Twin Cities airport balks at offering Somalis own prayer room
MINNEAPOLIS – Somali refugees who want a place to pray at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport might have to share space with people of other religions, airport officials said Tuesday.
As a frequent flyer, I know that most airports of "size" have a quiet place to go, calm oneself, and meditate. While many may look like a Christian chapel, they are generally non-sectarian in outlook; larger airports may often sponsor services for a variety of religions. But it is just one room that is set aside.
Besides, we all learned to share in kindergarten, right?
Airport Director Steve Wareham told Somalis gathered for a meeting that if the airport provides a special area for Muslims to use, it potentially would have to accommodate other faiths the same way.
That’s right! What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Problem is, most times the goose is not laying golden eggs so that the goose and gander can check in separately.
"Our request would be you try the quiet seating area," he said.
Reasonable request. Start small, start with the easy suggestions first.
The prayer debate was sparked Nov. 20 when six imams – Muslim religious leaders – were removed from an airplane after they had been seen praying in public. According to witnesses, the men also made anti-American remarks, asked for seat-belt extenders they didn’t need and spread out to different areas of the plane. The imams took another flight the next day.
Muslims criticized the treatment of the men, saying it was discriminatory, embarrassing and fueled by false rumors, while others praised the airline for taking the men off the plane, saying safety must come first in the post-Sept. 11 era.
Fuad Ali, who spoke at the meeting at the Darul Quba Mosque, said Somalis want a prayer room so they will not be faced with a similar incident. And he said they want their own room.
Why do they want to be separate? Do they not want to share? Or is this tied in with the previous demands of these taxi drivers that refused to take fares that were carrying alcohol or had seeing eye dogs? And yes, I saw that action of "we come to this country, you need to accommodate us" versus joining the melting pot and be tolerant of others. Or at least pick another line of work to make the problem irrelevant.
"Where you have Christians and Muslims praying at the same time, it will create a problem," he said.
This is the damning part. Why would it create a problem? And what kind of a problem would that be? Perhaps in other parts of the world, but not here! In a lot of cases, in the rough and tumble world of politics, cries of "intolerant" are thrown at the Religious Right (and with much media coverage).
Yet, here is a case of intolerance for sure, but why is this not more widespread? And dare I think that perhaps a "problem" might be manufactured?
The quiet seating area is a carpeted room with chairs but no religious symbols. It has been used for years but was never obvious to travelers, airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said.
The airport intends to install more signs directing people to it on the mezzanine level near a Chili’s restaurant, near the entry to the F Concourse. At the same time, there’s no restriction on praying in other parts of the airport, Wareham said.
This room seems to sound perfectly fine…as long as it continues to be shared by all.
Minnesota is home to the largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the country. The state estimates about 25,000 Somalis live in the state, though community leaders say the number is closer to 60,000.
Somalis are dealing with another issue at the airport related to Islam. Many Somali taxi drivers refuse to accept passengers who are carrying liquor, because their faith forbids it.
Wareham said he would recommend that the airport’s management operations committee hold a public hearing on the matter. He favors stiffening the penalties against cab drivers who refuse fares for any reason other than their own safety.
"To be refused service by a taxi driver is, frankly, seen as an insult, and we don’t want our customers to experience it," he said.
Again, this is intolerance and a lack of willingness to integrate into American society and accept it’s values and mores, leaving behind those of Somalia for their new country? Certainly not good manners, or a way to succeed, in their new home land by insisting that their way of life comes before the American way of life.
Harsh? Perhaps…..but that is what my parents’ parents did at the turn of the last century. They came from Ireland and Sweden, adopting not only this land but everything about it. Yes, they kept certain traditions, but not at the expense of embracing American ones.
And that is as it should be….