A campaign aimed at preventing the spread of Islamophobia will see a fleet of more than 100 buses displaying messages of peace across the Westcountry in the coming weeks.
The death of a 31-year-old student in Colchester this week is the latest in a string of suspected hate crimes across the UK, in which Muslims have been targeted specifically because of their faith. Even in Cornwall, which had no previous history of anti-Muslim feeling, a community centre at Quenchwell near Truro was daubed in offensive graffiti and set alight in 2012.
In a bid to spread what they describe as “positive awareness of Islam”, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association has taken out advertisements on 125 First buses in Cornwall and Devon. Under the slogan of “loyalty, freedom, equality, respect, peace” the community has also launched a website: LoveForAllHatredForNone.org.
Fareed Ahmad, former president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Devon and Cornwall and now the organisation’s national secretary, said he hoped bus passengers and others across the region would respond positively to the campaign, which begins on Monday.
“This is part of a national initiative and I’m really pleased the South West will be taking such a prominent role,” said Mr Ahmad. “As well as the 125 First buses carrying the banners, we will also be distributing leaflets to explain our message in more detail.”
He said the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which celebrated its UK centenary last year, launched the campaign to deliver a message of peace to the wider world.
“Living a peaceful life is one thing,” he added. “But in the light of the growing negative publicity generated about Islam, it has become even more important to take the message of peace and tolerance to our fellow citizens.”
Muhammad Noman, regional president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the South West, said: “There remains a concern about Islam, especially in the light of events carried out by Jihadist groups. We believe in Jihad – but the true concept of Jihad is one of self-reformation and not of harming others.
“A true Muslim can never raise his voice in hatred against his fellow citizens, nor against the ruling authority or government of the time. He should remain loyal and fully abide by the laws of the land of which he is a subject.”
The bus campaign comes at a time when there are renewed debates about what constitutes “British values”.
“The true peaceful Islam is poles apart from the exclusion and hatred preached by a minority,” said Mr Noman. “Such extremists do not represent Islam, yet their words and deeds have a damaging impact on Muslims and non-Muslims every day. By emphasising the values highlighted in our campaign we hope to facilitate a better understanding of Islam so that people are able to judge for themselves the actions of those who claim to speak and act in its good name. Islam stresses the promotion of peace in words and deeds.”
The campaign – timed to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan – is part of a wider series of activities by Ahmadiyya Muslims, including interfaith peace symposiums, fundraising for British charities and blood donor drives. Over the past year the community has raised £500,000 for British charities, planted 30,000 trees and fed 10,000 homeless people.
“Extremists shed blood, whereas we give blood,” added Mr Noman. “While they take lives, we save lives. This is true Islam and it is this faith that is the driving force for our work.”
Although similar campaigns on buses in London and Glasgow have been criticised by some observers as being “unrealistic” in countering negative perceptions, Mr Noman said the Ahmadiyya Muslim community remained confident it would be a small but positive step forward.