Reunions are always sweet, but there's something extra poignant about the reunion between Saffiyah Khan and Saira Zafar, who now share a special bond thanks to an encounter at a tense demonstration.
Earlier this month, Khan was among the counter-protesters at an English Defense League rally in her home city of Birmingham, England. The EDL — a frequently violent far-right street protest movement known for its anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stance — gathered in response to the deadly terror attack in London in March, and Khan says she soon saw dozens enraged protesters surround fellow counter-protester Saira Zafar, who was wearing a hijab.
Without hesitation, Khan stepped in to defend Zafar, who was holding a sign that read, "No to Islamophobia, No to War." While the defense and solidarity itself was (thankfully) nothing new, it was Khan's calm demeanor and unfazed look that quickly drew praise. Instead of asking for a fight or raising her voice at the protesters, Khan simply smiled and kept her hands in her pockets, as seen in the powerful photo below.
Following the interaction Khan told Buzzfeed she "didn't feel threatened in the slightest way," and later explained her peaceful response to the BBC, adding, "Sometimes it's more important to smile than to shout."
One person who was grateful for Khan's smile was Zafar. Per Huffington Post, the two women reunited on April 10, and in a Guardian Wires video Zafar told Khan, "I do really appreciate the fact that you did step in. It is very important to have solidarity and to show that if something happens to this person they're not on their own. Thank you."
"[The EDL's] aim was to silence me, and I was not silenced," Zafar added. "Muslim women are not oppressed, we're not easily intimidated. We are quite strong in who we are."
Khan said she predicted EDL members would confront counter-protesters, and went to the counter-protest to lend her support. "There's no excuse to do nothing," she explained.
As we alluded to earlier, Khan's rational approach to intense hate puts her in good company. She is one of the many people in recent months, who has peacefully but effectively dealt with Islamophobic protesters. Last year, for example, a Muslim American teen named Ibrahem Dalati combatted the hatred of an anti-Muslim crowd by drowning them out with music and dancing.
And let's not forget the two prominent Muslim activists who raised over $162,000 in February to repair the dozens of headstones damaged and defaced by vandals at a historic St. Louis Jewish cemetery.