June 8, 2016
North Sider Cynthia Cox Ubaldo, 52, became known worldwide last year when a video clip went viral showing her hugging an anti-Muslim protester outside Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard.She is one of several Muslim women to be featured at Dispatch.com during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during daylight hours and focus more fervently on their faith.Ubaldo, a native of Reynoldsburg, was a Christian before she became Muslim in 2014, and wearing a headscarf has brought some challenges, including avoidance and unkind comments from strangers, discrimination from a store clerk and even parking-lot assaults.Ubaldo, the mother of one adult son, is a physical therapist and community activist who is currently campaigning for Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.Her answers to some questions from The Dispatch:Q: What reaction did you get from family and friends when you became Muslim?A: Immediately I had probably about 150 facebook friends -- mostly people I went to high school with, and a couple people from college, and other people -- unfriend me. Some made a point of writing a mean message before they would unfriend me: “I'll pray for your soul, because you're probably going to hell.”You find out really fast who your friends are and who they’re not, and I did.Family, that was interesting. I have one nephew who doesn’t want anything to do with me now because I’m Muslim. Most of my family accepted it.Q: Tell us more about what it is like to wear the hijab (head scarf).A: I didn’t start wearing the scarf right away, but I would every now and then, just kind of testing the waters, and it was really bizarre because people would treat you so differently.I’ve had so many different things happen, at Meijer, at Target, different parking lots. They’ll yell things like, “Effing terrorist whore,” “Go back to where you came from,” just things like that. “We don’t want you here,” “Your God is a pedophile.”I’ve been spat upon.Q: How do you feel that affects Muslim women?A: Because we see this all the time, people giving us dirty looks, friendly Muslims a lot of times stop looking up. We look down, we look away. So that perpetuates it: “See? They’re not friendly. See? They don’t want to assimilate. See?” Yeah, we do. But look at us. Smile at us. We want to smile back.Q: What were your thoughts about the scarf after being assaulted?A: I said, 'I’m not gonna wear this scarf anymore if people are gonna be harassing me. I didn’t sign up for that. I didn’t sign up for harassment because of a religion. I signed up for a religion, period.' And that’s what’s so crazy. We have religious freedom in this country. We’r e Americans.Q: What are some misconceptions about the headscarf?A: I had a girl pull my scarf, try to pull it off … this young college-age girl. She goes "I want to liberate you. You don’t have to wear that."A lot of women, I think, non-Muslim women, get upset with us because they think that somebody’s forcing us to wear this. … No. You dress how you want to dress in Islam. Nobody has the right to force you to dress any way.Q: What about ISIS and other terrorists who are Muslim?A: These terrorists, they’re killing more Muslims than anybody else. … No normal Muslim likes ISIS, and ISIS recruits outside Islam because a real Muslim will never join ISIS. They go against every possible thing. Raping women? That’s not allowed. Forcing people to join Islam? That’s not allowed. Killing innocent people? That’s definitely, totally, against Islam.Q: What was it like when your hug outside Noor made international news?A: I couldn’t even work. I was bombarded with interviews.People are so used to hearing only horrifying things about Islam that a hug makes national news. … Just this simple hug ends up, literally, all over the world.