After already boarding their connecting flight on Delta in Memphis, Tennessee, two Muslim clerics were asked to get off the plane as the pilot had decided he would not fly with them on board.
Imams En Route to Islamophobia Conference
The two religious leaders, Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul, were on their way to Charlotte in North Carolina to attend a conference of North American imams discussing the problem of Islamophobia: discrimination of Muslims in America and fears of Islam.’It’s racism and bias because of our religion and appearance and because of misinformation about our religion.’ Mr. Rahman said. ‘If they understood Islam, they wouldn’t do this.’The pair, who are both members of the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis, were checked by security guards and cleared for boarding at 8:40am.
Plane Forced to Return to Gate
The plane had already begun to pull away from the gate when the pilot made an announcement that the plane was returning, according to Mr. Rahman.When the plane arrived back at the gate the imams were asked to return to the boarding gate where they first heard the reason that they were asked to disembark; because the pilot was afraid that some of the other passengers would feel uncomfortable with the imams on board.Officials from Delta spoke with the pilot for over half an hour, but the pilot remained unconvinced that he should take the imams on his plane. The plane left without the two men, who were escorted to a lounge to wait for a later flight on which they were booked. Later that same day they finally arrived at their destination in Charlotte.
Manager Apologizes; Imams Put on Next Flight
The Delta manager did apologize for the actions of the pilot, but the pilot never spoke directly with the imams themselves, explained Mr. Rahman.Both men are residents of the greater Memphis area. Mr. Rahman, in addition to being an imam, is an adjunct teacher of Arabic at the University of Memphis. He was wearing traditional Indian garb during the flight. Mr. Zaghloul was dressed in traditional Arab clothing, including the trademark head covering.Jarek Beem, a spokesman for Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which operated the Delta flight in question, said that the airline was investigating the incident. ‘We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused,’ he said.The two clerics have contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy and civil rights group based in Washington, DC which supports Muslims in the US.Ibrahim Hooper, a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the group will continue follow-up with the airline and with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to help to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.