CAIRO - A TV commercial depicting US Muslims as everyday Americans rather a security risk or a desert primitive is winning plaudits for giving an enlightened definition of American Muslim identity.
"I'd never thought about the ad in those terms, because the thrust of the commercial had nothing to do with my religion whatsoever, Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, the Muslim depicted in an ad for Prudential's financial products for retirees, told The New York Times on Saturday, February 9."You saw an African-American family interacting and then my name at the end. But one day I went to a mosque in Oakland with my friend, and the imam said, This is good, it lets people know we are the mainstream.'"
Abdul-Rashid was first picked up by an e-mail list for actors from recent retirees in the Bay Area, where he lives.
Going through several rounds of interviews, he was selected for the series of Day One Stories, as the campaign was called.
The ad shows a balding man with tawny skin and a salt-and-pepper goatee, and seconds later it spelled out his name: Mujahid Abdul-Rashid.
The advertisement went on to show him fishing, playing in a yard with two toddlers, and sitting down to a family meal.
"That's my world, the 61-year-old Muslim said over that closing shot of the family dinner.
Though the company did not ask about his faith, Abdul-Rashid's name showed clearly that he was a Muslim.
"The name Mujahid means someone who strives to live in the way of God," he said.
"And, yes, it means holy warrior, too. But if you ask me, that means fighting the good fight. If you see a hungry person and feed him, that's fighting holy war. The greatest holy war is within ourselves."
The ad won plaudits for giving an enlightened definition of American Muslim identity.
"It expands our idea of the American Dream and it gives us a new way of looking at it," Timothy Malefyt, a professor of marketing at Fordham University who worked in the advertising industry for 15 years, told The New York Times.
"This guy shares our ideals, our fears. He talks about his work ethic, his love of family.
"Right away, you can see he's Muslim. So he's different from us, but he's also like us. This lets us reevaluate American Muslim identity," he said.
The ad struck Nazia Du Bois, the director of global cultural strategy for Ogilvy & Mather, as singular in the American market.
"I can't think of any other ad as bold, as brave, as this," she said.
"This commercial demonstrates an enlightened definition of what it means to be American. It does this by broadening the definition of the American everyman,'" Du Bois added in an e-mail to the NY Times.
The advertisement followed two widespread commercial campaigns vilifying Muslims.
The first campaign was championed by Islamophobic blogger Pamela Geller who sponsored an inflammatory advertisement equating Jihad to savagery in subway stations in New York City.
The other, which was carried out during the November presidential campaign, showed President Obama submissively kissing the hand of a sheikh.
Since 9/11, Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
Anti-Muslim sentiments sharply grew in the United States over plans to build a mosque near the 9/11 site in New York, resulting in attacks on Muslims and their property.A recent report by CAIR and the University of California said that Islamophobia is on the rise in the US.