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Imam Who Was Denied Boarding Says Experience Was 'Demeaning'

Last weekend, in two different incidents, four Muslim clerics were either removed from planes or denied boarding. In one incident a Delta pilot ordered Mohamed Zaghloul and Masoud Rahman off a plane at the Memphis airport.

In another incident American Airlines denied Imam Al Amin Abdul Latif, 61, boarding and then shortly after the plane took off, it turned back around and Latif's son Imam Abu Bakr Abdul Latif, 35, was taken off the plane.

All four clerics were headed to Charlotte for a conference on Islamophobia. Al Amin Abdul Latif spoke to Tell Me More's Michel Martin and told her the ordeal left him "emotionally out of it."

Latif said he was excited to fly with his son. It had been a while, he said, since the two of them had been on a trip. He said they went through the regular motions of flying, including a more thorough version of a security check that Abdul, who was wearing traditional Muslim garb, has gotten used to.

An agent checked his ticket before he went through security and then again as he waited to board. Still, as they were boarding he was rejected because the name on his ticket did not match the name on his driver's license.

Latif missed the flight but he said he told himself to calm down because this was a technicality. It could be solved and they were right. So he called his travel agent to straighten things out and book an early morning flight to Charlotte.

But by the time he got to the mosque, he got a call from his son who told him they had turned the plane around and asked him to get off. Latif said his son could see police lights from the window and no one told him what was going on.

The next morning Latif and his son showed up at LaGuardia Airport. His son was allowed to board, but Latif was told he could not fly:

"Emotionally I was devastated again," Latif told Michel. "I'm totally in limbo."

American Airlines told NPR member station WNYC that "there was no ill intent on the part of any of our employees involved in this."

"It was a situation that just got very complicated very quickly," American Airlines spokesman Ed Martelle said.

Latif said he understands the security screenings. "I want to be safe like every American," he said. But when they told him he couldn't fly at all, he said he felt demeaned; he felt humiliated and disrespected as a Muslim.

"We don't tolerate this. This is America," he said. "Not in America." And what he was asking for, he told Michel, was a simple explanation:

Michel Martin's full interview with Latif airs tomorrow on Tell Me More. Make sure to tune in on your local NPR member station.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.