The past decade has brought tremendous changes in how the Muslim Community is perceived in Britain. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London, adepts of the second largest faith in the world have been associated by British citizens with killings, aggression and terrorist activity.
The dire image of the British Muslim community has been revealed by a YouGov poll conducted at the end of May 2010 commissioned by a relatively new foundation, the Exploring Islam Foundation (EIF), founded by a group of young British Muslim professionals deeply concerned about the public perception of their faith. The survey revealed Britons associate Islam with extremism and terrorism. Only six percent or respondents believe it encourages justice, while an overwhelming 67 percent think Islam encourages the repression of women, and 41 percent “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with the idea that Muslims have a positive impact on British society.
In an attempt to challenge misconceptions about Islam and raise awareness about its universal values and contributions, the EIF concentrated on highlighting the excellent local efforts of various Muslims and Islamic organisations while trying to bring the true values of mainstream Islam in the public eye through constant PR efforts.
EIF’s first media campaign – “Inspired by Muhammad”- was launched in June 2010, a bold public relations effort featuring an ad campaign presenting three main issues and Prophet Muhammad opinion on each of them: women’s rights, social justice and protecting the environment. The ad employed images of Muslims linked to each of this values, all set in London’s means of transport, from the underground to bus stops and taxis.
The campaign was extremely successful and raised interest both in the UK and around the world, being picked up by media outlets from the Middle East, Mexico, the US, New Zealand and many other countries around the world. The campaign was backed by a website that got 200,000 hits from 160 countries in the first two weeks after its launch.
The British mainstream media displayed a positive attitude towards the campaign, expanding their programme content. BBC’s The Big Questions focuses on the “Does Islam need better PR?” question, featuring poet Benjamin Zephaniah and the New Statesmen’s Senior Editor Mehdi Hasan, praised the campaign as an outstanding public relations effort for Islam.
The EIF is now planning a second PR campaign scheduled for January which will depict the history of coexistence and compassion between Muslims and Jews. The campaign, titles “Missing Pages” will voice solidarity with Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January and prove anti-Semitism goes against the teachings of Islam.