UTICA — It's just one bus in the city's fleet of 33, but the city-wide route was exactly what Shahid Farooqi was seeking.

Everyone sees the bus, and that means everyone sees the New Hartford resident's advertisement — a large poster on the back of the bus, urging the pious, the seeking and the just plain curious to go to www.WhyIslam.org or call (877) WHY-ISLAM.

There, according to the Web site, "Associates are standing by …" to answer any and all queries about one of the world's fastest-growing faiths.

Drivers stuck behind the bus as it slowly rolls along slush-covered roads have little left to do but stare at the star-spangled sign that advises, "Misled about Islam? Get the facts."

"Some ask whether Islam promotes terrorism and violence, and some ask about women's rights," said Tariq Zamir, one of the hot line's New Jersey-based volunteers. Others ask where they can find a mosque or request copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. Still others ask to be led in a profession of faith in Allah.

Then, Farooqi said, there are those who call just to let off a little steam. Filled with anger against Muslims, they swear and use profane names toward whoever answers the phone. "We get all kinds," he said.

The hotline is part of a national "WhyIslam?" campaign led by the Islamic Circle of North America, a Kingston-based nonprofit organization. Farooqi is ICNA's northeast regional coordinator.

Calls go first to the hotline's New Jersey headquarters. If the full-time volunteers are unavailable, the call is transferred to a volunteer in the area from which the call is placed. Farooqi answers calls for the Central New York region.

Since 2000, Muslims have collected funds to have an ad for the hotline appear in their own towns. Farooqi brought the ad to Utica a little more than a year ago. "When I see ads on the buses, I thought, 'I can put ads on the bus, too,'" said Farooqi, who moved from Brooklyn to New Hartford three years ago.

It took two weeks to raise the $1,500 needed for a year-long spot on bus No. 590, which chugs along a different city route each day. When it came time to renew the ad, local Muslims were more than willing to reach into their pockets a second time. "Of course, this is for an Islamic cause, so I never feel reluctant to ask anybody," Farooqi said.

The hotline averages about 500 calls each month, Farooqi said. Calls from Central New York have jumped since the ad was placed.

Most calls come from those who are simply curious, but Farooqi hopes more will come from people such as Roger Perry, 21, of Oneida. Perry converted to Islam in October after reading articles on the WhyIslam? Web site. "I thought I would look just to learn something new, but as I read, I realized that it really fit my beliefs," Perry said.

He called the hotline and converted by telephone, he said. Now, Perry prays five times daily and worships alongside refugees from eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East at the Muslim Community Association on Kemble Street, where Friday prayer services usually draw between 150 and 200 people. Utica's Muslim population numbers up to 6,000, said Sabur Abdul-Salaam, the mosque's board president. Most, like the mosque's imam, are Bosnian Muslims, resettled through the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. "WhyIslam?" brings the message to the general population, he said.

National campaigns, whether evangelical or informational, are uncommon, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based Muslim civil liberties group. "It's encouraging," he said. The campaign highlights commonalities between Christianity and Islam, said Zamir, the New Jersey-based volunteer. It works against the media, which highlights the differences, he said.

"The Muslim community is growing throughout the USA, as well as Canada and throughout the world," he said. "People are coming to accept Islam as a religion."

Article taken from: http://www.uticaod.com/archive/2005/02/24/news/20902.html

Press Contact: Naeem Baig
Vice President for Public Affairs
Islamic Circle of North America
E-mail: ICNA PR Email
Office: (718) 658-1199 Extension: 102
Cell: (917) 202-2118

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Islamic Circle of North America
166-26 89th Ave
Jamaica, Queens
NY 11432

Telephone/Fax: (855) 855-ICNA (4262)