Shortly after beginning our conversation, Rose Hamid cut me off in an electric flurry that would come to define her voice throughout our conversation; “I’m so sorry,” she said, “I just remembered that I haven’t prayed fajr, can I call you right back?” Hamid, the 56-year-old American Airlines flight attendant who made headlines on Friday for silently protesting at a Trump rally and subsequently escorted out by police, admitted that she has not yet read anything anyone’s written about her since the event.
“It’s been crazy,” she said with a laugh, “Non-stop, I don’t know how rock stars do this!” Hamid, whose stance of peace at a rally associated with hate, has joined the ranks of Muslim rock stars herself, though she was a rock star long before the image of her standing demurely in an “I Come in Peace” shirt behind Trump went viral.
On making the decision to attend the rally, Hamid says “I knew that going to a Trump rally while wearing hijab would be a statement in itself,” and as a result, knew she had a responsibility to be mindful and “…to be an example of what Islam teaches me,” she said. After all, “when a Muslim woman puts on the hijab, she bears the responsibility of being an example,” she said.
She continued, “Sometimes it’s a good thing, but sometimes it’s bad because we’re human, and we forget.” Though most media outlets have reported on Hamid getting kicked out of Trump’s rally for “no apparent reason,” Hamid wants to set the record straight; “People are saying there was no reason, but there was a reason, I was protesting,” she said, “I am not playing victim here, the story isn’t me, the story is the hateful rhetoric and people I was protesting.”
The rally itself had a high attendance rate, with attendees lining up for the event as early as the afternoon, several hours before it was set to start. Before Trump took the stage, the humming audience received a warning in a sinister Orwellian twist; “Mr. Trump supports the first amendment’s right to free speech…almost as much as he supports the second amendment,” although if anyone noticed people being disruptive, the audience was to chant Trump’s name instead of engaging the protesters directly.
Hamid herself was surprised, if not horrified, at the reality that an American presidential candidate in 2016 was prioritizing gun rights over freedom of speech and expression, but she remained calm and determined. Naturally, it didn’t take Trump long to dive into his standard hateful vitriol, calling Syrian refugees “terrorists,” and “ISIS sympathizers.” “The thing that has not been emphasized or verbalized,” Hamid said, “is that the man [standing] next to me is not Muslim. He’s a Jewish attorney,” and he’s the one who had, in fact, given Hamid the yellow eight-pointed star that says “Muslim.” Marty Rosenbluth, a friend of a friend, had attended the rally to protest as well; in fact, he stood up first, and Hamid followed. “I thought I had found a loophole, you know?” Hamid mused, “I had butterflies, but I was also curious about how it would play out, because I wasn’t actually breaking the rules.”
“I am not playing victim here, the story isn’t me. The story is the hateful rhetoric and people I was protesting.”
Shortly after Hamid stood up, the crowd caused their own disturbance and began, as they had been instructed, to chant Trump’s name.
As is common at Trump rallies, Hamid and Rosenbluth were not the only protesters at the event. In fact, at the same time that Hamid and Rosenbluth had stood up to protest, a man in a different part of the crowd had shouted “Islam is not the problem!” A myriad of protesting voices and symbols converged, and Hamid believes that the swell of the Trump chorus may not have been directed at her all, but could have easily been aimed at the man who had yelled; however, given her hijab, Hamid knew she was an easier target for removal by security.
Despite her untimely removal, Hamid is ultimately satisfied with how the event and her protest played out. “I went in as an American citizen, against all hateful rhetoric,” she emphasized. “My point was to make a statement without being disruptive — and it was the Trump folks who were more disruptive, especially as we were led out. That is when we saw their ugly nature.” There is a simple profundity to Hamid and Rosenbluth’s silent protest. In a space hostile to free speech and expression, Hamid and Rosenbluth found a way to take ownership of the space, to reverse the mirror, to show how the insistence on policing free speech was, in essence, harming no one but the crowd committed to policing speech itself.
