After a series of arson attacks on mosques around Europe and Africa, South African non-profit organisation People against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop) partnered with marketing agency Native to spearhead a campaign called #IAmMuslim. The campaign aims to challenge the prevalent attitudes of Islamophobia and racism.
The campaign serves as a form of participatory media in which posts are published about the Muslim community allowing members of the public to share their views via social media platforms. People are given the opportunity to post their description of what constitutes as a Muslim identity and their feelings about Muslim people in a one liner attached to the hashtag #IAmMuslim.
Passop director Bernard Toyambi told VOC News the campaign was meant to confront people’s prejudices and counter the rising tide of Islamophobia.
“PASSOP advocates for equality, justice, and human rights for all people, decided to change this situation. We want to confront people’s prejudices and remind the world that being a Muslim does not make someone a terrorist,” says Toyambi.
Social media was chosen as a channel of conveying messages condemning islamophobic behaviour in an appeal to reach an audience nationwide. He says the organization cannot control negativity and despite its attempts, messages of Islamophobia will still be distributed.
“While social media has the potential to do great good, unfortunately it also often amplifies the vitriol and most divisive voices, making these ones heard loudest. Through social media some disturbed individuals spend their time relentlessly attempting to cast Islam and the Muslim community worldwide in a negative light,” says Toyambi.
The posts include women globally taking portraits of themselves attached to the hashtag #IAmMuslim. These women are dressed in the flag of their country of origin which they wear as a hijab.
Partnering marketing agency Native says the reason women were chosen as the focal point for the campaign was due to increasing reports that females will be at the forefront of terrorist attacks on Islamic sanctuaries worldwide.
“There have been so many reports in the media about Muslim women being suspected to have caused attacks on Muslims. This occurred in Nigeria, Sweden and Corsica so we want to provide women with a voice to voice their opinions about Islamophobia as women are often seen as being oppressed by religion. But a religion cannot oppress you, only people can,” says PR ManagerJanice Wilson.
“Most views are that negative views on Islam are sparked by the oppression of Muslim women by men of any denomination. This is ridiculous. That said we are not a terrorist movement.”
Wilson adds that prevalent perceptions of women being victims of oppression and men being perpetrators of violence are due to associations with traditional Islamic dress. The campaign attempts to break the barriers engraved by non-Islamic societies that the head dress is a symbol of subjugation.
“Islam is not a religion of that indoctrinates hate or elicits violent behaviour. It is about creating a peaceful society. In the same way that a flag is the symbol of a country, the hijab is a symbol of Islam. The fact that juxtaposing these two symbols creates such a powerful impact highlights the tensions people have about Muslim identity. Therefore these images were able to spark conversation and force people to confront their prejudices and assumptions,” says Wilson.
The portraits were made of various Muslim women, and will be used in an outdoor, print and social media campaign.
“We are fully aware that certain quarters may find these images controversial, but the point of this movement is to challenge the prejudices people may have, and change the way we think about a culture that has been unjustly defined by the actions of a select few,” said Ryan McManus, executive creative director at Native.
Native hopes that this campaign will inspire people in other countries to create similar images that will spread the message and help shift the conversation.
McManus added: “In this era of divisive rhetoric and rampant hate speech online, we need unifying images like these now more than ever.”
To join the campaign just like #IAmMuslim on Facebook or Twitter and share your selfie with #IAmMuslim and your one liner about what it means to be a Muslim.