Mosque protester just needed a hug

A woman who drove an hour by herself to attend a protest at an Ohio mosque found understanding after personal discussion with Muslims there.

Hatem Moussa/AP
The sunset hangs in the sky above the Khalil al Wazer mosque. A protest against Islam Saturday in Ohio turned peaceful when discussion began face-to-face.

Protests were planned at mosques around the country Oct. 10, but in at least one case debate became dialogue and welcome when personal interaction replaced frightening Internet news.  

The Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Columbus, Ohio, had prepared for conflict on Saturday, having received emails and phone calls threatening a large protest organized by the Global Rally for Humanity group.

The police were on hand and ready, but in the end, it wasn't necessary. Only one protester arrived, a woman called "Annie" who had driven nearly an hour to make sure her voice was heard.

One of the counter-protesters – a PhD candidate at Antioch University named Micah David Naziri – approached her. Their encounter was filmed and included everything from disagreement about Johnny Cash music to disputes about the Quran. 

Annie revealed that her main reason for coming was her concern after seeing news reports of human rights abuses in the Middle East.

"I feel so passionately because I see children being raped and tortured, and it breaks my heart," Annie said, according to The Washington Post. 

Eventually, several Muslims arrived from the cultural center and entered the discussion. They invited Annie to breakfast and a tour, and the would-be protester left the mosque with a copy of the Quran after watching an Islamic prayer, according to Cynthia DeBoutinkhar, a Muslim who was gave her a hug. She posted about the experience on Facebook.

"I asked if I look scary to her. She said I didn't," Ms. DeBoutinkhar wrote. 

Annie told Ms. DeBoutinkhar that she had only learned about Islam through internet news and Google searches, so the hug had disarmed her. The Muslim woman was likewise touched and asked her to find out about Muslims in person. 

"Her parting words for me were this: 'You were all really nice. I don't approve of the violence or killings (neither do we), but I'll read this book. I had no idea Muslims could be nice to me, even after I stood out there with those signs. Sorry,'" DeBoutinkhar posted on Facebook.

This is not the only protest that has ended with an invitation, and changed minds through personal interaction. Phoenix, Ariz., was the site of the day's largest protests, but also a display of welcome and tolerance. During protests in June, Jason Leger arrived at the protest wearing a shirt that denigrated Islam in profane terms. After being invited in for an honest discussion, he said plans to return to the mosque to gain more understanding, but with a different shirt, Fox News reported.

"Out of respect for the Islamic people, now that I have talked to them, knowing what I know now, no, I would not do that again," Mr. Leger told Fox News. "I don't want to offend or hurt those people."

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