Muslim men seek inquiry after ‘racially profiled’ on US flight

Isam Abdallah and Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh say they were treated with ‘suspicion’ because of their faith and ethnicity.

American Airlines
American Airlines said the flight was 'cancelled due to concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger' [AP]

Two Muslim men have called for an investigation after they say they were “racially profiled” and the American Airlines flight to Dallas, Texas, they were travelling on was cancelled.

Isam Abdallah said his flight was cancelled because the aeroplane crew was “not comfortable to fly” with him and a second passenger, Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh, on board.

Alkhawaldeh said he has been a frequent flyer since 1989 and that there was no reason for security officers or crew members to be suspicious of him.

“I have been a loyal customer since 1989, I have taken hundreds of flights … with American Airlines,” Alkhawaldeh said at a news conference organised on Thursday by the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“And to be treated with disrespect, suspicion, to be racially profiled … for absolutely no reason, this is absurd, unacceptable and un-American,” he said.

American Airlines defended its decision in a statement to US media, saying the flight was “cancelled due to concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger.”

“American and all of its regional partners have an obligation to take safety and security concerns raised by crew members and passengers seriously,” it added.

An airline’s spokeswoman told the Dallas Morning News that the company has reached out to Alkahwaldeh and Abdallah “to better understand their experience”. 

The airline noted that the flight was operated by its regional partner, Mesa Airlines.

A Mesa spokesman told US media on Thursday that “the safety and security of our customers is our top priority, and we are conducting a thorough investigation of this matter.”

‘Discrimination against my religion’

Abdallah and Alkhawaldeh were booked to travel from Alabama to Texas on an American Airlines flight on September 14.

According to Abdallah’s account, the flight was initially delayed by 15 minutes due to maintenance issues, later on it was delayed again. During the interruption, he said, he decided to go the restroom.

“When I opened the [restroom] door, the flight attendant was [standing] by the door like she was eavesdropping,” he said. “I was really shocked.”

Ten minutes later the crew requested the passengers to leave the aeroplane, he said, adding that shortly after the pair was approached by a security person and later by an FBI agent.

Abdallah said he was told by the officer that a passenger and an airline staff “were not comfortable with flying with him after he “went to the restroom and flushed the toilet twice”.

“It was really humiliating,” he said at the news conference. “I felt discriminated against my ethnicity and my religion,” he added.

Islamophobia in the US

After the experience, Alkhawaldeh said he was really concerned about his coming trips.

“I travel for a living, and the last few days I’m really worried [about] how will my next travel experience will be,” he said.

“Imagine you have … police officers around you, after you, for what? For somebody flushing in the bathroom, or somebody waving at his friend, I hope this doesn’t happen again, and those responsible must be held accountable,” he added.

This is not the first time Muslim passengers have alleged discrimination during flights, with activists raising fears over rising Islamophobia in the United States.

Omar Suleiman, an activist based in Dallas, said incidents like this “happens to people in our community far too often”. “People want to move on from those horrific experiences, and [it] is not something that often goes reported,” Suleiman, who was present at the news conference, said.

In 2016, an American social media celebrity Adam Saleh was removed from a New York-bound plane in London after speaking Arabic on the aircraft. A year earlier, a US Muslim woman Kameelah Rasheed was forced off a plane and taken for questioning. She was later allowed to fly but she missed her flight.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recorded a 17 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2017. It also documented 300 hate crimes against Muslim Americans in 2017, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. 

Source: Al Jazeera