Muslim pilgrims urged to complain [when traveling]
American Muslims making a religious pilgrimage to Mecca are being encouraged to file civil rights complaints if they feel discriminated against by airlines.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), citing what it called the "airport profiling" of six imams removed from a recent flight, yesterday said Muslims traveling this month to the holy site in Saudi Arabia need to be aware of their rights.
"Given the increase in the number of complaints CAIR has received alleging airport profiling of American Muslims, we believe it is important that all those taking part in this year's hajj be aware of their legal and civil rights," said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR spokesman.
The group has established a toll-free hot line (800/784-7526) for victims of "flying while Muslim," as Muslims have begun departing for the weeklong hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime obligation to visit the holy city of Mecca, which this year begins Dec. 29.
But M. Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician and chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), said the announcement by CAIR "continues the tired stoking of the flames of victimization."
"They are unfortunately exploiting, for purely political reasons, what should be a sacred and purely spiritual story of our faith's annual holy pilgrimage to Mecca," Dr. Jasser said.
"We need new leadership and organizations which use their passions and the bandwidth of the media to lead the ideological fight against radical and political Islam rather than this tired pre-emption of supposed discrimination."
CAIR is representing the six imams removed from a US Airways flight last month and has asked for a meeting with the airline to seek an out-of-court settlement. It maintains that police and witness reports detailing the imams unusual behavior before their removal last month were ethnically and/or religiously motivated.
The imams say they were praying and did not, as the reports say, change seats and make remarks critical of President Bush and the Iraq war.
The Washington Times obtained police and witness reports just days after the incident involving the imams, and reported on Nov. 28 that the men did not sit in their assigned seats, asked for seat-belt extensions they did not need, and spoke in Arabic among themselves.
Federal air marshals and pilots were also asked by The Washington Times to examine the imams' seating arrangement, and reported that it resembled a pattern used by the September 11 hijackers.
"You do wonder what the ultimate aim is here; to eliminate a discriminatory practice that does not exist, or is there some other agenda afoot," the official said.