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I didn’t realize how often Muslims get kicked off planes, until it happened to me Niala Mohammad, The Guardian

I didn’t realize how often Muslims get kicked off planes until it happened to me

A humiliating experience opened my eyes to discrimination that has become common in post-9/11 America under the pretext of safety and security

 
 
My friend and I were removed from an American Airlines flight for requesting water and asking why we were still aboard an idling plane.
My friend and I were removed from an American Airlines flight for requesting water and asking why we were still aboard an idling plane. Photograph: Courtesy of Niala Mohammad

A recent news report documented the removal of two Muslim women working for the federal government from an American Airline flight. On its surface, the airline staff appeared to be upholding safety regulations, but in reality, they were engaging in discriminatory practices. I know this to be true because I was one of the two women. We were removed from the plane for doing nothing more than requesting water and asking why we were still aboard an idling plane for more than five hours.

Although the incident was humiliating it was also eye-opening. Until it happened to me, neither my friend nor I had realised how common this trend had become. Passengers are removed from an aircraft for benign reasons such as asking for a beverage, a child harness, speaking a foreign language, changing or upgrading seats, taking pictures, making videos, or questioning a long delay. It isn’t just about what happened to me – increasingly Muslims are a part of a cycle of discrimination that targets them due to their appearance.

American Airlines states that they prohibit “discrimination of any kind” and ensure that their “policies require that we treat all our customers in a fair and courteous manner and discrimination due to race, ethnicity, religion, or skin colour is not tolerated”. However, this was not reflected in the treatment that I and other passengers received.

Shan Anand, a young, turbaned, Sikh man along with three of his Muslim friends were removed from an American Airlines flight travelling from Toronto to New York earlier this year. When I asked Shan why he thought he and his friends were removed from the flight he said: “We know why it happened, right? There were four of us, three are Muslim and I am Sikh.” When Shan and his friends asked American Airlines why they were removed, they were told: “There were inconsistencies of their behaviour travelling as a group.” But the explanation made no sense to Shan – he was travelling in a group of six with two Latinos, three South Asians and one Arab, yet only the South Asians and Arab were removed. Shan and his travel companions were told that “the crew felt unsafe”.

“Unsafe”: a trigger word commonly used as an excuse by airlines under the pretext of ensuring safety and security post-9/11. Nearly all Muslims have at some point been subject to secondary security screening selection, but being thrown off a plane was an entirely new level of humiliation for me.

Measuring discrimination

Khurram Ali, the former civil rights director for the Council on American-Islamic Relation’s (CAIR’s) New Jersey chapter, explains that the pilot of an aircraft is given a list of those passengers that are marked with the infamous SSSS on their boarding pass. The SSSS or *S* indicates someone needs to be scrutinised a bit further by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). And although it is unknown if airline attendants have access to the names labelled SSSS by TSA on domestic flights, they do have access to their respective airline computer reservation system, which details passenger name and detailed information.

Although there is no published criteria used to select passengers for “random selection” or “suspicion”, Ali says: “It is happening to more and more people who are considered visibly Muslim.” Ali documented 27 airline discrimination complaint cases with three of those being “pulled off” or airline removal cases for CAIR’s New Jersey chapter during his short tenure. But as he pointed out, those numbers come nowhere near the amount being documented by CAIR on a national level.

CAIR has been fairly thorough in its documentation of discrimination against American Muslims, however, it is still in the process of aggregating data regarding Muslim airline passengers being “pulled off” planes. Corey Saylor, CAIR’s director of the department to monitor and combat Islamophobia, acknowledged that they “are seeing more airline cases”. But in regards to statistics, Saylor stated: “We do not have stats as of yet. We are working on it.”

The only cases the public is aware of are those documented in the media. I counted nine airline passenger removal cases involving American Muslims published in the media over the past 13 months. But if that isn’t indicative enough, just look at trending hashtags on social media like #FlyingWhileMuslim to understand and confirm the reality of rising discrimination.

