A Muslim woman confronted with an anti-Islam demonstration in the US has spoken of the moment she decided to “combat their hatred with love and a smile” after photographs of her posing in front of the group went viral.
- Shayma Ismaa’eel smiled and flashed the peace sign in front of the protesters
- The resulting photograph outside an Islamic conference has gone viral online
- The 24-year-old Muslim is a therapist who works with children with autism
The protesters had been stationed outside an Islamic conference in Washington, DC, for three days, holding placards denouncing the religion and its Prophet Mohammed, when Shayma Ismaa’eel resolved to take a stand.
Other attendees at the Islamic Circle of North America summit had become upset by the protesters — who had also been shouting anti-Muslims slogans — but didn’t know how to deal with the men, she told CNN.
That’s when Ms Ismaa’eel asked a friend to capture an image of her posing with a broad smile and a peace sign in front of the men, feeling that just walking by was not enough.
“I walked up as they continued yelling their hateful speech,” she told CNN.
“I asked the police officer if I could stand at the kerb in front of the men. The officer said ‘no,’ and in that moment, I felt like the biggest rebel.
“I smiled so hard in the picture and the man started directing his speech toward me.
“Silly things like, ‘Your face should be covered’, and, ‘You know it’s a cult when you’re walking outside wearing pyjamas’.”
Ms Ismaa’eel uploaded three photographs to Twitter, where her post quickly resonated with fellow users.
The tweet has since been liked more than 304,000 times and retweeted more than 83,000 times.
“On April 21st I smiled in the face of bigotry and walked away feeling the greatest form of accomplishment,” the caption on her Twitter page read.
She also shared one of the photographs on Instagram, where it has been liked more than 338,000 times.
“Kindness is a mark of faith. Those aren’t kind have no faith,” the Instagram caption read, quoting the Prophet Mohammed.
Comments on Ms Ismaa’eel’s Instagram account called the image “iconic”, while at least one user dubbed it, “My favourite photo on the internet”.
“I wanted them to see me smile and see the love, I wanted to combat their hatred with love and a smile,” she told the BBC.
The 24-year-old, a therapist who works with children on the autism spectrum, told CNN that family members and friends had experienced harassment and discrimination numerous times.
But she said she also believed people, in general, were becoming more accepting of religious diversity, and the online reaction to her post had been overwhelmingly positive.
As well as being inundated with messages of support, Ms Ismaa’eel even received suggestions the image should be displayed in a civil rights museum.
“I honestly don’t know if they mean that genuinely, perhaps it’s just banter,” she told the BBC.
“But I’m all about being unapologetic about who you are — don’t let anyone dim your light.”
Topics: religion-and-beliefs, islam, community-and-society, women-religious, women, race-relations, united-states