Why This Muslim-American Couple Invited Strangers To Ask Them Anything

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SHAFAQNA – Soon after the San Bernardino attacks last December, Mona Haydar and her husband Sebastian Robins began searching desperately for a way to “replace trauma and terror with love.”

Haydar, a Syrian-American Muslim from Flint, Michigan, says that a lot of people don’t realize that when an extremist performs acts of terror in the name of Islam, it’s often Muslims who start fearing repercussions. In fact, there’s been a surge of anti-Muslim rhetoric and incidents in America in recent months.

“After San Bernardino we were completely and totally depressed,” the 27-year-old wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. “We had days where we didn’t leave the house.”

In a video for Upworthy, Robins, who converted to Islam, spoke about how after the shootings, he felt afraid for his wife to go out in her hijab. He was also afraid for their young son, Safi. And for the first time in his life, he also felt afraid to be out in public.

Robins said that the experience helped him realize just how much privilege he has experienced in his life as a white man.

“That was this huge wake up call for me,” Robins said in the video. “If I’m afraid, how do you think my wife feels every day as a hijabi? And it was just this horrifying realization of what it is to be different, what it is to be other.”

In an effort to promote interfaith understanding, the couple decided to station themselves outside of a Cambridge, Massachusetts library with a few doughnuts, cartons of coffee, and a sign emblazoned with the words “Ask a Muslim.” They invited passers-by to stop and ask them questions about anything — the Red Sox, the weather, and maybe if they stuck around long enough, what it feels like to be a Muslim in America today.

“We just wanted to bring a smile to people’s faces. We wanted to have heart connections,“ Haydar told The Huffington Post. “We wanted to replace the trauma and terror with love by way of doughnuts, coffee, flowers and good conversations.”

Mona Haydar and her husband Sebastian Robins currently live in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Since that first impromptu social experiment in December, the couple said they’ve set up shop with their signs and donuts close to a dozen times and had conversations with between 200 and 500 people. Haydar said that some were quick hellos and others were much lengthier conversations.

The most common question they reportedly get is, “Why aren’t Muslims standing up against terrorism?”

“Unfortunately people don’t know just how much and how vehemently Muslims are consistently coming out in droves individually and institutionally to condemn acts of terrorism,” Haydar wrote. “Every major Muslim organization and institution which represents individual Muslims have come out time and time again to share the message that … people who commit acts of violence on behalf of Muslims do not and could never represent us.”

People also want to ask Haydar about her practice of covering her hair and her body. Haydar said that this question always results in [great]CONSTRUCTIVE conversations.

“We get to talk about the beauty industrial complex, misogyny, patriarchy and societal expectations on women to look a certain way,” she wrote.”We must deconstruct the notion that this practice is based on oppression in order to rebuild the more truthful narrative that it is a spiritual practice meant to emphasize our hearts and minds rather than our very ephemeral bodies.”

Overall, Haydar said that these encounters have been healing and healthy for the couple.

“We always walk away feeling seen, heard by and connected to the people who stop to talk,” she wrote

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