MPAC Appalled by Treatment
Washington, DC: Following
the wrongful removal of six American imams (Muslim prayer
leaders) in Minnesota last Monday, the Muslim Public Affairs
Council Nov 22 requested a meeting with Department of Treasury
Secretary Mary Peters and called for a review by the DOT's
Office of Civil Rights on US Airways' possible violation
of the passengers' civil rights because of their religious
and ethnic background.
The men were returning home from Minneapolis after a three-day
North American Imams Federation (NAIF) Conference. Among
the group was NAIF President Omar Shahin, an American citizen
and Imam in Arizona for the last 30 years, who told MPAC
that "this was humiliating, and the worst moment of
my life." Shahin, who is a US Airways frequent flier
who flew first class, has been an active member of the local
police task force and has been engaged member of the civic
community in Arizona.
Before boarding the flight, three of the six men went to
a corner at the gate to perform obligatory prayers, one
of the five pillars of Islam and a Constitutionally protected
right. After boarding the plane, two of the men requested
seatbelt extensions. To request seatbelt extensions is not
only a routine practice, but is intended to ensure the comfort
In the letter to Secretary Peters, MPAC Executive Director
Salam Al-Marayati writes:
"While we are all obligated to do our utmost in reporting
criminal activity to the authorities, we are also concerned
that misplaced fear and suspicion will gridlock our justice
system if we cannot distinguish normal behavior from criminal
behavior.... We believe the actions of US Airways personnel
should be thoroughly investigated and that corrective measures
should be taken to remind the airlines of their obligation
to serve all Americans and not to conduct profiling based
on religious, ethnic or racial backgrounds."
Shahin also told MPAC that he and his five colleagues, including
a blind man, were made to line up 10 feet apart in the airport
terminal before hundreds of others passengers waiting for
other flights. They were then handcuffed and led to separate
rooms where they were detained for nearly three hours. Shahin
said an FBI agent then arrived and spoke to him for less
than 20 minutes before he apologize for the "misunderstanding"
and said he was free to go. The other five imams were similarly
released without charge. The imams denied that they did
or said anything that could be considered threatening.
"To practice your faith and pray is a crime in America?"
Following their ordeal, they were quickly told by US Airways
that the airline would not re-book their flight or allow
them to fly home on any other US Airways flight, despite
the intervention of the FBI agent who assured the representative
that the men had done nothing wrong. After much humiliation,
the men returned home the next day on a Northwest Airlines
In Phoenix, Shahin and his colleagues were met warmly by
a representative of the city's Chief of Police and the Sheriff's
Department, with whom they work with regularly on ensuring
the safety and security of their city.
MPAC is committed to working to advance effective and lawful
policies which also respect the civil rights and civil liberties
of all Americans. Founded in 1988, MPAC is a public service
agency working for the civil rights of American Muslims,
for the integration of Islam into American pluralism, and
for a positive, constructive relationship between American
Muslims and their representatives.