As thousands of Muslims prepare to embark on their holy pilgrimage to Mecca, local Islamic leaders are reaching out to teach others about the rituals of their faith.
Their immediate concern is for the Muslims traveling through Los Angeles International Airport. Leaders want their experience to go smoothly in light of heightened security and lingering fears on the part of the public.
“We want to make sure no one in this country is fearful while traveling,” said Shakeel Syed of the Shura Council of Los Angeles, an umbrella organization that oversees mosques and masjids in Southern California. “At the same time, we want to make sure Muslims can successfully fulfill their religious obligations.”
Thousands of Muslims are headed to Saudi Arabia to participate in a historic and sacred pilgrimage called hajj. Syed and leaders from other Muslim groups organized a meeting with officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration earlier this month to quell anxiety over some of the travel habits of these passengers.
The pilgrims, for example, will likely gather in sizable groups to recite daily prayers in the airport, which does not have a private chapel. Upon returning, the men will likely have shaved heads in keeping with one of the rituals of hajj, and the pilgrims may be carrying gallons of water culled from a sacred well in Mecca.
“There is still fear that exists within the Muslim community because of the way they have been perceived,” said Affad Shaikh, civil rights coordinator for the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The meeting was in part spurred by problems experienced last year in Minneapolis, where six Muslim clerics were removed from an airplane after passengers complained about the men praying before the flight.
Locally, concerns about ethnic profiling were heightened after the Los Angeles Police Department proposed – and eventually scrapped – mapping Muslim communities.