The official reasons for removal of these passengers are all in relation to safety and security concerns. But there is no mistaking this trend toward discrimination of Muslims.. Here are a few examples:

  • Mohamed Ahmed Radwan made the flight attendant feel “uncomfortable” when he asked her why she called him out over the public tannoy with the words I will be watching you”. (American Airlines, December 2015)
  • Shan Anand (quoted above), a turbaned Sikh man, and three of his Muslim friends were removed for making the airline attendant and captain “feel uneasy” after they upgraded their seats. (American Airlines, December 2015)
  • Khairuldeen Makhzoom, a Berkley student, was removed after he was heard saying the phrase “inshallah” in Arabic at the end of a telephone conversation. (Southwest Airlines, December 2015)
  • Hakima Abdulle, a hijabi woman, made her aircraft flight attendant “feel uncomfortable” after switching seats with another passenger. (Southwest Airlines, April 2016)
  • Mohamad and Eaman Shebley (also hijabi) along with their three children were removed from their flight due to a “safety of flight issue” after asking for a child harness for their toddler. (United Airlines, April 2016)
  • Nazia (hijabi) and Faisal Ali, a young couple, were removed for making the flight crew feel “uneasy” because her husband was sweating, saying Allah and texting. (Delta Airlines, July 2016)

Many instances have gone undocumented due to fear of victims being further targeted, labelled troublemakers and being put on a “no-fly” list. The silent acceptance of these incidents has enabled airlines to dismiss the arbitrary treatment of select passengers as compliance with airline security regulations post-9/11. This policy is not effective and ultimately makes Americans feel marginalised in our own country.

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, or Mark for those that have trouble pronouncing his name, recalls his experience with Southwest Airlines as “tearful and humiliating”. Makhzoomi came to America after his father was executed in Iraq by Saddam Hussain: “I experienced dictatorship in Iraq and now I am experiencing it in the freest country in the world.”

The discrimination Khairuldeen faced in Oakland, California, was anything but subtle. Khairuldeen detailed how he was removed from the aircraft, questioned by airline representatives and security, cornered against a wall, searched, sniffed by dogs in public and later interrogated privately by the FBI. Southwest Airlines representative and the authorities that removed him from the plane berated him for having spoken Arabic aboard the aircraft. Khairuldeen recalled the Southwest Airlines representative, stating: “Why would you speak that language knowing the environment in an airport?”

Khairuldeen said: “I was excited because we were talking about my upcoming graduation from UC Berkley, saying ‘inshallah’. You know, we use this word 30 to 40 times in any given conversation.” The rest of Khairuldeen’s conversation revolved around what they served for dinner at an event he attended which hosted the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon. “I was telling my uncle that they served us chicken, mash potatoes and spinach for dinner at the event,” said Makhzoomi. Yet the authorities that escorted him and claimed to understand Arabic, accused him of “discussing martyrdom” in his telephone conversation.

An atmosphere of fear

Cenk Uygur, political commentator and co-founder of the Young Turks, believes that this issue goes beyond discrimination towards Muslims in particular. Uygur was also kicked off of an American Airlines flight but he doesn’t believe it was because of religion. “Was it religious? In my case, I don’t think it was racially motivated.” Uygur believes that the root of the matter boils down to power and compared airline attendant behaviour toward Muslims since 9/11 to police officers abusing their authority and using excessive force on African Americans. “After 9/11 airlines/flight attendants have taken up the ‘I can do whatever I want attitude’ in the name of security,” Uygur says. “In my opinion, the core of the problem is flight attendants are given unlimited power and they tend to abuse it. They tend to use their power on those they perceive to be powerless. And unfortunately, in America, the darker the skin colour the more powerless you are. And many Muslims tend to fit in that category.”

He adds: “By the way, it’s much harder on women because they are more visibly Muslim and they often bear the brunt of the burden of Islamophobia or discrimination.

“Donald Trump has given people permission to be Islamophobic and told them that it’s okay to discriminate against Muslims. Trump basically says, ‘If I become president I will systematically discriminate against them [Muslims],’” Uygur says.

Likewise, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi attributed the recent rise in discrimination towards Muslims to Donald Trump, saying, “Trump is using ‘Islamophobia’ to rise to political power.”

Trump’s statements have fostered and further instigated an atmosphere of fear and prejudice towards the estimated 6-7 million Muslims in America.

I’m an American and being labelled a safety threat is unacceptable in a country founded on tolerance and freedom.