Rosenbluth concurred in a Facebook post after the event.
For 15 minutes, the crowd’s anger and hostility disrupted and obstructed their own candidate’s rally, far more than any protester could hope to accomplish — all in an effort to police expression, to silence a silent woman simply wearing a scarf and wearing the word “peace” on her shirt.
While the country has only just learned of her, Hamid has had a long history as a community activist, and her decision to attend a Trump rally with her hijab and a peace T-shirt was no exception. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., to a Palestinian father and a Colombian mother — immigrants who came to mine their fortunes in America — and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Hamid’s story is a classic American narrative.
She grew up as a devout Catholic, but just before entering the angst of adolescence, she left the Church. “I didn’t practice anything for a long time, I would have described myself an agnostic if I’d known that word then,” she laughed with wisdom. “I used to be against organized religion completely; I felt it was divisive.”
“What changed?” I asked. She answered easily and simply, “It’s not the religion, it’s not the faith. It’s people.”
She credits her kids — two boys and one girl — for bringing her to Islam. Hamid said, “I wanted to teach them something, so I began reading up on religion and a Muslim’s direct relationship to God — that’s what resonated with me, [but] I wanted to make it fun. No one likes going to Sunday school, you know?” Her commitment to an enjoyable relationship with God helped humanize her and her family’s everyday experience with religion and relate to her own community in a unique way. “I opened up Girls and Boys Scouts chapters at the mosque,” she said.
Eventually, she found herself immersed in different aspects of the community — whether it was heading “Muslim Women of the Carolinas,” writing op-eds for the Charlotte Observer, or contributing an essay to a book on Muslim women activists, she stressed the power of the individual. “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone and become more available,” Hamid said.
“My point was to make a statement without being disruptive — and it was the Trump folks who were more disruptive, especially as we were led out.”
When asked whether she sees herself as an activist, Hamid paused and said, “The concept of being an activist, it’s…I didn’t want to be labeled that way at first. But I realized that an activist means you have to stand up for something. It’s not about storming the Bastille with lit torches, it’s a matter of giving a voice to the voiceless.”
Although Hamid, like any activist or hard-working woman with a mission, has built outreach initiatives that have failed, she remains committed to her belief in people. “I’ll say this anytime someone lets me say it, but I have never had one single passenger [on American Airlines, Hamid’s employer] look at me in an ugly fashion or any of that,” she said, “That’s what I keep saying, people are decent, the majority of people are decent.”
When rumors circulated, claiming that Hamid’s protest was a publicity stunt aimed at advertising the “I Come in Peace” T-shirt company owned by her son (rumors that Hamid met with humor), Hamid joked, “So what? You’d think Trump at least would respect the hustle, this is America!” She continued, “I used to watch ‘The Apprentice,’ I know a thing or two about commercialism!”
Hamid initially maintained that she didn’t have an agenda, but then corrected herself, saying, “My agenda is to let people know that we can’t let hateful people color who we are as Americans.” She said, “My main message is to stop this hatefulness, even with politicians, with Democrats and Republicans whose main objective is to vilify the other.”
As Hamid powers through her cheekily self-labeled 15 minutes of fame, she is “constantly trying to check [her] intentions.”
“I just want to say something that has meaning, to be as authentic as I can be — it’s not about being famous.” Still, fame can’t hurt, and Hamid may be on her way to a fame maybe longer than 15 minutes. With interviews set up at all major news-media outlets, she’s begun dipping her toes into social media. Her son’s helping her with Twitter, and her niece with Snapchat.
Amid the dangerous spike of Islamophobic activity in the United States as of late, Hamid and activists like her continue to highlight their views openly and confidently. It’s important to understand the resilience behind these voices, as even identifying as Muslim, much less standing between those who writhe in their existence — has led to deaths, profiling and extreme vitriolic hate speech. Hamid is among those fighting to be given the right to exist, while continuing to remain open to and encouraging peaceful dialogue.