CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two Muslim religious leaders who were removed from a commercial airliner in Memphis say they were told it was because the pilot refused to fly with them aboard.
Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul were supposed to travel on an 8:30 a.m. Delta flight, run by a subsidiary, from Memphis, Tenn. to Charlotte. They were traveling to attend a conference of the North American Imam Federation that, ironically, intends to address prejudice against Muslims.
Rahman, who is from India, and Zaghloul, Egyptian-born, were both dressed in traditional long shirts and have beards in keeping with Muslim tradition. Rahman said he and Zaghloul were screened in the security line and again at the gate Friday before they were allowed to board their Delta Connection flight to Charlotte.
After the plane started taxiing, he said the pilot announced the flight was headed back to the gate. Both men were removed from the plane, and screened again.
"We were very cooperative," he said Friday. "I say, 'It is okay.' They checked our luggage. They checked our everything."
"Every person--not only me--every person, should allow to check his luggage," Rahman said. "We are living in America. We want the security of America."
After that security check, he said a Delta employee at the gate informed him that the pilot of the flight would not allow him on board. He says the employees in the airport were very apologetic--even angry--and said they tried repeatedly to convince the pilot that he was wrong.
Rahman said he was even told that the gate agents asked the passengers if they felt uncomfortable about the two Muslim men, and reported back to the pilot that the people on board the plane were not concerned.
Transportation Security Administration spokesman John Allen in Atlanta confirmed the incident Friday and said it was not that agency's decision to deny boarding.
A Delta Air Lines spokeswoman said the flight was operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines, also based in Atlanta.
ASA released this statement:
“Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight 5452 from Memphis to Charlotte returned to the gate to allow for additional screening of a passenger and the passenger's companion. We take security and safety very seriously, and the event is currently under investigation. Compensation and re-accommodation on the next available flight were immediately offered to the passenger and the passenger's travel companion. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.”
Back in Charlotte, Rahman, a professor at University of Memphis, compared the incident to the story of Rosa Parks.
"That history I found today in that plane, and it shouldn’t happen with any other person," he said.
Charlotte-based attorney Mo Idlibi, who accompanied the men once they arrived in Charlotte, said his clients' would like to see more training for pilots about this sensitive issue. Idlibi continues to investigate the option of a lawsuit.
Idlibi said there is precedent on this issue. U.S. Airways recently settled a lawsuit filed by six imams who were removed from a plane in Minneapolis in 2006. Those men had been traveling to the North American Imam Federation conference as well.
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