Traveling While Muslima
(But That Is The World We Live In)
reported by Nadiah Beekun
My daughter was attending the Winter Break MYNA (Muslim Youth of North America) camp in Texas. Because of all of the weather
problems canceling and/or delaying flights, and because we both wear hijab, I had arranged to accompany her on her flight, fly
home and then come back the following week.
Of course we had the usual scrutiny by TSA but, being experienced Muslima travelers, we had already taken the usual precautions
of not wearing ANY metal (you can buy plastic or ceramic scarf pins...) and wearing slip on shoes. While our outfits left a lot to the
imagination, they were not burqas and they were not “middle eastern.”
Whenever I travel, my carryon ALWAYS gets an extra long look under the x-ray machine and you should see the expressions when I
don’t buzz even at the highest setting. They must have a switch back there because I did set off an alarm once when the only metal
I had was in a couple of tooth fillings. And yet on that flight, I ended up sitting right next to a woman who pulled out a 5”file and
began doing her nails halfway through the trip. The flight attendant didn’t even say anything while serving us our beverages.
This time I got a triple dose of “special treatment” when I went back to Dallas in order to pick up my daughter. Again, I didn’t set off
any noises going through security, and again, I was still pulled over for additional screening. This time I was traveling in a blue
denim dress with a paisley scarf and gray skirt to complete the ensemble. Not bulky, not revealing, but obviously not like everyone
The young woman who was chosen to “pat” me asked her co-worker why I needed to be checked when I hadn’t triggered the alarm.
“Because they might have liquids or other stuff in bottles under those bulky clothes.” He told her.
Boy, that pisses me off. I am standing there and now I am a “THEY.” But I have a flight to catch and a daughter to pick up and there
are some battles that are better fought with laughter. “Hey, watch that bulky clothes talk! That is all my lusciousness under there
and you should be glad I am not exposing it all to the world like a big gal in spandex.” I think I left them all with disturbing images and
laughter as the screener did a quick brush over the clothes and passed me through.
And then I arrived in Dallas. My flight was held on the tarmac for quite awhile and by the time I reached the gate, my daughter and
her ride were already waiting for me. Trying to locate each other was a major hassle and I exited through the wrong door.
Fortunately, I had my e-ticket for the return flight with me, so I rejoined the security que and waited my turn to enter.
Not many people waiting and everyone goes through fairly quickly until I get up to the screening portal. The attendant motions me
back for a moment, makes an adjustment and then beckons me forward. Guess what! I didn’t beep! But I still get asked to step
aside for special screening. I see the screener coming over and smile at her as she dons those pretty little blue gloves like I might
have a disease or something. It is like being stopped for speeding and everybody is watching you as they pass by and thinking “I
wonder what she did wrong?” Only I didn’t do anything wrong, I am just traveling while Muslima. I make my usual joke about my
“pulchritudenal beauty” and she laughs. And then I see something that stops my laughing. Another woman has gone through the
screening portal and she has set off the buzzers. About my age, about my size, but wearing regular looking “American” clothes.
They send her back through and the alarm goes off again. But she has rings on, and big earrings, and bracelets and necklaces.
They don’t ask her to take them off. They don’t wave her over for a pat down or to use the wand. They just say go ahead.
I am rude. I know that the people who are carrying out acts of terrorism are not the people who look like me. Terrorists don’t wear
hijab or follow Islam. Terrorists are the ones who try to blend in and avoid notice in airports and while traveling. I too, am concerned
for my safety on a plane! That is why I allow my personal dignity as a Muslim and as an American to be eroded by overzealous TSA
people. But as I said, I am rude. I say to my screener and to the other screener, “Aren’t you going to screen her?” They look at
me. “What do you mean?”
