By PAUL VITELLO
It is hard to make it in New York — whether in the arts, in finance, politics or fashion. But no endeavor in the city can be more competitive than the one where you try to get the attention of passers-by in Times Square by smiling at them and handing them glossy leaflets intended to make them think.
Into that bazaar of mass preoccupation, half a dozen members of an organization called Muslims for Peace fanned out Friday, smiling and offering their wares. They belonged to a sect, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, that embraces a pacifist tradition within Islam.
“Peace be with you, brother,” said Rizwan Alladin, a business consultant who took the morning off from work to hand out the fliers on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and to watch with the others as the first of the group’s video ads ran on one of Times Square’s electronic billboards.
Most people hurried by, ignoring him, just as they ignored the hawkers for the tourist buses, the peddlers for restaurants and Broadway shows and the palm card distributors advertising entertainments for men only.
A few people took a leaflet and stuffed it into the shopping bag at their side. “Thank you!” said Mr. Alladin, whenever he found a taker.
The flier explains the origins of the century-old sect, saying it rejects “jihad of the sword” in favor of “jihad of the pen.” The group has sent its members to college campuses and state fairs around the country. Since May, when a would-be terrorist tried to set off a car bomb on a street off Times Square, they have bought advertisements on city buses, handed out fliers at the Thanksgiving Day parade and, now, bought a 15-second spot on Times Square, which is supposed to run at 41 minutes past the hour every hour for 18 hours a day from now until next month.
“What do you think happened?” Nusrat Qadir, a pediatric intensive care unit nurse, asked Mr. Alladin at 55 minutes past 11 a.m., when the ad was had not run on schedule. It was 14 minutes late. The leaflet group had stopped. All six of them stood on the south side of 42nd Street, alternately looking at the billboard on the north side and looking at the time on their cellphones.
Some passers-by stopped to see what they were looking at. It was an ad for a Caribbean beach vacation spot, followed by an ad for Katie Couric, followed by an ad for an alcoholic beverage.
Since they were standing there, looking as if they knew something no one else knew, a family of tourists stopped nearby and huddled, their back packs bumping.
“Can you tell us which way is Fifth Avenue?” asked the man who seemed to be the father of the family.
“Sure,” Mr. Alladin said. “Keep walking. It’s about two or three blocks straight ahead.”
About that moment, the ad appeared. “It’s up!” Ms. Qadir shouted, pointing at the billboard, which for the next 15 seconds displayed the words “Muslims for Peace” and a 1-800 number, and some other things in smaller print.
“What time is it?” Mr. Alladin asked. It was 11:58, 17 minutes past the promised 41 minutes past the hour, every hour.
Someone would have to make a call to the billboard people and see what the deal was, he said to someone.
Ms. Qadir was still excited. “Did you see it? Our ad! It was good!” She kept looking up, even though the billboard was now advertising a reality show. “Wow,” she said.