From an article at Newsweek by Jessica Bennett and Matthew Philips:
As a Muslim-American and president of the North American Imams Federation, Dr. Omar Shahin is no stranger to the heightened security of a post-9/11 world. On more than one occasion, the Phoenix, Ariz., resident says he’s been picked out of a crowd by the color of his skin—interrogated, finger printed or detained. So when Shahin headed to the airport Monday with five other imams for a flight out of Minneapolis—where the NAIF had met for a conference—the group did everything they could to avoid suspicion, according to Shahin. They wore Western clothes, he says. The men spoke only English. They didn’t book their seats together. And when it came time to conduct their sunset-time prayers, Shahin says, they did so quietly, and not all together—hoping to avoid any unwanted attention.Now, there seem to be a number of he-said, she-said issues. Were they flying on one-way tickets? Were they loudly chanting "Allah, Allah, Allah"? Did they "seated themselves in pairs, two at the front of the plane, two in the middle, and two in the rear"? (This is US Airways, right, not Southwest Airlines. I mean, they had tickets for the seats; they didn't "seat themselves.")
But when the group boarded their U.S. Airways flight bound for Phoenix, on which Shahin (a frequent flier on the airline) had been upgraded to first class, they would never leave the ground. After finding their seats and preparing for takeoff, Shahin and the other imams were escorted from the flight in handcuffs after a passenger handed a note to a flight attendant expressing concern over the group's “suspicious activity,” according to the airport police report. After several hours of questioning by federal authorities, the group was released. Yet though the airline refunded their tickets, U.S. Airways—which released a statement Tuesday saying it does "not tolerate discrimination of any kind"—reportedly denied them passage on any of its other flights and refused to help them obtain tickets through another airline.
Anyway, they were taken off the plane after a "passenger handed a note to a flight attendant expressing concern over the group's 'suspicious activity.'" What a great way for me to sit next to an empty seat; just claim my seat mate is acting suspiciously.
The Newsweek article asks an important and relevant question: Observant American Muslims—who must pray five times daily—are left with a dilemma. How do they maintain their religious faith without attracting attention in an environment of heightened fear?