CAIR: DIVERSITY OF OPINION ON IMAMS' DISPUTE WITH AIRLINE
For years, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area has been known for its liberalism and tolerance, especially when it comes to religion. Many Muslims, including the largest population of Somalis outside of Mogadishu, make their home in the Twin Cities. The area just elected the nation's first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison (D).
"We are well known for acceptance at a period in time when much of America feels like an unwelcome place" for Muslims, said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. "This is a place where Muslims are succeeding and thriving in leadership positions."
So, last month's removal of six imams from a Phoenix-bound US Airways flight at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has prompted hand-wringing, finger-pointing, calls for greater sensitivity to religious diversity and more communication between non-Muslims and Muslims.
Police and airline officials say the imams, who attended a national conference of Muslim clerics, were removed after exhibiting suspicious behavior, including uttering anti-American statements, changing their seat assignments so that they would be scattered around the airplane and asking for seat-belt extenders, which could be used as weapons. Valerie Wunder, a spokeswoman for US Airways, said yesterday that the airline has completed its investigation of the incident and has concluded that the flight crew was justified in its actions.
But the imams say the behavior in question was merely quiet prayers before boarding the flight. . .
Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman Patrick Hogan said that, while the commission has no say in a pilot's decision to take someone off a plane, the commission is supportive of Muslims' right to pray in the airport. Officials said they are considering a "meditation room" where people of various faiths can pray, and they will visit a mosque at the request of local imams.
"Muslims fly through this airport all the time, and we don't have incidents of this kind," Hogan said. "I have Muslims asking me where they can pray in the airport, and I direct them to a quiet place and tell them which way is east." . . .
Omar Shahin, one of the imams removed from the plane, said they were not praying loudly. He thinks US Airways and the media have been misrepresenting the incident. "The rumor that we were chanting Allah, making anti-American comments -- this never happened," Shahin said. "We teach at universities, we are Americans, we live in this country and love this country. Everybody who knows me knows I am the first one to do fundraising for the victims of 9/11, Katrina, the tsunami. This broke my heart."
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, is angry that false rumors were circulated, including that the imams had one-way tickets and paid in cash. The group has called for an investigation and is considering a lawsuit, Awad said.
"We believe these allegations have been aired to justify the actions of US Airways," he said. "We believe it's shameful to smear them after subjecting them to this treatment," he added, referring to the imams.