For the second time in recent months, billboards on side of San Francisco’s fleet of buses have become the front lines in a fight over the place of Islam in American popular culture.
A new series of ads from the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ spinoff group My Jihad promote an awareness campaign directed at redefining the widespread conception of the meaning of the controversial word. The advertisements are slated to run on 35 city buses throughout the month of January.
“The intention of the campaign is to educate our fellow Americans on what the word ‘jihad’ means,” Zhara Billoo, the executive director of CAIR’s Bay Area chapter, told ABC 7 News. “A common misconception of the world ‘jihad’ is that it means armed struggle or holy war…The proper meaning of jihad, as many of us frequently describe it, is ‘to struggle’ and that’s it…For many that means building relationships with their neighbors to making it to work on time or doing better on their diets.”
Billoo explained to The Huffington Post that her organization has seen an rise in anti-Muslim attitudes across the country in the past few years and this campaign is an effort to counter that. “We’re troubled by how the word ‘jihad’ has been hijacked by people who…have made careers out of pushing anti-Muslim sentiment,” she said. “For too long people outside the Muslim community have been telling us what our religion really teaches.”
These ads come in the wake of a series of controversial advertisements sponsored by conservative blogger Pamela Gellar’s American Freedom Defense Initiative that ran on buses both in San Francisco and around the country last year. Those ads, which immediately sparked a firestorm and denouements from both local Jewish and Islamic groups, read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man…Support Israel Defeat Jihad.”