Across the street from the US Airways headquarters in Tempe, religious leaders from several denominations assembled Friday to rally against the airline’s removal of six Muslim imams from a Nov. 20 US Airways flight.
More than 100 people attended the rally at Tempe Beach Park, that included a congregational prayer service where Muslims removed their shoes to pray on large plastic sheets on the park lawn.
“If US Airways employees don’t know what our prayers look like, then they can look out the window today and see,” said Deedra Abboud, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Arizona.
Abboud had decided to organize the rally after she had received several comments from the Muslim and interfaith community to stand up.
The imams were removed from a US Airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix after officials said their behavior alarmed passengers and members of the flight crew. One passenger had given a flight attendant a note saying he had overhead the imams “cursing U.S. involvement with Saddam” and repeating “Allah … Allah …” in a suspicious manner.
The imams were taken off the airplane, questioned and then released, but were not allowed to purchase a return flight ticket on US Airways. Five of the imams live in Arizona.
“We charge the airline not only with discrimination, but with an action that is insulting and demeaning to these Muslim religious leaders, and to all people of faith,” said Imam Mahdi Bray, the executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation in Washington, D.C.
“What bothers me more than anything, is that after they were exonerated by top law enforcement and were free to go, why didn’t (US Airways) sell them a ticket?” Bray asked. “They were no security threat.”
Church leaders who participated in the service hailed from Muslim, Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish, and Quaker congregations.
Fred Missel, a lay leader for the Jewish community, spoke to give his support both religiously and personally. One of the imams who was removed from the flight is a close friend.
“Freedom of worship is fundamental in Judaism, and an attack on one religion is an attack on all,” he said. Missel stressed religious tolerance and acceptance in his speech.
Ed Ableser, recently elected to the state House and who will serve the Tempe district where US Airways’ headquarters is located, also attended the rally.
“Growing up in an intrareligious household, this is an issue that is dear to my heart,” he said. “It should never have happened. I don’t know if they have or not, but I would think that it is in US Airway’s best interest to apologize.”
US Airways said it stood behind the actions of its employees. “We fully support our crew and have opened a dialogue with the customers involved,” said US Airways spokesman Valerie Wunder. The airline said it is still investigating the incident.