signs Muslim protestor-Cynthia Eugenia Cox DeBoutinkhar-permission

What do you do when a protester stands outside your place of worship preaching words of hatred and intolerance?

If you attend the Noor Islamic Cultural Center, you give them a hug and free breakfast.

The mosque was prepared for angry protesters and signs after a Facebook campaign tried to organize picketing at dozens of mosques around the United States on Oct. 10.

With police and heavy hearts at the ready, the people who gathered to defend the mosque in Columbus, Ohio were surprised to be met with just a single protester–and, with a single act of kindness, that number went from one to zero.

Muslim hugs protestor-Micah David Naziri-permission
Photo by Micah David Naziri

While many tried to welcome the lone protester and offer her coffee and bagels, she repeatedly refused and stayed outside holding two signs denigrating Islam.

Then an inspiration came to Cynthia DeBoutinkhar, who bravely went up to “Annie” and asked a daring question – could she embrace the protester with a hug? The answer was a reluctant yes.

The newlywed later wrote on Facebook, “I felt her body go from tense to soft and I asked her to please come inside with me.” With this small act of kindness Annie agreed to walk into the building that housed a culture and religion that she honestly believed she hated.

Muslim-hug-permission-Cynthia Eugenia Cox DeBoutinkhar

DeBoutinkhar promised to stay by Annie’s side in the mosque to provide comfort and a guarantee of safety–an offer that was quickly deemed unnecessary the moment the two women stepped into the lobby and were welcomed with a grand applause.

Annie was asked another daring question, and to everyone’s surprise she agreed to accompany the group on a complete tour of the mosque. DeBoutinkhar led Annie to the ladies room to watch her take off her hijab, “so she could see that I’m just a normal person under my scarf.”

“I usually don‘t wear them, actually,” she told Good News Network days after being inundated with media requests for interviews about the incident.

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“It’s been an overwhelming response. I think it struck a nerve with people. I think Muslims see it as finally some good press–and non-Muslims seem to like it because it shows the religion in a good light.”

Comfortable with her new acquaintance, Annie confided in DeBoutinkhar the source of her beliefs regarding Islam–a friend from Turkey who told her terrible things about Islam, and Fox News.

By the end of the tour, which included classrooms filled with children, and a glimpse of afternoon prayers in session, the protester began to ask her own questions that the president of the mosque answered enthusiastically. He also presented the Annie with an English Quran as a gift.

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Afterwards the two women were both enraptured by open discussions on topics from holy books to Jesus, miracles and more, for two hours.

“You were all really nice,” Annie told them when she finally turned to go. “I had no idea Muslims could be nice to me, even after I stood out there with those signs… Sorry.”

DeBoutinkhar gave her one last hug, and the protester left without her signs.

(Watch the video below from In The Now)

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