Tuesday Jul 25, 2023

Shaymaa Ismaa’eel: Countering bigotry with joy

“I smiled in the face of bigotry.”


Shaymaa Ismaa’eel

Muslim who stood up to Islamophobia with joy


The Art:

Ink drawing of Shaymaa Ismaa’eel flashing a bright smile and peace sign while wearing an orange hijab. She’s drawn on a map of Washington, DC, where she encountered the anti-Muslim protestors that inspired her smile. 



The Story:

It was a warm spring day in Washington, DC and Shaymaa Ismaa’eel was attending a large Islamic conference when she noticed a loud group of protestors outside brandishing Islamaphobic signs and hurling abuses on the attendees. Their presence was upsetting the attendees, but most tried to hide their feelings and not give the protestors attention. 

Ismaa’eel’s friend said to her, “It’s Sunday, It’s Easter. Don’t they have something better to do?” to which Ismaa’eel rejoined, “Clearly, they need something from us,” and she decided to respond to them in a non-confrontational way: she asked her friend to take a photo for her. 

In the photo, Ismaa’eel is wearing a hijab and squatting on the curb with a huge smile across her face while flashing a peace sign. The angry protestors and their rude signs and insults served as the backdrop.

She shared the photo on Twitter a couple days later, writing “On April 21st I smiled in the face of bigotry and walked away feeling the greatest form of accomplishment” and on Instagram, with a quote from the Prophet Muhammad saying, “Kindness is a mark of faith. Those who are not kind have no faith.” Her posts quickly went viral, racking up 100,000s of mostly positive interactions online. 

“I wanted them to see my joy and to combat their hatred with kindness.” she said of the photo. “There’s a saying from our Prophet saying, ‘Smile is charity,’ and that’s just me personally anyway, always smiling. I wanted to show them that we are going to remain kind and unapologetic and continue to spread love in the face of bigotry.”

A behavioral therapist with children on the autism spectrum near DC, Ismaa’eel continues, “I’m all about being unapologetic about who you are—don’t let anyone dim your light.”



This episode contains music from Geovane Bruno, SoulProdMusic, and ItsWatR.



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