The lady who got the free pass into the airport just stares at me but keeps on walking, grabs her stuff off of the belt and leaves. I
repeated my words. “Aren’t you going to screen her? She set off the alarm twice, you didn’t make her remove her jewelry and you
didn’t pat her or use a wand on her. Why?” My screener, her patting down of me over, tells me to go ahead, but doesn’t answer my
I go over to someone who appears to be in charge, and turn so that I am facing him and still addressing the two other screeners and
said, “Excuse me. I think that I am being profiled and that you have a real double standard here. I don’t set off the alarm and
should be allowed to pass but you called me over. That lady set off the alarms twice and you let her go through without checking
her. The only answer I got was “But that is the world we live in.”
I was soooo mad. But It was happening quickly and I wasn’t thinking about taking down names and badge numbers. Besides, do you
know what happens when you challenge these TSA people? You get taken to back rooms and held for hours and then get put on
no fly lists. Don’t believe me? Did you see the few reports in the media on the group of Muslims who were taken off a plane
because two teenage girls got nervous when they heard a husband and wife in the group talking about where in the plane was the
safest place to sit? That happened about a week ago. Besides, I had a daughter to find and a plane home to catch.
So I find my daughter, and get the biggest hug. Mommy kiss the broken finger she got during camp and thank the Camp Counselor
who had stayed with her. The counselor also gave us a ride to a building nearer our departure gate (remember, DFW is huge!)
and upon entering the security area, we both got pulled aside for special attention. OK, you expect it but it still is not right that we
are always singled out for “random screening.” (In fact, during my trip, I don’t recall anybody else being randomly chosen, except for
We are now sitting by our gate with an hour and a half to go until our flight boards. My daughter is dozing next to me, her head
resting against her carryon. Late nights and early mornings at a MYNA camp can really take it out of you. I am kind of reading a
book. It is open and in my hands but I am also watching the planes outside landing and leaving. I am also watching her. Don’t tell
her, but I did miss her while she was gone. She has already told me a million things, and I know that she still has a lot more to say,
but for now she is quiet.
The seats across from us are beginning to fill, first with an elderly couple and at the end, a man with a laptop. He is shortly joined by
a big man who is obviously impatient. The man on the computer asks what took him so long, and looking directly at me, he says,
“Damn Security. Some people had to go and ruin it for all of the rest of us!” I can’t help it. I look right back at him and commented
“Damn Right. Some people DO go and ruin it for all of the rest of us.”
Wow! Today I have been a “They” and a “Some people” all because “that is the world we live in.” That is almost as good as being
told to “go back to where you come from.” in Costco, or “My, you speak English so well. What country are you from?” I usually
respond with “But I don’t want to go back to California!” and “I don’t know if you have ever heard of my country...it is a little place
called Los Angeles?”
I guess the guy across from me realized how impolite he had been because after awhile he looked over again at my sleepy daughter
and said “Pretty tired.”
Me, I don’t hold grudges – I do dawah. “Yeah, she was at camp for a week, and now we are flying home.” He nods. I go on, “I hope
that the plane isn’t late because her brother’s plane is scheduled to fly out about an hour after we get back.. We hope to meet him
at the airport.” I go on. “He’s an E-5 (enlisted) in the Navy and shipping out in a couple of days. He’s already been in Iraq twice.”
Boy am I chatty but the man is still listening. “I was in the Navy too, but I told him to go in as an Officer instead of enlisted. Does he
listen to his Mother? No, he gets tired of taking my orders and now he is taking theirs.” And I laugh and he smiles. I am no longer a
If you notice officials have definitely discriminated against you, then note down all of the information on the spot with names, times,
the location, and if there were any witnesses. From there, lodge a complaint against the airlines with the Department of
Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Division. You can also call them at (202) 366-2220 or send an e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, you can send detailed complaint letters to them at the following address:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 7th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
You should also contact :
Transportation Security Administration
601 South 12th Street
Arlington, VA 22202-4220
TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov or call: 1-866-289-9673
You should also contact organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), where you can also fill out an incident
|International Union of Muslim