Fear is powerful. So are doughnuts. Here's how one woman is using them.
'I went in with a super open heart, with a super open mind, and just let happen what was going to happen.'
This is Mona Haydar. Care for a doughnut? Cup of coffee?
Earlier this month, in response to some anti-Muslim rhetoric that's been making the rounds, she decided to set up shop outside a Cambridge, Massachusetts, library to offer up some free coffee, doughnuts, and conversation.
"Today I stepped out of my comfort zone and stood out in a public space holding a box of donuts in front of signs that my husband Sebastian made," she wrote on her Facebook wall.
The response from the people who stopped to talk to her was overwhelming — in a good way.
"Everyone who stopped to talk to us was so kind and sweet," she wrote. "'Thanks for doing this' was the most common comment and often followed by, 'I'm sorry about what's happening in our country right now. It makes me so sad.' One woman was on the verge of tears and wanted to know when we were coming back so she could bring a box of donuts for us to give out."
"What's happening in our country" is scary.
Ever since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, life has become increasingly difficult for Muslims like Mona. Anti-Islamic sentiment is running rampant; with mosques burning and regular, everyday people being stalked by armed "protesters," it's bad news.
But Mona's determined to not let fear win.
And that starts with education.
"Initially, I thought I was going to get a lot of negativity, we were going to face a lot of Islamophobia. And I was going into it with that mindset," Mona told NPR. "Then I decided, you know what, I really can't do this if I'm expecting people to be negative. Because I'm not a negative person. I'm a super bubbly, happy person. I'm really friendly, I'm really nice, I'm really smiley; why should I expect anything less from other folks?"
In addition to answering people's questions in person, she fielded some questions over on her Facebook page as well.
One person asked for clarifications about sections of the Quran that call for violence.
"I believe in Love and a God who inspires me to Love more deeply and more compassionately! Thanks for asking!"
Another asked why Muslim leaders "aren't doing more to end the violence/thinking of the radical members of your religion who believe in all the killing/terrorism?"
"I'm not seeing a good answer for that either! But since most Muslims are normal and super nonviolent, we can't very well just bomb them ... that's kind of counter productive because that's what they're doing, bombing people I mean. I believe in Love! And [the] power of Love! I truly believe that when we move from a place of Love, we can collectively heal the hurt in the world! I don't mean it in any kind of abstract way. I mean it in a brain power, centering all our brain function, all the time creating new neural pathways and synaptic responses of LOVE!"
Another asked how non-Muslims can help break down the rough climate they find themselves in.
"We're doing all the goodness right now by having this conversation and inviting more love into our lives. That's all you and I have control over right now and if we can help ourselves embody and be LOVE then this love will heal the world! I agree! Make love! Not war!"
Of course, Mona can't speak for all Muslims — but that's kind of the point.
Her personal interpretation of her religion may not perfectly align with someone else's. The problem is that, too often, we look at the acts of a few and attribute them to an entire group of people. ISIS doesn't speak for all Muslims any more than the Westboro Baptist Church or Army of God speak for all Christians. We can't be so afraid and distrusting of one another. That's not what this country is supposed to stand for.
Don't give in to hate. Don't give in to fear. Pull up a chair and have a cup of coffee with someone who believes in something different from you; you'll be surprised what you can learn.