In response to the growing tide of Islamophobia, Mona Haydar and her husband Sebastian did something brave.
Standing in the shadows of Harvard and MIT—bastions of debate, proof, and reason—they opened themselves to strangers to talk about their faith. More than that, in an American city filled like so many with news cycles often laced with anti-Muslim rhetoric, they stood beside a tall, hand-made sign that read “Ask a Muslim.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, Muslims in America have televisions. They see and hear what is said about them. Most of the time, Mona Haydar can’t see herself in the way Muslims are portrayed on the news and on social media. She can’t see her husband—or anyone else she knows—in those representations, either.
Mona knows that many Americans have never even met a Muslim. So she set out to change that.
So last December, she and her husband set out free coffee and donuts, and on that first day they stood in the cold, ready to meet anyone who might want to stop to talk. In an interview with NPR, she described what went through her mind:
Initially, I thought I was going to get a lot of negativity. We were going to face a lot of Islamophobia. And I was going into it with that mindset. And then I decided, you know what? I really can't do this if I'm expecting people to be negative because I'm not a negative person. I'm a super bubbly, happy person. I'm really friendly. I'm really nice. I'm really smiley. Why should I expect anything less from other folks? Because that's what's happening to me in the world, basically.
People expect me to be some kind of bogeyman. So I was like, I can't go into it with that kind of mindset.
So I didn't prepare. I didn't have expectations of what people would bring. And honestly, I was really happily surprised with what happened because I went in with a super open-heart, with a super opened mind and just let happen what was going to happen.
How were Mona and Sebastian received by the community? They were met with curiosity and care. Many apologized for the fear that Muslims have been made to feel. And some just enjoyed a good donut. Mona’s feelings from the day shine through in a post she shared afterward on Facebook:
Keep your heads held high, dear Muslim family. The world is a good and beautiful place with small pockets of hatred here and there. There is an overwhelming amount of love… Remember that you have supporters too. When you are faced with difficulty, remember that ease is right around the corner.
Remember that you are as American as apple pie.
The experience has been so positive, the discussions so encouraging, that Mona and her husband continue to stand on the sidewalks of their city—with coffee and donuts, wide smiles and open hearts—ready to put a face to Islam in America.
“It was a gorgeous day out,” Mona said. “Cold but perfect. We ended at sunset and feel happy, warm fuzzies about the world right now. Good night dear world! May we all grow to know love more deeply and fully in our lives!”
Photos: Mona Haydar on Facebook