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Flying While Muslim: 7 times Islamophobia occupied airports in 2019

Flying While Muslim: 7 times Islamophobia occupied airports in 2019

A number of Muslims have been stopped by airport security officials in 2019.

Sarah Trad

Ahhh the dark and heartless world of Islamophobia. If Islamophobia were to be a villain – and it already is one, in the hearts and minds of bigots – it would be a marriage between the Joker's maniac side that wants to see the world burn and Hannibal Lecter's tongue that cuts you like a razor blade with the words he utters.

Islamophobia – the fear and hatred of Muslims – is taking over the world in horrendous fashion. Kids, adults, elderly, mayors, actors, athletes, professors, activists … you could be a saint with a sprinkle of Islam in your name and you'll probably be discriminated against.

In the past year, life has been a level tougher on Muslims, especially those who went through airport security unaware of what's to happen. Some people spoke out against bigotry and Islamophobia in 2019, and I just wonder how many more remained silenced by their feeble voice instead of lashing out at injustice.

1. British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed

[Instagram/Riz Ahmed]

Riz Ahmed has been getting quite the media attention for his hit TV shows and movies, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been a victim of racial profiling at airports. Two years ago, Ahmed made history after becoming the first man of Asian descent to take home an Emmy for his role as Nasir "Naz" Khan on HBO's series The Night Of. But racial profiling knows no fame, and no shame as well.

Ahmed has been discriminated against multiple times in the past 15 years due to his race. At a conference in June, he spoke of an incident that took place a few months prior. As he was getting ready to attend a Star Wars convention he was invited to in April, Homeland Security blocked him from boarding a plane, ultimately canceling his appearance at the event.

"I've often wondered, is this going to be the year when they round us up, if this is going to be the year they put Trump's registry into action. If this is going to be the year they ship us all off," he said during the June conference.

2. The couple who visited Turkey, yet didn't want to board a plane with Muslim passengers

[Mirror]

In June, an unsung hero took a video of two passengers – reportedly a woman and a man – as they were being kicked off a Thomas Cook Airlines flight (RIP) before its take-off from Turkey. The woman had complained about flying with Muslim men wearing white prayer shawls … and honestly, I still can't process how she missed all the mosques, Arabs, and Muslims in the Muslim-majority country.

The aircraft was headed to London's Gatwick Airport. On it, several flyers live-tweeted the incident as it happened; some said the woman labeled the Muslim men "terrorists" and told stewardesses she saw them as a "threat to the safety" of the aircraft.

3. Ismail B. Ajjawi, the Palestinian Harvard student

Ismail B. Ajjawi (center)

Ismail B. Ajjawi, 17, turned heads last month when he was deported back to Lebanon upon his arrival to the U.S. The Palestinian student won himself a scholarship to Harvard – an Ivy League member – only to be met with eight hours of investigation and a return ticket home.

He was questioned about his religion and religious practices in Lebanon – the country he resides in – had his phone and computer searched and had his visa revoked. The 17-year-old was asked about friends on social media who had posted views that oppose the U.S., to which he answered "I have no business with such posts and that I didn't like, [s]hare or comment on them and told her that I shouldn't be held responsible for what others post."

Ajjawi was later on allowed to enter the U.S., a day before his classes at Harvard were scheduled to begin.

4. A Muslim-American mayor

A Muslim-American mayor in New Jersey was racially and religiously profiled in August by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport.

The reason behind this "sudden" and very "random" detention was quite obvious. Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah, who's been the mayor of Prospect Park – a borough in New Jersey – since 2005, was on a family vacation in Turkey. He was detained for three hours at JFK, questioned about any encounters with terrorists, and even had his phone confiscated for 12 days.

"It's flat-out insulting," Khairullah said. "It's flat-out stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs. It was definitely a hurtful moment where I'm thinking in my mind that this is not the America that I know. I am very familiar with our laws and Constitution, and everything that was going on there was a violation."

5. Two Muslim men on a flight after one of them "flushed the toilet twice"

Two Muslim men were left humiliated after an American Airlines flight in the U.S. was grounded because cabin crew felt uncomfortable flying with them on board. Why the unease? The men, Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh and Issam Abdallah, waved at each other after spotting one another while boarding the aircraft on Sept. 14.

The two acquaintances didn't know they were flying out on the same plane before they saw each other and decided to say hi. Their greeting raised suspicions among flight attendants who got even more agitated when Abdallah went to the toilet and flushed twice … because that's a legit cause for alarm, right? No, it's really not.

The flight was canceled and rescheduled for three hours later. In the meantime, the men were questioned by officers and had their luggage searched.

6. The first U.S. National Squash player in a hijab

A 12-year-old Muslim athlete from Santa Clara, California was forced to remove her hijab by an Air Canada official prior to boarding her flight back in August. Fatimah Abdulrahman, the first U.S. National Squash player in a hijab, was headed to Toronto, Canada with her teammates to compete when the incident occurred.

What baffled her and her family most was that she had already passed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspection with no hiccups, but was ordered to remove her hijab in public upon arrival to the jetway.

"I saw someone wearing a hat, but they weren't asked to remove it. Not trying comparing the scarf and a hat [sic]. But still, it does cover your head. So why was I asked to remove it, and not them? So yeah, I did feel discriminated against," she explained.

7. An activist for Muslims

[Arab American News]

Last month, a Dearborn Heights activist for Muslims, Tarek Bazzi, was attempting to board a flight to Lebanon when a CBP officer pulled him aside and began asking him a barrage of questions such as "Where are you going?", "Where will you be staying?", "Any family in Lebanon?" etc.

The activist says he was mentally prepared to be stopped, and therefore after an onslaught of questions, he realized he had already answered "more than they deserved."

"I chose to share this experience because we are living in a time period where Muslims and Arab Americans are being targeted on every front and the airports are some of the most common places of this discrimination," Bazzi explained.

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