Nov. 22, 2006: Uproar follows imams' detention

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG and PAMELA MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2007 - 9:17 PM

The removal of six Muslim clerics from a US Airways flight from the Twin Cities set off a nationwide uproar, and the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said it will review the incident.

From now on, Omar Shahin won't be praying at the airport while waiting for a flight.

"This was humiliating, the worst moment of my life," Shahin said Tuesday, a day after he and five fellow Muslim imams were escorted off a US Airways jet at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"To practice your faith and pray is a crime in America?" he said.

The incident set off a nationwide uproar, and the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said it will review the incident.

Bloggers and talk radio buzzed about the need to be vigilant against potential terrorists, while civil rights advocates and Muslim leaders cried foul. The national Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for a congressional hearing about ethnic and religious profiling at airports.

Locally, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and the Somali Justice Advocacy Center questioned the detention.

Bushra Khan, spokeswoman for CAIR's Arizona chapter, said, "All these men did was pray, and it was misunderstood. The bottom line is that they were Middle Eastern-looking men ... and that scares some people."

US Airways said that it will fully investigate the matter and that passenger safety is paramount.

The religious leaders were heading home after a three-day North American Imams Federation conference in Bloomington.

The pilot ordered the men off the flight after their praying, conversation and behavior alarmed several passengers and flight attendants.

The imams denied that they did or said anything that could be considered threatening. They were released without charges after being questioned for five hours by federal law enforcement officials.

Left behind by US Airways

Shahin, president of the imams' group, called for a boycott of US Airways after an agent and his supervisor, without giving a reason, refused to sell him replacement tickets Tuesday morning.

"I'm not going to stay silent," Shahin said. "I came to this country to enjoy justice and freedom."

The US Airways supervisor told Shahin that his tickets had been refunded and that he would have to go to another airline. The supervisor offered Shahin a customer service phone number.

"I want to go home. I don't want phone numbers," Shahin said. "They have no reason to refuse service to us just because of the way we look."

He bought six one-way tickets at the Northwest Airlines counter, and the men flew to Phoenix without incident.

'Praying very loud'

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