Orange County Muslim group is taking public outreach to the mall

The "Ask a Muslim" booth set up outside a library last month in Cambridge, Massachusetts, pictured above, has inspired a group of Muslims in Orange County to do the same. About 10 volunteers plan to set up a "Meet a Muslim" table at the Irvine Spectrum shopping center on Saturday.
/Courtesy of Mona Haydar

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Inspired by a recent grassroots event on the East Coast, a group of Muslims in Orange County is hoping to dispel negative stereotypes by simply going out and talking to people. Which in Southern California means setting up shop at a local mall.

On Saturday, about 10 volunteers will be manning a table at the Irvine Spectrum shopping center in an event they're calling "Meet a Muslim."

“Our purpose is about meeting individuals and letting then know that we are approachable, that we are nice, that we are happy people, that we are just like you," said Hosai Mojaddidi, one of the organizers. "We're parents, we're citizens, we pay our taxes, we work. We have common goals and interests."

Mojaddidi is an Orange County-based blogger who helps publish a mental health blog for Muslims. She said she was inspired by a young woman who recently set up a table outside a library in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a sign reading "Ask a Muslim" — and free donuts.

In place of donuts, Mojaddidi and fellow volunteers will hand out roses, along with making themselves available to answer questions.

She knows some of the questions could be difficult ones. Anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise in the wake of recent terror attacks, especially after last month's mass shooting in San Bernardino. Hate crimes and discrimination incidents targeting Muslims have been up as well.

This is what organizers hope they can help ease by putting themselves out there. Mojaddidi said the group is hedging against any possible hostility or provocation by keeping the discussion simple, and personal.

"We're asking the volunteers not to engage in those types of questions, and to just let people know that we are just really there to have a human exchange, and to keep it personal to who we are as individuals," she said.

The "Meet a Muslim" table will be set up at the Irvine Spectrum mall Saturday between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.