Foot-washing benches at a taxicab facility at Kansas City airport (photo: Phillip Morgan)

Kansas City International Airport officials have acknowledged installing foot-washing benches in a restroom at the airport, but deny they’re intended for Muslim cab drivers.

WND over the weekend reported that KCI Airport recently constructed four foot-washing benches to accommodate a growing number of Muslim drivers who requested the facilities to prepare for daily Islamic prayer.

The story set off a firestorm after talk radio host Michael Savage ran with it on his nationally syndicated show. Local media in Kansas City, Mo., also weighed in on the controversy, triggering an official response from airport authorities.

“Recently, a small expansion was made to the building,” said Kansas City Aviation Department spokesman Joe McBride in a statement to WND. “Included were wash areas used for any wash purpose by any of the users, including filling car wash buckets.”

He insisted the wash benches were not “built for the exclusive use of any ethnic group or culture.”

However, the department director in an earlier statement to WND appeared to contradict that claim.

“The majority of our drivers are Muslim, so preventing them from praying at all was not an option, especially in our public terminal restrooms,” said Mark VanLoh, director of the Kansas City Aviation Department. “This was the best solution, and those facilities were added without public money.”

He added that cab drivers paid for construction through a one-dollar per-trip fee.

In October 2005, the KCI Airport Police first solicited advice from other law enforcement regarding “wash bench facilities for those of Islamic faith,” according to internal e-mails obtained by WND. In one e-mail sent to members of the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network, or ALEAN, KCI Airport Police brass asked, “If you do have such an area, do you refer to this location as a place for those of Islamic faith to [go to] prepare themselves for worship?”

The KCI Airport Police are responsible for the taxicab drivers and the building they use at the airport to wait on fares. The building contains the restroom with the four new foot-washing benches.

One airport official told WND the police are concerned about “catering” to Islamic rituals at the airport, particularly after the 9/11 hijackings and the more recent transatlantic sky terror plot. Airports have been operating under heightened security. The KCI Airport Police force, in fact, was beefed up after 9/11 to help prevent Islamic terrorism.

Islamic suicide attackers go through a ritual called ablution, or bodily cleansing, before carrying out their martyrdom operations. The 9/11 hijackers performed this ritual before entering airport terminals.

McBride suggested to a Kansas City TV news station, KMBC-TV (Channel 9), that it was, as the station put it, a “myth” that the airport installed foot-washing benches for Islamic taxi drivers. “It’s a case of mistaken information on the Internet,” McBride is quoted as saying.

However, a Savage radio listener yesterday offered photos he says he took of the benches on Monday in the taxicab facility restroom located in the middle of the airport under the control tower.

Foot-washing benches at Kansas City International Airport (photo: Phillip Morgan)

The photos clearly show four individual wash benches across from knee-high faucets and hand rails. Drains are visible in the floor.

In one corner of the room stands a rolled-up prayer rug. Smaller rugs can be seen lying on a cart behind it.

Prayer rugs at taxicab facility restroom at Kansas City International Airport (photo: Phillip Morgan)

“There are foot bathes [sic] in the cabbie way station,” asserted Phillip Morgan of Kansas City in an e-mail. Morgan went on to say he planned to lodge a complaint with the mayor’s office.

Some 250 taxicab drivers operate at KCI Airport in Missouri, one of the largest airports in the U.S., linking some 10 million passengers between mid-America and other U.S. cities. One internal KCI Airport Police email said “approximately 70% of the drivers are [of] Middle Eastern heritage and practice the Islamic faith.”

Muslims are required to wash their feet and other body parts before praying to Allah five times a day. They often complain that public restroom sinks do not accommodate their needs. Floor-level basins and benches make it easier for them to perform their foot-washing ritual.

Muslim taxi drivers at KCI Airport pooh-poohed concerns about the wash benches, arguing they are not just for their use.

“The guys [sic] making a big issue out of it – it’s not just for Muslims,”
said taxi driver Shareif El-Mahdi in an interview with KMBC-TV.

Other major airports have dealt with increased demands from Muslim cab drivers. Cabbies at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, for instance, recently caused a stir when they refused to carry passengers possessing alcoholic beverages or accompanied by seeing-eye dogs. Alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and dogs are considered unclean.

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