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Their booth says 'Ask a Muslim,' but it's not religion they want to talk about.

After the success of their "Ask a Muslim" booth, Mona Haydar and Sebastian Robins reflect.

Their booth says 'Ask a Muslim,' but it's not religion they want to talk about.

It's a scary time to be a Muslim in America. Mona Haydar would know.

She set up an "Ask a Muslim" display outside a Cambridge, Massachusetts, library last year. Coming shortly after the San Bernardino attacks, Mona's stand made national and even international news for offering a unique way of humanizing and softening people's preconceived notions about what it means to be Muslim.



At the time, attacks against mosques and Muslim Americans had spiked. It's the result of what Mona describes as "collective guilt."

It's a double standard too often applied to Muslims — think about all the times you've heard demands that the Muslim community condemn terrorist attacks and how few calls you hear for other groups to do the same. For example, if a white, Christian man commits an act of terror, it's rare to hear calls for a ban on white Christians or demands that the pope or other prominent white or Christian leaders issue a statement condemning the attack.

That's why Sebastian, Mona's husband, was scared.

The pushback against Muslims caused Sebastian to rethink his own safety in the world and how much harder it must be for people like Mona, who are visibly identifiable as being "different."

It was an eye-opening experience for him in understanding his own privilege.

To counter the misconceptions about Muslims, the couple set out to have conversations with anyone who would listen about anything they'd like to talk about.

Mona notes that the sign's open-ended premise of "Ask a Muslim" was intentional. It wasn't "Ask a Muslim about Islam" but rather an invitation to talk about whatever.

"Ask us about the Red Sox," she jokes.

In a just and fair world, an act like theirs wouldn't be seen as remarkable. In the current climate, it certainly is.

Sebastian sums it up perfectly.

Watch the Upworthy Original Video about Mona and Sebastian below:

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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