Muslims are demanding a private room to pray at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, saying there will be problems if they have to share an existing “quiet room” with people of other religions.

“Where you have Christians and Muslims praying at the same time, it will create a problem,” said Fuad Ali, a Somali leader who spoke at a meeting with airport officials, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The meeting was a followup to an incident Nov. 20 when ticket agents and other passengers noticed six Muslim imams who had attended a conference in the area praying loudly before their flight, and shouting “Allah, Allah” when their flight was called. Officials said then they also asked to be scattered throughout the plane, rather than sitting together as they had been assigned. And some of the imams, although they did not need them, asked for seat-belt extenders.

The pilot summoned security and the imams were removed from the flight, and then they alleged that they were discriminated against because of their religion.

Now Somalis, who make up a large community in Minnesota and are predominantly Muslim, are demanding changes at the airport, including a private place for them to use for their prayers.

The airport, meanwhile, has suggested they share the room already set aside for such purposes.

The incident with the imams, who took another later flight, has launched both criticism and praise for the airline, US Airways. Critics say the airline was profiling based on religion, while those who praise the actions say safety must come first in the world since Sept. 11.

Ali said he just wanted a “guarantee” that something similar will not happen in the future.

But the airport already provides the generic quiet area, and if it would set aside a special area designated for Muslims, it could have to accommodate any – and all – other faiths the same way, noted Airport Director Steve Wareham.

“Our request would be you try the quiet seating area,” he said.

That is a carpeted room furnished with chairs – but without any religious symbols, airport officials said. It has been in use for a number of years, but hasn’t been obvious, so airport officials have promised to put up more signs to let people know where it is.

The airport also said people can pray in other parts of the airport as they wish.

As WND reported, one of the imams, Omar Shahin, is affiliated with a Hamas-linked organization and acknowledged a connection to Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.

Shahin is a representative of the Kind Hearts Organization, which had its assets frozen by the U.S. Treasury pending an investigation, notes Islam scholar Robert Spencer on his weblog JihadWatch


Omar Shahin displays Quran at Tucson Islamic Center in June 2001 (Photo: University of Arizona Daily Wildcat)

Treasury spokesman Stuart Levey in February said KindHearts “is the progeny of Holy Land Foundation and Global Relief Foundation, which attempted to mask their support for terrorism behind the fa?ade of charitable giving.”

The imams had attended a conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation, said Shahin, who is president of the group.

“They took us off the plane, humiliated us in a very disrespectful way,” Shahin said after the incident.

The Washington, D.C., based lobby group Council on American-Islamic Relations also complained, according to CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

“Because, unfortunately, this is a growing problem of singling out Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims at airports, and it’s one that we’ve been addressing for some time,” Hooper said.

CAIR, however, has its own ties to Hamas, having been identified by two former FBI counter-terrorism chiefs as a spinoff of a front group for the Palestinian terrorist organization.

A Sept. 28, 2001, story in the Arizona Republic that said Arizona appears to have been the home of an al-Qaida sleeper cell named Shahin as one of three part-time Arizona residents who “fits the pattern” of the terrorist group.

Shahin, identifed as being with the Tucson Islamic Center, said members of his mosque may have helped bin Laden in the early 1990s when the al-Qaida leader was fighting against the Russians.

The CIA at that time, Shahin said, called bin Laden a “freedom fighter.”

Witnesses to the imam’s explusion said some of them made anti-American comments about the war in Iraq before boarding the flight, according to airport officials.


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