Monday, May 7, 2007

Flying while Muslim

- Muslims say when booking a flight, they feel everyone is watching them. Recently six Muslim Imams were removed from a flight in Minneapolis, sparking the national debate: is there such an issue as "flying while Muslim", racially profiling Muslims after 9-11, or is it just prudent.

Toledo area Muslims are aware of the controversy and many say they are deeply offended by it.

Here is what happened: six Imams were traveling from the Minneapolis Saint Paul airport. Police say the men where praying in the airport terminal. Some witnesses said they were praying loudly. Passengers became concerned with the repeated use of the word "Allah" during the prayers. Allah is the Arabic word for God and is always recited in prayers.

In addition, passengers became alarmed with the men's seating arrangements, requests by two for seatbelt extensions and alleged discussions about the U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. Passengers reported this as "Suspicious behavior". The Imams were then detained, questioned and banned from U.S. airway flights. So did the passengers over re-act?

"In this situation, absolutely, they falsely reported."

Dr. Zaheer Hasan from Islamic Center of Greater Toledo says flying as a Muslim is disheartening.

"As I board a plane, I see all the eyes tracking me. I see numerous visits by the airline crew, it effects me, but I can bear that."

There comes the time and the place, as some Imams endured, that it is too much.

Nadeem Salem says he is always singled out for random security checks when he flies.

"There is something underneath that is driving this that is really disturbing. I do believe it is racial profiling."

The Imams have now filed discrimination suits against the airline and un-named passengers. Opponents of the suit say suing passengers will discourage others from reporting suspicious behavior, but some Muslims think differently.

"I think if you legitimately are afraid you are going to say something and you are not going to be concerned about whether someone is going to sue you afterwards."

UT student Sarah Alfaham says the suit makes a statement.

"I think that is really important. You can't be just accusing people for no reason."

Meanwhile, Attorney Chereffe Kadri has a different take on the issue.

"I have a problem with everybody being the eyes and ears because not everyone is trained, not everybody is well informed."

Kadri believes people need to know more before they jump to conclusions.

"If you don't know what is normal, typical or ordinary, then how do you know what is out of the ordinary."

Muslims we talked with say feeling uncomfortable is not reason enough to be kicked off a flight. They say the government needs to better define what suspicious behavior really is. Investigations by the airline and police show the airline and ground crews acted appropriately, but so far, no ruling on the discrimination lawsuit.

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