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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

To pray or not to pray

On Monday evening, six Muslim Imams (religious leaders) were taken off a US Airways airplane in Minneapolis and detained for several hours after some passengers and crew members complained of behavior they deemed "suspicious", mainly prayers at the gate.

The incident brought to attention what many of us now describe as "FWM: Flying While Muslim". Muslims who fit a certain stereotype are routinely subjected to "random" checks at the airports. Most Muslims rarely complain about those increased scrutiny stops unless such measures involve a humiliating and disrespectful treatment or cause a major delay or denial in boarding a flight. Muslims are trying to be sensitive to the fear and anxiety that is inflicting the whole public.

However, the public also has a responsibility to be rational, respectful and fair to Muslims, as we should be to all people and their cultures.

We have to know what constitutes "suspicious" activities, rather than blindly giving in to fear and subjecting innocent people to a witch-hunt or a public humiliation. Offering a routine prayer, having a beard, looking like an "Arab" or speaking in a foreign language does not fall under "suspicious" behavior.

A very "kind" man, sent an email that underlines the ignorance (and possibly bigotry in this case) that exists among some people in our country. I posted my response (in bold blue) in the hope that it will answer some legitimate questions that other genuinely concerned Americans might have about Muslims and their practices.

From: "Spencer Benedict" spencer133@cox.net

Shame on you and your six imams for your actions (and reactions) regarding the "praying" on board the airliner this week.
H.A.: I am not sure what those Imams did to be ashamed of! For the record, they did not pray on board of the airplane. They prayed in the terminal.

It's is shameful how you attempt to use religion and god to create an issue - one in which you are clearly in the wrong. God doesn't need your charade. God doesn't need your antics. God doesn't need your egotistical display of piety.
H.A.: A prayer in Islam is not a display, it is an obligation on every Muslim, 5 times a day, at specific times. Muslims pray wherever they are, when it is time to pray. And yes, you are right, God does not need our prayers, but we certainly need to pray to Him for guidance and mercy.

Most passengers pray on an airliner prior to departure. They do it privately. They do it silently. And, they do it quietly without calling attention to themselves and their actions. Most prayerful people realize that it isn't necessary that others know they are praying - they simply and humbly commune with god.
H.A.: The Muslim prayer is different from the Christian prayer. The Muslim prayer involves a set of bowing and prostration combined with meditation and Quranic recitation. To attain focus and sincere connection with God, it is recommended for a prayer to be done away from crowds. When traveling, most Muslims will try to offer their prayers in privacy at the airport chapels. But when an airport does not have a chapel or when flight time does not permit, Muslims will take a private corner at the terminal to offer their 5-10 minutes prayer. I have done so hundreds of times in America and I have never encountered a single negative incident. At most, I have had friendly curious travelers inquiring me about it. However, I can see how some people who are not familiar with the Islamic teachings can wonder why Muslims are being public about a prayer. This just reminds me how much work is still needed to familiarize America with Islamic religious practices. People fear the unfamiliar.

It is despicable what you are attempting to do with this issue and it is obvious to every American that it is contrived and provocative. How shameful that you feel it necessary to use God in such a way. Frankly, most Americans are getting fed up with Islamic fundamentalists shoving their religious "beliefs" in their faces and demanding some kind of recognition.
H.A: It is despicable that one can hold such hatred in them. Man, it must be a horrible feeling to be carrying so much hatred. Frankly, almost all Americans that I deal with are accepting and respectful of all religions. I am not sure where you hang around?

When you travel with Americans, sit down and shut up - no one is the least bit interested in your dogma, your ceremonies or your sanctimonious proclamations.
H.A.: I hate to shock you. Step out of your bubble for a while and you will find that many Americans are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, ... The next time you travel with Americans, try to learn about them and their diverse cultures. America has been religiously diverse from day one. Where have you been?

There! That's what an American thinks!
H.A.: No. More correctly, it should be: That's what a bigot thinks!

Spencer Benedict


Anonymous said...

Good response. Hopefully the author of the email will have some food for thought. I can't believe there are people who still think like that.

Anonymous said...

It is really very sad to see this incident. In some of my long flights (especially traveling to Europe for business), I have always prayed (offered my salat) on the flight and I have never encountered any problem. As a matter of fact I have seen people of other faiths praying on board as well, and I have never seen them going though this ordeal that these 6 Imams had to go through. I guess I have been lucky that no bigot passed the note to the attendant or the pilot, as has been the case in this incident. But I can see now, how difficult it is to "drive while Black, and fly while Muslim".

We all Americans need to stand together (irrespective of our faiths and believes) and be united to fight the greatest enemy within - the bigot!

Thank you Br. Hussam for sharing this response.

Best wishes and peace!

Batman said...

I read the questions and answers with great interest and do have one observation to add.

I travel frequently and have noticed (frequently) that Orthodox Jews pray continuously at the gate, on the plane or even in the service area where the steward/esses are doing their work. No one dared interrupt this religious act. Many stood up by their seats, wrapped plastic "things" on their arms and wore some sort of a "miner's" cap on their foreheads, covered their heads and proceeded with their prayers while everyone looked.

This Jewish sect maybe quite "fundemental" in their views but not a single white American could complain for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. Yet when a Muslim prays on the plane, it becomes "shameful" as the person posing the questions indicated!

Why? Ignorance or hatred?

I submit it's both. That's like Jews hating all Christians because Hitler was a Catholic. But do they? Heck no!

Jeff said...

I invite Muslims to continue to pray. While I am not a church going Christian, I have always been touched by the scene of Muslims praying in parks, airports, or colleges. This is what America is all about. Don't let a few bigots make you change your practices.