FARGO –– Sarah Hassan plans to celebrate her 22nd birthday in September with a woman who earlier this week here was a stranger threatening to kill her and all Muslims.
“When something like this happens, hateness increases more,” said the Somali-American. “But it doesn't matter what comes out of your mouth when you’re angry. We’re all sisters and brothers. It doesn't matter if you’re Christian or Muslim.”
The outcome of a viral, hate-fueled confrontation that Hassan recorded on her phone Tuesday, July 25, of an enraged Amber Hensley in a Walmart parking lot is forgiveness in action.
Transforming the story from tirade to tolerance, Hassan and Hensley exchanged tears, regrets, hugs, apologies and personal stories Thursday, July 27.
At the request of Fargo Police Chief David Todd, the women met at the police department.
Hassan went with her younger sister, Leyla. Rowda Soyan, the third Somali-American woman at the center of the conflict caught on camera, did not attend the meeting.
“We started talking and [Hensley] was like really, really sad, and then she told us she regrets everything she said to us,” Hassan said.
In return, Hassan said they are dropping any possible charges against Hensley.
But she’s also taking the recent resolution a step further.
“I’m going to her place of work tomorrow. I’m going to do my best to have her get her job back,” Hassan said. Horab & Wentz, a Fargo accounting firm, said on Wednesday they would fire Hensley after fielding so many calls about the matter, saying they didn’t want the viral episode reflecting on their business.
Moreover, Hassan said she and Hensley are planning a joint celebration in September once they discovered that their birthdays are only three days apart.
“You feel good from inside,” Hassan said. “I know it went viral and everyone was talking about it, so we just want to be a good example for everybody now.”
Hensley did not reply to multiple interview requests from The Forum.
Video of the anti-Muslim incident posted by Hukun Abdullahi, executive director of the Afro American Development Association in Moorhead, made headlines across the globe. One version of the video shared by famed writer and activist Shaun King was shared more than 22,500 times.
Now going viral is a photo that’s come to symbolize the power of forgiveness that Chief Todd posted Thursday on the police department’s Facebook page. It shows him beside the Hassan sisters, who are embracing Hensley. Two days before, she was yelling at the sisters, “We’re going to kill all ya….We’re going to kill every single one of you (expletive) Muslims.”
“The incident that happened at the Walmart parking lot and then went viral on social media shows we have some things to work on as a community and as individuals,” Todd wrote in the Facebook post. “Unfortunately, incidents like what happened this week and the social media commentary following it can cause further division and set us back from progress we are trying to make as a community.”
When the women met, Hassan said she showed Hensley pictures of her culture – even a photo of what she and her sister look like without their headscarves on. Then Hensley explained to the sisters that her dad was killed in Iraq, Hassan said, which is why she had a “bad idea about Muslims.”
But now, it’s a different story.
“We are all a little different and that is okay, in fact it’s good -- if we strive to understand each other, accept each other and respect each other. If we do that, our diversity can make us stronger as a community,” Chief Todd wrote.
The chief also acknowledged in the post that the vast majority of people can trace their heritage to somewhere other than the United States.
“Not everything is perfect in this resolution. We have some ugliness in our community that needs to be addressed and worked on. Social media shows us that,” Todd wrote. “However, perhaps we can all take a lesson from what was an ugly unfortunate interaction and how even despite words being said that cannot be taken back, forgiveness and understanding can still be achieved.”