When Sebastian Robins and Mona Haydar met in 2012, it was love at first sight. Shortly after meeting Haydar, Robins decided to convert to Islam. “Islamophobia just wasn’t the thing that it is today,” he says. “I don’t know if I would’ve converted as readily or as publicly now as I did then.”
In recent years, Robins has noticed marked differences in his experiences when he’s alone, or with their son Safi, versus when he is with Haydar. “Going out with Mona, people are not shy about staring,” he says. Haydar adds, “Sebastian’s like, ‘Oh, this is my wife, Mona.’ People are like, ‘Oh. Nice to meet you, Muslim lady.’”
Following the rise of Islamophobic hate crimes in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, Robins and Haydar knew they had to act. “We felt like we had to do something to replace some of that trauma with love and connection. … ‘How do we get people to talk to us?’” Haydar says.
With the help of coffee, several dozen doughnuts, flowers, their son Safi, and their dog Ben-Ben, Robins and Haydar set up outside of the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts for a day with a large sign encouraging passersby to “Ask a Muslim.” Conversations ranged from what it’s like to be a Muslim in America today to tips on how to potty-train their son to the Boston Red Sox. “It was a lot of curiosity and a lot of joy,” says Haydar.
Shortly after, their gesture went viral on social media, spurring hundreds of “Ask a Muslim” pop-ups all over the country. “It’s that magic connection that I want to be the lasting thing from Ask a Muslim,” Haydar says.