NASHVILLE, TENN.—A Muslim religious leader blames “racism and bias” after he and a colleague bound for a conference on Islamophobia were asked to leave a commercial airliner in Memphis on Friday and told it was because the pilot refused to fly with them aboard.
Masudur Rahman said he and another imam had already been allowed to board their Delta Connection flight to Charlotte, N.C., before they were asked to get off the plane.
Transportation Security Administration spokesman Jon Allen confirmed the incident and said it was not initiated by that agency.
A Delta Air Lines spokeswoman said the flight was operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which is also based in Atlanta.
“We take security and safety very seriously and the event is currently under investigation,” Atlantic Southeast spokesman Jarek Beem said Friday evening.
Rahman, who is also an adjunct instructor of Arabic at the University of Memphis, said he was dressed in traditional Indian clothing and his travelling companion was dressed in Arab garb, including traditional headgear.
Rahman said he and Mohamed Zaghloul, of the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis, were cleared by security agents and boarded the plane for an 8:40 a.m. departure.
The aircraft pulled away from the gate, but the pilot then announced the plane must return, Rahman said. When it did, the imams were asked to go back to the boarding gate, where Rahman said they were told the pilot refused to accept them because some other passengers could be uncomfortable.
The men were taken to a lounge and booked on a later flight. Beem said they flew on to Charlotte later Friday.
The men contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group in Washington, D.C.
“It’s racism and bias because of our religion and appearance and because of misinformation about our religion,” Rahman said. “If they understood Islam, they wouldn’t do this.”
He said a Delta manager apologized for the pilot’s actions, but that he and Zaghloul never spoke directly with the pilot.
Since the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces in Pakistan early Monday, U.S. officials have warned that Al Qaeda may attempt retaliatory attacks.