The scene of a hijabi Muslim woman with a big bouquet of flowers and a sign inviting people to have free coffee, doughnuts and a conversation with a Muslim has become a regular one outside Cambridge Public Library.
“I’ve had such a positive experience. It’s been inspiring to people, and Muslims feel the support,” Mona Haydar, a performance poet who lives in Duxbury, Mass., told People magazine on Wednesday, March 23.
Rejecting terrorist attacks as high jacking true Islam, Haydar stands on a weekly basis outside Cambridge Public Library to offer answers to those interested in meeting a Muslim.
She started her project, “Ask a Muslim,” after the San Bernardino, California, shooting in December.
The 27-year-old Muslim, married to Sebastian Robins, 43, was buying frozen yoghurt at airport when a man came up to her and whispered menacingly in her ear, “You killed my people.”
“It was gut-wrenching and so startling,” recalls Haydar, 27, in this week’s issue.
“I kind of lost my breath. And then I thought, ‘If you knew me, you wouldn’t say that.’”
Putting this into action, every week she sets up signs outside the Cambridge Public Library and invites passersby to stop and ask about her Muslim beliefs and traditions over free coffee and doughnuts.
Haydar said that after Brussels bombing, her program was becoming more important than ever.
“I’m in deep mourning for the loss of life and violence and for the continued hijacking of my religion,” she said.
“It’s so heartbreaking and furthers our drive to wholeheartedly stand up against any and all acts of violence – no matter the perpetrators.
“Our #AskAMuslim project was us standing up to ISIS and their sick and twisted understanding of what Islam teaches. Anti-violence and pro-justice acts of love are a part of my path and work in the world as a Muslim.
“As Americans, we have to stand up to dog whistle politics and the fear mongering rhetoric that separates us. Acts of violence make it all the more obvious that those of us who believe in love need to work even harder to counter hate and violence to manifest our more beautiful world.”
Her program seemed to pay off, gaining more supporters every day.
“Mona has been totally welcomed here,” says Paula Rockwood, 64, who’s stopped by her stand several occasions.
Kevin Mahony, 56, another regular, agreed.
“How can you demonize a whole huge section of people and all you know about them is what you see on TV?” he asked.
Haydar, whose parents came to the US from Syria in the 60s, plans to keep her program going for a while.
“It’s about dialogue and humanizing each other,” she says. “I’m a Muslim, but first I’m human.”
“Love is my religion,” she added.