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American Muslim

Pakistan Link – May 16, 2003

Travel Tips for Muslim Women

By Samina Faheem CA

Two weeks ago, I was traveling to Southern California. At the airport, I was asked to put my handbag, sweater and scarf in a bin. I complied but doing so gave me a bad feeling. I was then told to take my shoes off and put theme on top of everything else. Because a copy of the holy Qur’an was in my handbag I did not wish to place my shoes on top of the bag, I requested another bin from them.

After getting clearance, I checked the time and found that I had plenty to spare before boarding my flight. I asked an agent if I could please speak to the supervisor. Within minutes, I met with the supervisor and introduced myself. I asked for his name and very politely asked if he might answer a few questions I had about their security process. He agreed, replying pleasantly. I told him I was a Muslim woman. I was told to take my scarf off which I complied with but it made me feel bad. For some women, it would be a much bigger issue and rightfully so.

He informed me that the agent should have given the option to either take off my scarf and put it in the bin or to request a female agent to do thorough search in privacy. I told him that I was not given that option but would have been very happy to have that choice. I also told him that Muslim women never put shoes on top of their scarves or their bags, as most of us carry the Qur’an in them. The supervisor suggested that I educate the agents about that. I politely replied that since I’d just educated their supervisor, he could educate his staff. He nodded and said that he would comply with the suggestion and thanked me for letting him know.

Two days ago, I had to pass through the same airport and went through the same security process as everyone else. Again, I was asked to put my belongings in the bins and again, I complied, requesting a second one for my shoes. When the agent asked me to please take off my shawl and place it in the bin as well, I replied that I would not do that but would be happy to cooperate if I were provided a female agent who would conduct the search in privacy. I was pleased with my answer and with the agent’s response. He said, “That’s okay, go ahead.”

Now it does not mean we will always have such pleasant experiences but it worked that time and it might work the next. I thought I would share my experience with all of you. It might save you unnecessary stress at the airport. Traveling is going to be more difficult because of increased security measures in the future.. I do not mind that, as we all want to feel safe at home as well as while traveling. Here are a few tips to make the airport security measures run smoothly for you.

1. Please stay calm. Do not overreact to an agent’s requests. The agents are just doing their job. They do not make the rules.

2. Be polite and confident when asking for privacy and requesting a female agent.

3. Remember, we are ambassadors of Islam. Everyday, we are given many opportunities to educate people about Islam without uttering a single word. Our conduct speaks volumes. Be polite, gracious, courteous and confident.

Have a safe trip.