It’s become a hug felt around the world.

Cynthia Cox de Boutinkhar didn’t know what came over her when she embraced a woman protesting outside a mosque in Hilliard, pulled her in and held on tight.

But as she did it, she felt the woman’s rigidity melt away, as if that simple hug had helped — at least a little — turn her fear into trust.

The protest at Noor Islamic Cultural Center on Saturday was one of about 20 held nationwide following a grass-roots social-media call for an anti-Islam “Global Rally for Humanity.”

The woman, who carried two heavy picket signs, was the only one to show up.

“She was standing there on her little lonesome, on the corner, bless her heart,” de Boutinkhar said. “She was going on and on.

“She wasn’t being belligerent or mean. She was being polite. She wasn’t screaming. She wasn’t getting up in your face.”

The woman stood her ground despite being faced by a couple dozen counter-protesters of various faiths who had come out to support their friends at Noor.

Some tried to talk to her about their perspective of Islam as a religion of peace. She wasn’t hearing it.

Some asked her to come inside and share conversation over coffee and a bagel. She turned them down.

Then, de Boutinkhar stepped in.

“Normally, I don’t go up to somebody who despises me and give them a hug,” de Boutinkhar said. “Something just came across me. Allah? I don’t know.

“I just walked up to her and outstretched my arms and said ‘Can I give you a hug?’ She gave me an odd look and said ‘OK.’

So de Boutinkhar hugged her.

“She was super tense, kind of shaking. I grabbed her — I don’t know why I did this — and her whole body just relaxed like a noodle. I backed away from her a little bit, and she smiled.”

DeBoutinkhar told the woman “I’m an American, too,” and asked her to go inside for a glass of water.

“I’ll stay right with you. I promise. I’ll stay right by your side.”

She and others at the mosque said the woman identified herself as “Annie” from Lancaster. Efforts to reach her via her Facebook account and through her church were unsuccessful.

According to de Boutinkhar, Annie said it was her first time inside a mosque. When they got inside, the interfaith group already gathered there gave the two a round of applause.

Annie took some selfies with de Boutinkhar, was given a tour of the center and talked to mosque leaders for about two hours, asking and answering questions.

Before she left, they gave her an English translation of the Quran, Islam’s holy book.

A photo of the hug has gone viral.

De Boutinkhar started the #huglife hastag and said she’s been interviewed by media outlets as far away as Russian and the Middle East.

She said her goal is to have her story picked up by the Today show, so she can meet fellow Ohio University alum Matt Lauer.

Imran Malik, chairman of the board that oversees Noor, said he and board members had asked the woman to come inside. But she wouldn’t accept their invitation.

“Then DeBoutinkhar hugged her and things “took a 360.”

Malik said the experience helped break down some barriers.

“I think, if not fully changed, at least she had a different concept of the Islamic Center and the community that attends here,” he said.

“My hopes are that she will continue to stay in touch with us and use it as an opportunity to take some learning to her group.”

A number of protests around the country ended with similar results.

“Groups across nation started bombarding the hate groups with love. You know, ‘make love, not war,’ ” de Boutinkhar said. Peace: that’s what Islam is all about.

Courtesy The Columbus Dispatch