By now, drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike may have noticed the two billboards advertising an 800-number for callers to ask Muslim volunteers about their faith.
Many of the questions so far address Sharia law, jihad or the holy month of Ramadan, said Ashfaq Parkar, the national coordinator for the Islamic Circle of North America, which runs the hotline.
“The vast majority of people come in with an open mind, seeking out what is the Muslim position on this question,” Parkar said. “We do have a reasonable number of calls that come in, which are far more confrontational. And we’ve had many instances where the tone of the conversation really changes as you progress in the conversation.”
Parkar believes that many Americans are not familiar with the teachings of Islam, instead drawing on generalizations.
“If it is a Christian, or a Jewish person or any other faith person that commits a crime—whether it be blowing up an abortion center, or whatever it is, in the name of their religion—generally a person in the U.S. would not associate that crime, or that terrorist act, with those religions,” Parkar said. “They understand those religions.”
The advertising campaign began Aug. 1, the first day of Ramadan. It will expand to several other states. The number is 877-WHY-ISLAM