(Photo: On Islam)
(Photo: On Islam)

Washington, 14 Shaban 1436/1 June 2015 (MINA) – The humiliation of an American Muslim interfaith leader on a United Airlines flight has triggered a huge wave of backlash, rejecting the discriminatory policy of the company.

“I’m asking all of you to let @united know that you are disgusted with this bigotry,” tweeted Suhaib Webb, a prominent Muslim American imam, according to a CNN report on Sunday, May 31.

Webb also tweeted a photo of a can of Diet Coke over #unitedfortahera, On Islam quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.

The humiliating experience on the flight began when Tahera Ahmad, a Muslim chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University, asked for an unopened can of Diet Coke for hygienic reasons.

Ahmad, a 31-year-old Muslim who wears hijab, was traveling Friday from Chicago to Washington for a conference promoting dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth.

When she asked for the can, the flight attendant told her that she could not give her one, but then handed an unopened can of beer to a man seated nearby, sparking questions from Ahmad.

“We are unauthorized to give unopened cans to people because they may use it as a weapon on the plane,” she recalled the flight attendant telling her.

When Ahmad told the flight attendant she was being discriminated against, the attendant abruptly opened the beer can.

“It’s so you don’t use it as a weapon,” Ahmad said she was told.

Feeling the shock, the Muslim woman asked passengers if they had seen what happened, only to be attacked by another man sitting across the aisle, who turned to her and yelled, “You Muslim, you need to shut the f— up,” she said.

The man leaned over, looked her in the eyes and said: “Yes, you know you would use it as a weapon. So shut the f— up,” according to Ahmad.

“I felt the hate in his voice and his raging eyes,” Ahmad wrote on Facebook while the plane was still in flight.

“I can’t help but cry … because I thought people would defend me and say something. Some people just shook their heads in dismay,” she added in the post which went viral on social media.

Angry Waves

Muslim activists took to social media, calling the incident an inexcusable act of bigotry.

While some threatened to boycott United Airlines, others showed support by using the #unitedfortahera hashtag.

“I logged over 130,000 miles with @United – will take my biz elsewhere if #UnitedAirlines isnt #unitedfortahera @TaheraHAhmad, we stand with u,” the American Muslim singer Raef tweeted.

“I will not be flying #UnitedAirlines ever again until they learn how to not discriminate. #unitedfortahera,” another user tweeted.

United spokesman Charles Hobart said the airline “strongly supports diversity and inclusion.”

“We and our partners do not discriminate against our employees or customers,” United offered offered in a statement subsequent to the incident.

“We are reaching out directly to Ms. Ahmad to get a better understanding of what occurred during the flight.

“We are also discussing the matter that Ms. Ahmad describes with Shuttle America, our regional partner that operated the flight. We look forward to speaking with Ms. Ahmad and hope to have the opportunity to welcome her back.”

Ahmad, who has Premier frequent flyer status with United, said on Saturday that she had not heard from the airline.

“I’m not doing this to go after United Airlines. This is about bigotry and racism and our country is going through a very difficult time right now. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others worked so hard …” Ahmad said, breaking into tears.

“They strove so hard so that Americans would not mistreat each other on the basis of the color of their skin or religious or ethnic background, but I guess we’re still on that journey.”

Ahmad said that the flight attendant, as well as the pilot, apologized later.

“She said she’s working on her rude behavior and that the man (sitting across the aisle) should not have said anything,” Ahmad recalled.

Ahmad was recognized at the White House last year “as a leading Muslim female in the United States” during Women’s History Month, according to Northwestern University. She had also previously attended a Ramadan dinner hosted by President Barack Obama.

In 2013, Ahmad, born in India and raised in Illinois, became the first woman to recite the Qur’an at the Islamic Society of North America convention in Washington, the nation’s largest Muslim gathering, according to Northwestern.

The Islamophobic incident is not the first to face the Muslim activist, who said she has been spat on, and had her hijab ripped off in Islamophobic encounters after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“This time I was being treated as a threat to everyone around me 30,000 feet above the ground and being told that I could use a can of Diet Coke as a weapon,” she said.

“And no one said anything.” (T/P011/R04)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)