Shaymaa Ismaa’eel is just a normal 24-year-old woman who recently graduated from college and entered the professional world where she works with special needs children. But, seemingly overnight, she became known as the Muslim woman who posed in front of an anti-Islam protest in D.C. — and smiled while doing so.
In a series of photos that went viral over the weekend, Ismaa’eel is seen posing in front of a group of men holding posters with hateful speech directed at people of the Islam faith. She tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it took place just outside of a convention for the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) where Muslims gather for workshops and lectures centered around the religion.
“It’s just a really positive environment for those three days that you’re there,” she says. “We were listening to a bunch of different lectures and a bunch of different speakers just talking about how we as Muslims are making sure that people know that we’re all about love and spreading love.”
Considering what was going on outside, Ismaa’eel explains that there was definitely a reason for attendees to be distracted. However, the message repeated throughout the convention was about the power of love trumping hate.
“We didn’t come here to be negative. We didn’t come here to show anybody any extra hate, that was not our plan,” she says. “So we need to continue living our lives and we need to continue finishing up our sessions within the convention without giving [protesters] the time of day.”
On Ismaa’eel’s first day of the convention, she was able to do just that, explaining that she was more excited about the lectures that she was going to anyway. But on the last day, she felt desperate to let the people outside, who she says were filled with hate, listen to the message of love and positivity that was being preached inside. So, she decided to bring it to them by acting peacefully in their presence.
“On April 21st I smiled in the face of bigotry,” Ismaa’eel tweeted, “and walked away feeling the greatest form of accomplishment.”
Now, she explains that that accomplishment was being able to walk away without causing any harm or further friction with the protestors that day, while others may have been unable to control their anger. But she also says that she felt excited about being given the opportunity to learn what it means to live unapologetically.
“I feel like this has helped me just become more positive and just helped me remain peaceful because that’s what my religion preaches anyway,” Ismaa’eel says. “So for me, these situations are just bringing me an understanding of how I can continue to be unapologetic and I can continue to live my life and not feel like I have to apologize or dim my light a little bit instead of shining.”
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