By Carol Kuruvilla
From Prime Minister David Cameron questioning their ability to integrate into British society to facing an increasing number of Islamophobic attacks, Muslim women in the United Kingdom are finding that their personal choices and their very identities are becoming a subject for national debate.
It's no surprise, then, that 18-year-old Muna Adan, a student from East London, wanted to know if her city can accept her for who she is. So the woman decided to head out to London's Trafalgar Square on Saturday to conduct a social experiment.
On a piece of cardboard, Adan wrote, "I am a Muslim, not a terrorist. If you trust me, give me a hug."
The woman then tied a black blindfold around her head and waited.
According to video footage of the project, people responded with an incredible show of love.
Adan told The Huffington Post that she was inspired by these other experiments and was hoping to make people in her own city "think twice about Muslims being terrorists."
"I know my little act is not going to change much in the world," Adan wrote in an email to HuffPost. "However it made people feel the love."
While running her experiment, she was reportedly approached by both Londoners and tourists. Some of her favourite interactions were with the little kids who came up to give her a hug.
Adan said that she did hear some criticism from some Muslim men on social media who questioned whether it was right for Muslim women to hug men. However, she said that the overwhelming response to her experiment was "beautiful."
"I hope people see the message behind this, that Muslims, actual Muslims are wonderful people and you should get to know them," Adan wrote to HuffPost. "If you have questions about Islam just ask a Muslim politely and they will be nice. We are all the same."
Similar "trust hug" social experiments have happened in both Sweden, Canada, and France, with equally moving results.
Mussurut Zia, general secretary of the advocacy group Muslim Women's Network UK, told HuffPost that she admired Adan for her bravery and for her willingness to place her trust in society. For her, it's a sign that while interfaith relations in the U.K. are fragile, they're still intact.
"I sense relief on the part of the general public of London, who perhaps are looking for ways to interact and engage with Muslims, particularly Muslim women," Zia told HuffPost in an email. "Muna has removed barriers of stereotypes and misplaced negative myths and allowed people to come forward on basic human instincts of goodness, compassion and trust."
Carol Kuruvilla is a Religion Associate Editor, The Huffington Post