“On April 21st I smiled in the face of bigotry and walked away feeling the greatest form of accomplishment,” Shaymaa Ismaa’eel posted on Twitter and Instagram.
Muslim Shaymaa Ismaa’eel Poses in Front of Anti-Islam Protesters
A Muslim woman inspired hundreds of thousands online with a photo of herself in a hijab, a wide smile on her face, and two fingers raised in a peace sign in front of anti-Islam protesters. She is Shaymaa Ismaa’eel, a 24-year-old behavioral therapist for autistic children. Shaymaa Ismaa’eel was one of the 24,000 Muslims attending the 44th annual Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America (MAS-ICNA) convention over the Easter long weekend when she saw men protesting outside the venue, brandishing anti-Muslim signs and yelling at conference attendees. These protesters had been stationed outside an Islamic conference in Washington, DC, for three days, holding placards denouncing the religion and its Prophet Mohammed.
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Shaymaa Ismaa’eel explains that the three-day event is an opportunity for Muslims to “refresh and celebrate our faith” and features guest speakers and group workshops.
“The event was a big turnout, nice environment, but when we got there, we noticed there were protesters standing on the sidewalk. The first day we saw them, we just kept our distance, they were shouting and holding signs so we filmed them from afar.”
Attendees at the Islamic Circle of North America summit were upset, but they didn’t know how to deal with the protesters.
Shaymaa Ismaa’eel then asked a friend to snap the photo because she wanted to combat their hatred with kindness. “I yelled to my friend Jamilah, ‘There they are! Can you take a picture?’
“I walked up as they continued yelling their hateful speech. I asked the police officer if I could stand at the curb 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 [a] man [started] directing his speech toward me. Silly things like ‘Your face should be covered.'”
Shaymaa Ismaa’eel says the handful of protesters outside the venue had signs and were even using loudspeakers to deliver anti-Islamic messages. “They had posters with things like ‘Islam is a hateful religion’ and were saying we were inside ‘listening to hate.’ I’m not affected by things like this. I was laughing at them. I’m the sort of person who finds this stuff funny. So I was cracking up laughing. I was thinking, ‘If only I had a loudspeaker so they could hear what were were doing in inside.'”
Social media response
Shaymaa Ismaa’eel’s tweet has since been liked more than 318,000 times and retweeted more than 87,000 times. Her Instagram post, on the other hand, was loved by over 500,000 users.
“Kindness is a mark of faith. Those aren’t kind have no faith,” the Instagram caption read, quoting the Prophet Mohammed.
Shaymaa Ismaa’eel has since then been described as a “true icon” and “a queen” when her photos went viral. “The reaction to all this has been crazy, it’s overwhelming,” she told BBC Newsbeat. “I have had a lot of support.”
“I’m all about being unapologetic about who you are. Don’t let anyone dim your light.”