Photo of woman in hijab smiling in front of anti-Islam protesters goes viral: 'I wanted to combat their hatred with kindness'
24-year-old Shaymaa Ismaa'eel said that she saw the protesters the moment she arrived in Washington, D.C. for the 44th Annual Islamic Circle of North America convention
A Muslim woman who was able to inspire thousands of people with a picture of herself in hijab sporting a wide smile and two fingers raised in a peace sign in front of anti-Islam protesters said on Thursday, April 25 that she wanted to "combat their hatred with kindness".
24-year-old Shaymaa Ismaa'eel said that she saw the protesters the moment she arrived in Washington, D.C. for the 44th Annual Islamic Circle of North America convention on April 21.
She told NBC News: "I really wanted to combat their hatred with kindness, honestly. I wanted them to see my face and simply walking by wasn’t enough."
Instead of ignoring the protesters, Ismaa'eel asked a friend of hers to take the photo, which she shared on Instagram with the caption: "Kindness is a mark of faith. Those who aren’t kind have no faith." As of Sunday afternoon, the post has received more than 450,000 likes.
Dr. Zahid Bukhari, executive director of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Council for Social Justice, has said that the protesters targeted the Islamic religion, Prophet Muhammad, and the Quran. He also said that people have protested against the organization in the past but this was the first time that they had demonstrated against the Islamic faith.
Bukhari, who has been a member of the ICNA since 1983, said that the young member's picture was "an exemplary response". He said: "I’m really proud of her, of what she did. That’s the exact response that should be over there."
Linda Sarsour, a Muslim activist who had seen the protest, said in a statement: "I was a speaker at the convention and witnessed a group of white men outside hurling anti-Muslim epithets at the attendees. The younger children were so scared."Ismaa'eel said that people were walking past the protesters for the most part and not paying any attention to them. Some teenagers, however, were pretty upset by the whole incident and tried to approach the men.
Bukhari has credited the growing protests to an "overall environment of Islamophobia and anti-Islamic rhetoric". He also cited Donald Trump and white supremacists. The man stated: "Previously, it was just against ICNA, now it was against the religion and prophet due to that environment."
Anti-Muslim bias had increased by 17% in the country in 2017. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in its 2018 Civil Rights Report that non-violent and non-threatening harassment was the most common type of abuse that the Muslim population faces.
The ICNA convention that was held included presentations, a bazaar and an expo, as well as a youth conference, among other events. According to an ICNA press release, the theme for this year was "Healing Humanity: Lessons from Islam".