great way to get people talking about the meaning of Ramadan – a special month that’s not only about fasting but also about spiritual reflection and giving to those less fortunate. I hope it will encourage debate and increase understanding.”
The campaign has angered Christian groups who fear their own religion is being increasingly censored while allowances are made for Islam.
Last year Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas refused to show an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer, while a Christian group was banned in 2012 from running a bus advert promoting “gay conversion therapy”.
Andrea Williams, head of Christian Concern, said that allowing Islamic adverts while banning Christian ones reflected a “disproportionate fear” about the Christian message in the face of worries about critiquing Islam.
She added: “If these adverts are running then we should ensure that space is given for Christian adverts to run, but what we are seeing in many situations is the removal of access to public space for Christian groups.”
Transport for London (TfL), which regulates the advertisements appearing on the city’s buses, has a clause banning campaigns linked to a “political party or campaign” but does not prevent religious advertising.
It can ban ads if it believes the campaign is likely “to cause widespread or serious offence”.
In 2009, the British Humanist Association drew complaints after it ran a campaign saying “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.
In response, Christian groups ran a counter-campaign saying there “definitely is a God” a month later.