"On April 21st I smiled in the face of bigotry and walked away feeling the greatest form of accomplishment."
Shaymaa Ismaa’eel is a 24-year-old behavioral therapist for children with autism in Washington D.C. Last Saturday, Shaymaa went to attend the annual Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) convention in D.C. which was being conducted by a dynamic educational Muslim organization. The conference featured speakers, workshops, and a huge bazaar. The itinerary also included special events, like a blood drive, community service, midnight basketball, and even an open mic competition. Like many other visitors at the conference, the first thing Shaymaaa reportedly noticed was a group of men with signs protesting outside.
She said, "Most people were very upset and didn't know how to embrace their presence. Some teens were getting upset, trying to approach the men." She also said that when her friends walked past the protesters, they told them they were going to hell. Shaymaa said she wanted to oppose the hatred with kindness, so on the third day of the conference, she asked one of her friends to take a picture of her posing in front of the protestors.
She said, "I wanted them to see my face and walking by wasn’t enough. We were busy Saturday and they had left by the time things at the convention slowed down. I kept thinking about them during the workshops. What if we had a loudspeaker so they can hear the beautiful things we’re learning about our beloved prophet?!' I kept thinking to myself." So, she went about minding her own business, till she saw the protestors again!
Ismaa'eel said, "My face honestly lit up when I had seen. 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 at 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.'"
Even though she had such an experience, Shaymaa claims it did not ruin things for her even one bit. She said, "Overall, this didn’t ruin the experience for me in the slightest." Her photos on social media have been shared over and over again, with people saying her photo is a historic one. Shaymma said the responses for her photo has been crazy! "I didn’t expect more than my usual 120 likes."
"The positivity from this is very uplifting and it’s making me happy to know that the youth can see someone being unapologetic in the face of people who hate their religion," she added. Having said that, her mom was a bit worried when her photo started going viral. She said, "My mom messaged me when my post was at 3k saying 'Your ICNA post is all over the place. Please be aware of your surroundings.' She’s definitely nervous because it’s clear people like that typically aren’t the kindest. Everyone is proud of me honestly while praying for my safety."
Megan Steron took to Facebook to comment: So she's a behavioral therapist, and she handled it like one: when a client is tantrumming, they are inappropriately trying to get attention. You don't feed into it. You don't yell, you don't threaten, you simply show that it is an ineffective way to get what they want. And that's exactly what she did. Craig Ankers said: What a great smile, good to see a great smile, we need more smiles. Angela Nathan said: Love that she smiles and continues being herself despite the negativity behind her.
Julian Williams added: This woman is awesome. Making bigots look like idiots is always a good time. Anybody claiming to be a Christian but being hateful towards other religions for being “violent” obviously doesn’t know much about history or they’d realize how stupid and hypocritical they sound. Megan Mahaney chimed in to say: Wow, good for her, kill them with kindness, they don't know how to respond to that, only hatefulness from them, she has a big kind heart.