Noon Salih’s week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland didn’t start the way she hoped.
Sitting in the bleachers on Monday among delegates, the Muslim woman heard her phone go off. The alert was her call to prayer and it sounded exactly as you would expect.
She had forgotten to put her phone on vibrate and the noisy alert came right as Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke denounced “Islamic terrorism” to the convention crowd gathered in the Quicken Loans Arena. The timing was terrible.
“I panicked,” says Salih, who wears the hijab. “A couple people jumped up, so we were all panicking,” she adds with a good-natured chuckle. “They walked away.”
Salih, 29, is a TV producer with Al Jazeera English and lives in Los Angeles. She is Sudanese, although she has spent most of her life outside Sudan, including studying at George Mason University in the US.
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, who is expected to accept the nomination in Cleveland today, hasn’t been kind to people like her. He’s threatened to ban Muslims from the US if he’s elected to the White House. So, not surprisingly, she hesitated when asked by Al Jazeera to come to Cleveland to work during the convention.
“I said, ‘Look, I don’t want my scarf to be a hindrance to getting our job done,” Salih says. “I will never take it off, so that’s out of the question.”
Violence has marred some Trump rallies this year and was expected again at the convention, making the decision to go even more difficult.
“As someone who is very obviously Muslim, because I wear the scarf, I do feel I represent my religion,” she says. “I don’t want to be that ambassador. But, I do feel there is a sense of responsibility.”
Her presence at the GOP convention has put her in a unique position among this overwhelmingly white, Christian crowd. So far, she says, she’s been greeted with a mixture of politeness and suspicion. In fact, her blue hijab has been a conversation starter for a lot of Republicans.
“The unifying factor here is people tell me how beautiful my scarf is,” she points out. Those people include Florida Governor Rick Scott, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.
For the most part, interactions have been cordial. Some people have willingly granted her team interviews on the subject of the proposed Muslim ban and she’s surprised that in spite of her obvious devotion to her religion, people are still willing to tell her, very nicely, they back Trump’s proposal. “They are so convinced, so filled with passion,” she says. “They do not budge.”
That distrust of anything related to Islam has hovered over the convention, led by some of the country’s leading Republicans.
On Monday, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani whipped up the crowd, shouting, “We must not be afraid to define our enemy. It is Islamic extremist terrorism!”
On Tuesday, a delegate reportedly shouted “No Islam” in the arena during a closing prayer by Sajid Tarar from American Muslims for Trump.
Salih herself was the subject of some suspicion when she was taking photos with her phone of the Al Jazeera team.
A group of Michigan delegates nearby took offence and asked her why she was photographing them. She wasn’t, but she was scolded nonetheless. At one point, Salih overheard someone whisper “Taliban” as she walked by.
This isn’t new for Salih. She’s fully aware of the world she lives in.
Will she go to another Republican event? She thinks for a moment before answering. A big public event like the convention is fine, she says.
“I don’t know how I would feel about going to a Trump rally,” she adds. “I think I’d still be a little bit tentative.”
|This is Cleveland|