Hajj pilgrims: Know your rights, responsibilities as airline passengers


by Asma Lori Saroya • 11/20/08 • A Muslim family was detained at the MSP airport on their way home from a week-long vacation in Europe. They were told the search was “random” although others who were also detained were either of South Asian or Arab descent.

A young Muslim woman was detained as she entered the United States with her husband after their honeymoon. Her husband, a Caucasian-American, was not even questioned.

Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.

A Muslim sister was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs officials and harassed by a supervisor as she re-entered the U.S. after a 10-day international trip. She was questioned about her heritage, including questions about her parents’ place of birth. When she refused to answer, she was told, “Heritage has everything to do with your travels. It has to do with upbringing and values.” Her luggage was searched for “religious items.”

An Arab man was detained for six hours and placed in handcuffs after officials mistook his identity for someone on a watch list. He has a common Arab name.

Given the increase in the number of complaints to CAIR-MN alleging airport profiling of American Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslim, it is important that all those taking part in this year’s Hajj, or other holiday travel, be aware of their legal and civil rights and responsibilities.

As an airline passenger, you are entitled to courteous, respectful and non-stigmatizing treatment by airline and security personnel. You have the right to complain about treatment that you believe is discriminatory.

If you believe you have been treated in a discriminatory manner, immediately:
Ask for the names and ID numbers of all persons involved in the incident. Be sure to write this information down.
Ask if you have been singled out because of your name, looks, dress, race, ethnicity, faith, or national origin.
Write down a statement of facts immediately after the incident. Be sure to include the flight number, the flight date, and the name of the airline.

If you believe you have witnessed discriminatory treatment, you can:
Approach the person involved and ask if they feel they are being treated in a discriminatory manner.
Offer to speak to a supervisor with the person who has been treated in a discriminatory manner.
Write down a statement of facts immediately after the incident. Be sure to include the flight number, the flight date, and the name of the airline.
Contact CAIR-MN: info@mn.cair.com, 651-645-7102.

When returning from Hajj, or other international travel:
Airlines will NOT allow you to carry liquids in large quantities as hand luggage. For those returning from hajj, place any ZamZam water that you bring back with you in your checked luggage.
If you are bringing back dates, make sure they are processed and sufficiently dry.
When packing, ensure that your shoes are cleaned of any soil to avoid having your luggage opened at the airport. CBP has strict rules for allowing any soil or chemicals into the country.
If you are bringing back items worth more than $800 (per person) declare them using the CBP Declaration Form, made available by airline staff when landing.
Fingerprinting and photographing may be conducted for those traveling on a non-immigrant visa (i.e. non-U.S citizens or non-US. residents).

CAIR-MN offers a published “Know Your Rights” pocket guide in both English and Somali. CAIR-MN also offers “Know Your Rights” presentations, including one specifically for Muslims leaving for hajj.

CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties and advocacy group has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

For more information, contact CAIR-MN, 651-645-7102, info@mn.cair.com.

CAIR-MN is meeting with Customs & Borders officials in early December and is gathering narratives from the community to share with the officials. If you would like to share an incident (you can remain anonymous) in which you feel you were profiled, please email your narrative to: info@mn.cair.com.

Asma Lori Saroya is a Crime Victim Services Coordinator in Minneapolis. She is a graduate of the College of St. Catherine and lives in Blaine with her husband. In her spare time, Asma volunteers with the Muslim Youth of Minnesota and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American–Islamic Relations. She also teaches English at the Cedar-Riverside Adult Education Collaborative.