CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On a recent afternoon, Rose Hamid sat at a table at one of the busiest business intersections in the city’s center, sharing information about her faith and handing out copies of the Koran in English and Spanish.
Hamid, president of Muslim Women of the Carolinas, finds peace living in the so-called Bible belt. “Charlotte is a city where people are strong in their faith,” she said. “That’s something that’s comforting for me.”
You might not expect that sentiment and strong smile from someone whose motives and loyalties have been attacked ever since she was kicked out of a Donald Trump rally in January.
But Hamid was sharing information about her faith long before that image of her standing silently in protest at a Trump rally, wearing a hijab and a shirt reading “Salam I Come in Peace,” was flashed across the world.
“I didn’t want to offend people sitting around me. I did not want to disrupt things,” Hamid said about the incident at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. “I’m not against Trump. I’m against hate speech to incite people against other people.”
She said the Trump supporters seated closest to her at the rally, the ones she had spoken to before she stood in protest, remained supportive as she was escorted out, while some who had not had the chance to chat one-on-one shouted and yelled as if she'd been carrying a bomb.
As she wrote, “Although it was hurtful to hear, to a certain degree, I can understand that people are afraid. There are those who are carrying out heinous acts claiming to be doing so in the name of Islam. However, those people are NOT following the dictates of Islam. They have taken things out of context and twisted teachings to serve their nefarious purposes.
Islamic scholars and organizations from America and around the world consistently speak out against such acts, yet most Americans don’t hear about those condemnations. What Americans do hear a lot about is erroneous information from a small but well-funded network of Islamophobes who spread fear by diligently disseminating misinformation about Islam, Muslims and American Islamic organizations.”
In her life and work, Hamid said, “I see hundreds of people every day and never had anybody treat me badly or give me a bad thought.”
During the 2008 presidential campaign, when a charge that Christian candidate Barack Obama was a Muslim was used as a smear, she shared her story – born in Buffalo, N.Y., raised in Cleveland by a Catholic mother from Colombia and a Palestinian father who chose his faith as her own in her 20s because it “made sense” to her.
Married with three grown children, a daughter and two sons, she is a familiar Charlotte presence, and has said, “I'd rather be a Muslim in this country than any other country in this world.”
On her website, you will find Hamid’s articles on Muslim Americans taking part in the rituals of American life: “Summer is here: time to break out the burkini,” “Saying goodbye to a loved one in the Islamic tradition” and “Can a good Muslim be a good Girl Scout?” Other stories answer the questions some have about their fellow Americans of the Muslim faith: “ISIS doesn’t follow what Islam teaches” and “Following the Golden Rule in wake of tragedies.”
In 2012, she organized a “Meet the Muslims of Charlotte” program, and her message then and now was: “When you’ve met one Muslim, you’ve met one Muslim.”
It’s especially important, she said, for Muslim-Americans to not be afraid to engage in the political process, especially with both Trump and his GOP presidential rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, calling for temporary bans on Muslims entering the United States.
Next, she would like to have a dialogue with Franklin Graham, who heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association started by his famous father. Franklin Graham has backed Trump’s plan for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration and has said, “Islam has declared war on the world.”
I would ask him, “Can we talk?” Hamid said. “I want to know where he gets his information.” Then, she said, she would listen.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.