Tuesday, February 7, 2012

2 other imams forced to miss flight


Father and son Muslim clergy from N.Y. were denied seats on plane to Charlotte.

Two more Muslim clergy - a father and son from New York - have hired a local attorney after one of them was removed from a Charlotte-bound flight and the other was never permitted to board at all.

Both Imam Al Amin Abdul Latif, 61, a South Carolina native, and his son, Imam Abu Bakr Abdul Latif, 35, were trying to get to Charlotte last weekend for a conference on "Islamophobia," or fear of Islam.

Their Charlotte attorney, Mo Idlibi, is also representing two Memphis imams who were removed from another flight on their way to the same conference.

On Monday, Idlibi said he plans to press American Airlines for answers about the alleged discrimination against the New York-based imams, who are African-American.

He said the Latifs were both cleared by the Transportation Security Administration to board American Airlines Flight 4584 - a Friday night flight from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Then, Idlibi said, American Airlines removed the son from the Charlotte flight and denied the father a seat Friday night and again Saturday morning.

The younger Latif did get on a Saturday flight to Charlotte, but his father ended up driving to Charlotte.

"These Muslim clergy members respect the law, but they also want to be treated with dignity and respect, just like all American citizens," Idlibi told reporters at a Monday news conference at the Charlotte airport. "They have rights and they are going to assert those rights."

Neither imam attended the news conference. But Al Amin Abdul Latif - the father - told the Observer on Sunday he was born in Anderson, S.C., and has been an imam for 25 years. He is the imam at a mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is president of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York.

He was also one of the speakers at the Charlotte conference - a meeting of imams from North America - that focused on discrimination against members of their faith.

A frequent traveler who is bearded and wears a traditional Muslim cap, Latif said the run-in with American Airlines was "the first time this kind of thing ever happened to me... I was devastated. I wanted to get (to Charlotte) on time. I wanted to know: What did I do? I'm American-born. It stressed me out."

Initially, he was told there were discrepancies involving his date of birth as well a difference between his ticket, which listed his full name, and his driver's license, which didn't. Idlibi said Monday the birth date ended up being right and the difference in names was slight - one had Abdul, the other just A. But after being searched three times, Latif was ultimately not permitted to board the Friday night flight.

He was told to "fix" his ticket and return Saturday, Idlibi said. When he did, Idlibi said, an American Airlines representative at the ticket counter told him he was not welcome on American Airlines flights.

"We want to know from American Airlines: Why was he denied?" Idlibi said. "Is it now unacceptable to fly while Muslim?"

Idlibi said Latif's son was permitted to board the Friday night flight, but was later escorted off the plane by officers of the Port Authority of New York. He was then held in a tunnel area for nearly two hours. On Saturday, he was able to take another flight.

American Airlines said in a statement it does not discuss security matters, but added: "There was no ill intent on the part of any of our employees involved in this. It was a situation that just got very complicated in a hurry from a security standpoint." Also Monday, Idlibi talked about the other case of alleged discrimination, involving Memphis-based imams Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul.

Both were removed from an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight Friday because the pilot allegedly would not fly with them. They were put on a later flight.

Idlibi has charged that the pilot was reacting to the imams' appearance - one was born in India, the other in Egypt - and not any evidence that they represented a danger. The attorney has said he plans to seek financial compensation for Rahman and Zaghloul as well as disciplinary action against the pilot and training programs for other pilots.

Atlantic Southeast, which runs a connection flight for Delta Airlines, has said in a statement it is investigating the case and "we take safety and security very seriously." The airline also apologized for any inconvenience.

Idlibi confirmed that Rahman and Zaghloul, who flew from Charlotte back to Memphis on Sunday, were met by Delta flight attendants and gate attendants during a layover in Atlanta. The Delta representatives offered apologies, Idlibi said, but Rahman and Zaghloul plan to continue pursuing their case against Atlantic Southeast and Delta.

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