On a wing and a prayer

The case of the flying imams is not over by a long shot. After a pray-in at the Minneapolis airport yesterday, Minneapolis “Muslim leaders” cited the case of the flying imams in support of the need for a Muslim prayer room at the airport: “Area Muslim leaders ask airport for prayer room.” It’s a bit difficult to follow the logic. Apparently Muslims need a place to shout “Allah” without arousing the fears of the flying public.
In addition to yesterday’s pray-in for a prayer room, the Star Tribune story also discusses the seat belt extenders and reports the weight of two imams who asked for the extenders. This week’s Washington Times articles by Audrey Hudson (here and here) reported that three imams including Omar Shahin (who is not overweight) asked for extenders (“Flight attendants said three of the six men, who did not appear to be overweight, asked for the seat-belt extensions, which include heavy metal buckles, and then threw them to the floor under their seats”). I can’t reconcile the reports.
In any event, here is the heart of the Star Tribune story:

Area Muslim religious leaders have asked for a prayer room at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after six Muslim leaders were escorted off a plane last week because of security concerns.
The local imams, who prayed on the mezzanine level before meeting with airport officials Friday afternoon, said a prayer room is essential because of the need to pray several times a day. The act itself is nonintrusive, they said.
“We as Muslims, we are part of this country,” said Abdulrehman Hersi, a Minneapolis imam. “You have to pray wherever you are. Our prayer…we believe that we talk to our lord. It does not make harm to anyone.”
Airport director Steve Wareham said it would be possible to accommodate their needs, possibly in the form of a “meditation room” like those available at other airports. Such a room would be interfaith, he said.
Wareham said the airport does not have a meditation room, although quiet waiting rooms and spaces are available. A chaplain has a small room at the airport, he said, adding that until now there haven’t been requests for a prayer room.
Six imams were removed from a Phoenix-bound US Airways flight Nov. 20 after a ticket agent and passengers said they were praying loudly at the gate and visiting each other while on the plane.
They were questioned by authorities, including the FBI, and released.
The incident caused a nationwide debate about security concerns versus the imams’ civil rights.
The airport police report describes concerns about the imams reported by passengers and airline employees.
They included “very loud” praying that included “chanting” of “Allah, Allah, Allah” before the flight. Two of the men requested seat-belt extenders that an off-duty flight attendant didn’t think the men were large enough to need.
US Airways spokesman Morgan Durrant said the airline has reviewed but not changed its policies in light of the incident. “We feel that the crew followed procedure and acted for the safety of others,” he said.
The imams have said that their prayers were standard sunset prayers and that the seat-belt extenders were requested because some are large men. (The police report lists the weights of two as 230 and 250.)
The imams, who had attended a religious conference in Bloomington, flew home the next day on Northwest Airlines.
The Twin Cities imams who met with airport officials Friday said there is a gap in communication. They said officials need to forge more understanding with the Muslim community.
“We are Americans,” said Abdullahi Wasuge, an assistant imam in Minneapolis.

Unfortunatley, the ringleader of the flying imams is also an American. In honor of his contributions, the Washington Times has named him its knave of the week. Confirming what I wrote yesterday in “The flying imams: What didn’t happen,” the Times observes:

The strange story of the six Muslims removed from a US Airways flight last week just keeps getting stranger. For instance, the Associated Press reported initially how one of the imams, Mr. Shahin, said he and his fellows were “humiliated” by authorities “in a very disrespectful way.” Specifically, he said, they were led off the plane and interrogated all the while in handcuffs. “Six scholars in handcuffs,” he told the AP. “It’s terrible.”
But is that what really happened? According to Audrey Hudson of The Washington Times, the six imams, including Mr. Shahin, “were not led off the plane in handcuffs, as reported, nor were they kept in handcuffs during their five-hour detention, and they were not harassed by dogs,” as was also reported elsewhere. So, who told Miss Hudson that? Curiously, Mr. Shahin himself did during an interview, the same Mr. Shahin who a week ago had a different story. He also told The Washington Times how he and the other imams “love US Airways, and we want to fly with them.” Strange, no?
For failing to keep his story straight, Mr. Shahin is the Knave of the week.

And Richard Miniter adds a new dimension to previous press reports in his New York Post column this morning;

Contrary to press accounts that a single note from a passenger triggered the imams’ removal, Captain John Howard Wood was weighing multiple factors.
* An Arabic speaker was seated near two of the imams in the plane’s tail. That passenger pulled a flight attendant aside and, in a whisper, translated what the men were saying: invoking “bin Laden” and condemning America for “killing Saddam,” according to police reports.
* An imam seated in first class asked for a seat-belt extender – the extra strap that obese people use because the standard belt is too short. According to both an on-duty and a deadheading flight attendant, he looked too thin to need one.
A seat-belt extender can easily be used as a weapon – just wrap one end around your fist, and swing the heavy metal buckle.
* All six imams had boarded together, with the first-class passengers – even though only one of them had a first-class ticket. Three had one-way tickets. Between the six men, only one had checked a bag.
And, Pauline [Miniter’s pseudonym for passenger on the flight] said, they spread out – just like the 9/11 hijackers. Two sat in first class, two in the middle and two back in the economy section, police reports show. Some, according to Rader, took seats not assigned to them.
* Finally, a gate attendant told the captain she was suspicious of the imams, according to police reports.
So the captain made his decision to delay the flight based on many complaints, not one. He also consulted a federal air marshal, a U.S. Airways ground-security coordinator and the airline’s security office in Phoenix. All thought the imams were acting suspiciously, [US Airways spokesman] Rader told me.
One more odd thing went unnoticed at the time: The men prayed both at the gate and on the plane. Yet observant Muslims pray only once at sundown, not twice.

Miniter’s column concludes:

Tucked away in the police report is this little gem: One imam had complained to a passenger that some nations don’t follow sharia law and had said his job in Bakersfield, Calif., was a cover for “representing Muslims here in the U.S.”
What are the imams really up to? Something more than praying, it seems.

In addition, Pajamas Media has poted relevant documents together with Miniter’s column here. Pajamas Media posts the police report with witnesses’ statements here and the letter from “Pauline” supporting US Airways here. You will want to read them all.

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