The Islamic Circle of North America was holding a conference in Washington, DC, and outside it, a group of protesters stood, holding signs that expressed Christian supremacy and anti-Muslim sentiments.
In photos, one sign can be seen calling Islam “a religion of blood and murder,” and another appears to depict the Prophet Muhammad in a dress. Shaymaa Ismaa’eel, who was attending the conference, says that when she saw how much the insults were upsetting other attendees, including young people, she felt the need to act.
Her response went viral, shared across social media platforms — and all she did was smile.
That is to say, her smile was the counter to their hateful protest. Posing in front of the protesters, smiling in her hijab and flashing a peace sign, Ismaa’eel provided a stark counter-point to their harsh words. Further emphasizing the difference between the way she lives her faith and the way they carry theirs, she posted the photo on Instagram with a quote attributed to the Prophet Muhammed:
“Kindness is a mark of faith. Those who aren’t kind have no faith.”
Speaking to CNN later, she described how the men’s signs and words followed her through the conference, and how she decided to respond, doing what she calls “smil[ing] in the face of bigotry.”
She says as she had her friend snap the photo, the protesters called things to her, telling her she should cover her face as well, and that she’s a member of a cult. She also shared that it wasn’t her first time countering bigotry this way — she took a similar photo in college. She says she’s had some responses on her post that make her cautious, but hasn’t felt directly threatened.
When she’s not busting up hatefests, Ismaa’eel works as a counselor for children on the autism spectrum, proving that on any given day she pours more light and goodness into the world than the protesters behind her could fit on all the signs they could carry.