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MUSLIMS WAKE-UP: Saudi Arabia to raze Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) tomb to build larger mosque


Saudi Arabia to raze Prophet Mohammed’s tomb to build larger mosque

 

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Courtyard of the Prophet Mohammed Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Medina (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

Courtyard of the Prophet Mohammed(PBUH) Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Medina (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

The key Islamic heritage site, including Prophet Mohammed’s shrine, is to be bulldozed, as Saudi Arabia plans a $ 6 billion expansion of Medina’s holy Masjid an-Nabawi Mosque. However, Muslims remain silent on the possible destruction.

Work on the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, is planned to start as soon as the annual Hajj pilgrimage comes to a close at the end of November.  

“After the Hajj this year, in one months’ time, the bulldozers will move in and will start to demolish the last part of Mecca, the grand mosque which is at least 1,000 years old,” Dr. Irfan Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told RT.

After the reconstruction, the mosque is expected to become the world’s largest building, with a capacity for 1.6 million people.

And while the need to expand does exist as more pilgrims are flocking to holy sites every year, nothing has been said on how the project will affect the surroundings of the mosque, also historic sites.

Concerns are growing that the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will come at the price of three of the world’s oldest mosques nearby, which hold the tombs of Prophet Mohammed(PBUH) and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar. The expansion project which will cost 25 billion SAR (more than US $6 billion) reportedly requires razing holy sites, as old as the seventh century. 

The Saudis insist that colossal expansion of both Mecca and Medina is essential to make a way for the growing numbers of pilgrims. Both Mecca and Medina host 12 million visiting pilgrims each year and this number is expected to increase to 17 million by 2025.

Authorities and hotel developers are working hard to keep pace, however, the expansions have cost the oldest cities their historical surroundings as sky scrapers, luxury hotels and shopping malls are being erected amongst Islamic heritage. 

A room in a hotel or apartment in a historic area may cost up to $ 500 per night. And that’s all in or near Mecca, a place where the Prophet Mohammed(PBUH) insisted all Muslims would be equal. 

“They just want to make a lot of money from the super-rich elite pilgrims, but for the poor pilgrims it is getting very expensive and they cannot afford it,”

Dr. Irfan Al Alawi said.

 

A general view of the Prophet Mohammed Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Medina (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

Makkah Hilton & Towers hotel - Hotel Exterior
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Mr. Schwarzman is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations and The Business Council. He is on the board of The New York Public Library, and The Asia Society. He serves on The JP Morgan Chase National Advisory Board, The New York City Partnership Board of Directors and The Advisory Board of the School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing. Mr. Schwarzman is a Trustee of The Frick Collection in New York City and Chairman Emeritus of the Board of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He also was awarded the Légion d’honneur by President Jacques Chirac.

Mr. Schwarzman holds a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has served as an adjunct professor at the Yale School of Management and on the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors.

 

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    • A general view of the Prophet Mohammed Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Medina (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

Jabal Omar complex – a 40 tower ensemble – is being depicted as a new pearl of Mecca. When complete, it will consist of six five star hotels, seven 39 storey residential towers offering 520 restaurants, 4, 360 commercial and retail shops.

But to build this tourist attraction the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on.

The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimated that 95 percent of sacred sites and shrines in the two cities have been destroyed in the past twenty years.

The Prophet’s birthplace was turned into a library and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, was replaced with a public toilet block.

Also the expansion and development might threaten many locals homes, but so far most Muslims have remained silent on the issue. 

“Mecca is a holy sanctuary as stated in the Quran it is no ordinary city. The Muslims remain silent against the Saudi Wahhabi destruction because they fear they will not be allowed to visit the Kindom again,” said Dr. Al Alawi.

The fact that there is no reaction on possible destruction has raised talks about hypocrisy because Muslims are turning a blind eye to that their faith people are going to ruin sacred sites. 

“Some of the Sunni channels based in the United Kingdom are influenced by Saudi petro dollars and dare not to speak against the destruction, but yet are one of the first to condemn the movie made by non Muslims,” Dr. Al Alawi said.

Muslim pilgrims walk in the courtyard of the Prophet Mohammed Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Medina (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)
Muslim pilgrims walk in the courtyard of the Prophet Mohammed Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Medina (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

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