“Flying While Muslim”

flying-while-muslim2There have been many times that I have gone on trips and was “Flying While Muslim.” What does that mean? Well, this expression has come to describe the reality of travel for all Muslims, non-Muslim Arabs, and anyone who looks like they could be from the Middle East or any other region of the world perceived as predominantly Muslim. After 9/11, Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians became the target of racial and religious profiling that has resulted in longer waits in security and in some cases being removed from flights.

“Flying While Muslim” is also the name of a site launched this week about the case of the 6 imams who were removed from a US Airways flight on November 20, 2006, after a complaint from a passenger. Before boarding the plane, the six imams prayed one of the regular prayers in the terminal. They then boarded the plane and went to their assigned seats, with the exception of one of the imams who is blind and needed assistance. After they were removed from the flight, hours of interrogation revealed that they had done nothing wrong. The next day they returned to the airport to take another flight and were refused service again by US Airways. As a result of the humiliating experience, the six imams filed a discrimination lawsuit that is still in court.

When I first heard that story, I was particularly shocked because I was in another part of the country that same day, returning from a conference. Before boarding, I prayed in the terminal so that I would not miss the prayer. It is very typical for a Muslim who is traveling to pray in the airport before boarding a plane, so they do not miss a prayer and because of time differences. I suspect that too many share the imams’ experience rather than my non-eventful one.

As I am reminded of this case with the new website, it highlights for me the role that fear, stereotypes, and ignorance continue to play. The number of similar cases is not subsiding, and for me that is a serious problem. After 8 years, it is important to realize that 1.3 billion Muslims (at least) and those perceived as Muslim are not responsible for the actions of (literally) a few. It is also imperative that Muslim prayer not be perceived more negatively than prayer by any other adherent of any other faith. Prayer, whether Muslim or not, is an act of piety–in fact, a very peaceful act.

The imams’ continuing struggle is another example of how stereotypes and fear too often are the source of conflict. There have to be other ways to engage each other. Baba Ali, for example, and other comedians have tried to bring humor to the topic in order to create more understanding. In a Youtube video, Ali sheds light on the challenges Muslims face, especially in airports. There need to be more constructive ways like this to raise awareness, so that no one’s rights are lost and what happened to those 6 imams does not happen again.

What is your experience “Flying While Muslim”? Do you think religious profiling is necessary? Why? Are there other ways to make everyone feel safe? Please leave your comments.

4 thoughts on ““Flying While Muslim”

  1. Hate to break it to you but pretty much all Americans who fly after 9.11 are subject to indignities because in our attempt to not appear prejudicial, we subject many people to scrutiny. You will have to learn to live with it just as we do. I think you are mad because you are not being singled out exclusively and therefore can’t complain about being persecuted.

    I have studied your faith and I do not like it nor do I like your leader Mohammad nor do I think he led a good life, nor would I want to emulate it, nor bow down to his god. Just as you have a right to reject our beliefs, we have a right to reject yours. Just as you have a right to criticize our faith we have a right to criticize yours. Just as you have a right to say our books are corrupted we have a right to say yours is corrupted. There. How does it feel to fly Muslim? It stinks, thanks for asking.

  2. First few things I wanna ask you, Lynn:
    1. How do you know how and what airport securities affect you when you aren’t,and never have been Muslim?
    2. If you truly did research the Islamic faith-did you learn it from a non-Muslim or someone who actually practices the Islamic faith?
    And when you say ‘nor bow to HIS god’-I think that you are forgetting that we, as Muslims, worship the same Almighty Creator that you do-THE ONLY ONE. ‘Allah’ means (in the Arabic language) God. Therefore, there is no ‘his, her, mine, our…God’. There is only one, but the way we interpret his signs of existence and messages are different-this is what divides Monotheistic faiths. My views on airport security in America is that they should do these ‘random checks’ on EVERYONE, not just modestly-dressed people who appear to be of Arab or African descent. America has a lot of crazy people, rapists, serial killers, and criminals who take flights EVERYDAY and are of white, born citizens, and never even been Muslim. Therefore, if the T.S.A. only focuses on Muslims, others can easily get away with things.