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US Muslims call out double standard after video of Christians singing on plane goes viral

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar faces backlash from Conservative groups after commenting on a video of a ministry group performing on a flight
Passengers inside an aeroplane on Thanksgiving, on 24 November 2021 (AFP)

US Muslims have called out a double standard after a video of a group singing Christian hymns and playing the guitar on a plane over Easter weekend went viral.

Footage from the flight, believed to have occurred around 9 April, showed Christians singing gospel music '30,000 feet in the air' in a video that has sparked debate about the nature of worship on flights. 

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democrat and one of a handful of Muslims in the US Congress, reshared the video on her personal Twitter account on Easter Sunday and posed the question about how her own family would be received if they decided to hold a "prayer session" while flying.

"I think my family and I should have a prayer session next time I am on a plane," the Minnesota lawmaker said in a tweet. "How do you think it will end?"

Several conservatives hit back, accusing the Democrat of hating Christians. 

Royce White, a Republican challenger to Omar's Minnesota seat, wrote: "I'm coming for your seat. Don't disrespect Christianity!" and added, "The Democrats you serve don't believe in God. Their platform is openly anti-God. Minneapolis will not become Mogadishu. We will not bend the knee."

Vernon Jones, a Democrat-turned-Republican politician and staunch supporter of former US President Donald Trump, slammed Omar over the tweet, asking: "Why do you hate Christians, Ilhan?"

Jalal Suleman, a New Jersey resident, told Middle East Eye that he didn't understand why Omar and other Muslims were facing criticism "for calling out the hypocrisy".

"Flying while Muslim is a real thing and unless you are a Muslim, you won't know how difficult it actually is.

"We have all gotten looks from strangers on a plane. My beard is apparently a cause for concern. I don’t think that is something that will end any time soon. But the double standard must stop," he said.

What about singing nasheeds?

Shazia Mumtaz, a Pennsylvania resident, told MEE that she wrote "What is this hypocrisy?" in the video's comments section when she saw the video.

"I am someone who flies often. I wear a hijab and wear an abaya. I worry about my safety every single time I travel. I call and speak to my family before boarding the plane just so no one can hear me speaking another language. I don’t make eye contact with anyone. I don't text. Heck, I don't even read," she told MEE.

"I take the most precautions but I still have people staring at me. Once someone requested to change their seat when I sat next to them. I didn't make a big deal out of it, but seeing things like that is extremely hurtful," she said.

"Imagine a Muslim group getting up and singing nasheeds (hymns) on a plane? There would have been a totally different reaction."

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In 2006, six imams were taken off a US Airways flight in Minneapolis and were detained for several hours after some passengers and crew members complained of what they felt was suspicious behaviour. 

The imams were going home after attending a conference of the North American Imams Federation. The New York Times reported that one passenger had slipped a crew member a note which said: "6 suspicious Arabic men on a plane, spaced out in their seats. All were together, saying 'Allah… Allah' cursing US involvement with [Saddam Hussein] before flight."

More recently, in 2020, two men were taken off a flight for texting in Arabic. They had been taking a business trip when another passenger saw their text messages and reported them as suspicious even though the person didn't speak the language, Complex reported. 

Imraan Siddiqi, the executive director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations Washington, told MEE that some Muslims had faced a torrent of abuse in recent years while flying across the US.

"The aeroplane for Muslims has become a place where you have to be on your best behaviour… don't say Insha'Allah, don't text in Arabic; don't read that book - or else someone may report you."

"The past 20+ years have provided an endless torrent of incidents where Muslims have been kicked off planes - so seeing this video just highlights the double standards as to what people are willing to tolerate and what is considered 'threatening' behaviour."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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