A group of British Muslims has launched a campaign to improve the image of Islam in Britain. The campaign was conceived after an opinion poll found that most Britons associate the religion with extremism. The group has displayed posters - all around London - of Muslims, with captions that reflect positively on Islam. But critics say the campaign is one-sided, and even misleading.
With over 1.5 million Muslims, Islam is now the second largest religion in Britain.
What the survey found
Yet, a recent survey by YouGov, Britain's largest polling organization, found that 58 percent of people surveyed associate Islam with extremism. Fully half link it to terrorism, and almost 70 percent feel Islam encourages the oppression of women.
Remona Aly, from the Exploring Islam Foundation, says her organization, which commissioned the poll, felt it needed to respond.
"We want to speak out as young British Muslim professionals who are confident about our faith and proud of our country and proud of our religion," she explained, "so we wanted to highlight our concerns by promoting a positive image of Islam which is rarely seen in the mainstream."
The group's "Inspired by Muhammad" posters are now on view all around London, including in stations of the Underground and at bus stops.
They feature Muslims who work in a variety of professions and who say they believe in women's rights, protecting the environment and social justice, as did the Prophet Muhammad.
"Muhammad was in favor of women's rights in a kind of way," noted Douglas Murray from London's Centre for Social Cohesion, a non partisan research institute. "In 7th century Arabia, he even did some things that were relatively progressive for 7th century women in Arabia, but certainly not for 21st century women in Britain or anywhere else. And a bigger example, a better example perhaps of a complete lack of context and a sort of almost amazingly glib attempt to revise history, is that Muhammad was the first sort of environmentalist."
Campaign organizers disagree
The campaign organizers say the Prophet promoted respect for the environment - encouraging water preservation, for example.
They say Islam's holy book, the Koran, states men and women were created as equal parts of a pair.
"Prophet Muhammad elevated the status of women, gave them the rights of divorce, the rights of inheritance, the rights of property and the right to maintain their name even after marriage," noted Aly. "And Muslim women throughout history have become scholars, jurists, politicians and we see that even today."
London bombing anniversary
The campaign coincides with the fifth anniversary of coordinated suicide attacks on London's transportation network. The bombings killed 52 people, including the four Muslim bombers. Those attacks are still fresh in the public's mind.
Remona Aly did not address the bombings directly. She said she hopes the poster campaign will help Britons see Muslims in a new light.
"So it was important to us as British Muslims to convey that we have the same values, we share the same concerns," she said.
The foundation says its campaign is a success. It says its Facebook page has thousands of fans, and that its website has received hundreds of thousands of hits in the few weeks since the posters went on display.