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Story of Stranger’s Empathy to Muslim Mother Goes Viral

BOSTON – An American Muslim woman had a heartwarming experience after a 90-year-old Jewish man approached her in a book store to express solidarity and apologize for the anti-Muslim prejudice she faces as a veiled woman.

“He had tears in his eyes and told me that it must be so hard to turn on the news, that he feels awful about the bigotry my kids might one day experience, and that as a Jewish man whose parents didn’t speak any English growing up, he personally understands what it feels like to be rejected and discriminated against,” the post read in part, Yahoo News reported.

Leena Al-Arian, an American from Greater Boston, wrote in a Facebook post Thursday about the moment a stranger approached her at a Barnes & Noble.

The stranger, who was identified as 90-year older Jewish man Lenny, told her how beautiful her daughters were and apologized for the anti-Muslim sentiment in society today.

The young moth took her 4-year-old, Hiba, and 20-month-old, Huda, to the bookstore on Wednesday to meet characters from the cartoon “Paw Patrol.”

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After meeting Lenny, Al-Arian asked if she could hug him because it looked like he needed one (and she needed one as well).

He reassured her that most Americans are not prejudiced against Muslims and don’t believe everything they hear in the news, she said.

“There’s been so much hostility toward Muslims, and this hateful rhetoric has become mainstream,” Al-Arian said.

“I wanted people to know that there’s still goodness, kindness, compassion and love of humanity. Love trumps the politics of fear,” she added in a phone interview Friday, when asked why she shared the story.

Along with the positive message of solidarity, Lenny offered buy presents for her children so they could have something to remember him with.

The mother suggested simply taking a picture together. Yet, he insisted on buying the presents anyway.

“I think they are a little bit too young to understand still the general hostility towards Muslims. They were excited to get new toys, for sure,” she said.

“They saw the emotion for sure, especially my older one.”

Empathy Needed

Appreciating Lenny’s act of kindness, the woman considered her post about his nobility as a gift back to the kind man.

On the back of the gift receipt, the man wrote his contact information so that Al-Arian could send him the picture, she said.

“Since his birthday is today,” she told Yahoo News, “I want him to know that thousands of people around the world have heard about his act of kindness and responded with an outpouring of love and birthday wishes in return. I hope he will consider this my gift to him.”

Al-Arian said that prejudice against black and brown people and the scapegoating of Muslims have been around for a long time.

But she said some politicians have been exploiting the fear and hatred that already existed to gain support — amplifying both.

She said she hopes the tide in the US will change so that her daughters do not experience the bigotry that she has throughout her life, and that she’ll get the opportunity to explain what happened at Barnes & Noble.

She thinks the story’s quick popularity stems from what she called a sort of “modern day chicken soup for the anti-racist soul.”

When asked what she thought about the story actually going viral, Al-Arian said, “It’s so surreal. It seems to be an indication of how hungry people are for stuff like this, for Muslims to feel that their humanity is being recognized.”