Imam Claims Racial Profiling by American Airlines

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One of the city's most prominent Muslim leaders claims he was prevented from boarding two American Airlines flights en route to a conference on Islamophobia last week because of his appearance.

Imam Al-Amin Abdul-Latif — who heads the Majlis Ash-Shura, or Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York, a representative body that includes dozens of area mosques — said he was twice denied by officials when he tried to board an American Airlines flight from La Guardia to Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday to attend a conference on Islamophobia.

The imam was traveling with his son, Imam Abubakr Abdul-Latif, who heads a mosque in Bed-Stuy.

The two cleared a security check and arrived at their gate where they said a Transportation Security Administration official asked to see the elder Abdul-Latif's boarding pass.

The official allegedly left for 10 to 15 minutes before returning the boarding pass. The father's boarding pass would not scan and he resigned himself to missing the flight, assuming his son would make it to Charlotte.

The son's flight did not take off, and according to Abubakr, the plane returned to the gate after having approached the runway.

After having his documents examined, he said he was allowed to walk away. He eventually reunited with his father, who had obtained a new boarding pass for early the next day, and the two returned at around 3:30 a.m.

The son's boarding pass was cleared, but this time, the two said an American Airlines employee indicated to the elder imam that he was not allowed on the plane.

"There was no ill intent on the part of any of our employees involved in this," American Airlines spokesman Ed Martelle wrote in response. "It was a situation that just got very complicated very quickly."

Ann Davis, a spokesperson for the TSA, referred questions back to American Airlines, and said her office was not familiar with the incident.

But the senior imam thinks his appearance -- a kufi, or Muslim cap, and a beard dyed bright-red with henna -- caused airline officials to single him out.

"I look at the climate that we're living in -- the anti-Islam, the anti-Muslim trend that is growing in the country, by a handful of hatemongers, basically. That's the climate we're living in, that's why we're having that conference, [on] Islamophobia, to discuss the strategy of how to respond and how to deal with this growing trend of hatred and bigotry towards Islam and Muslims."

He noted that nine other imams had been on the plane -- none of whom were apparently prevented from flying -- but said the fact that he is prominent adds weight to his fear that Muslims are being targeted.

"If it had not been for the death of Osama bin Laden, I don't think these incidents would've happened," said Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations.

But Hooper suggested it was possible technical problems, rather than profiling, had prompted the New York incident.

The incidents have prompted a grass-roots campaign by Muslim groups, including the Muslim Peace Coalition USA, encouraging members to voice their disapproval to American Airlines and call on the Department of Justice to open an investigation into the "ongoing harassment of Muslims."
Imam Abdul-Latif, according to the email being circulated by the group, "is a well known and well respected leader active in civil rights and social justice issues. He heads the 500,000 strong Muslim community of the greater New York area. No American should be discriminated against. When a leader of Imam Latif's stature is discriminated against then all citizens are endangered."

According to Imam Abdul-Malik Mujahid, a Chicago-area cleric, Abdul-Latif has been outspoken against terrorism, and has argued that "war, terrorism and Islamophobia are a connected triple-evil."