Upon landing in the United States on Sept. 13 after speaking at a conference in Poland, I noticed that the first picture welcoming international visitors at Washington Dulles International Airport was of two Muslim women wearing the hijab. The photo also portrayed a mosque and the crescent as a symbol for Islam. I have noticed on other visits to the airport that the same photo is in the same position at Window A1 of the immigration hall, where travelers show customs officials their documentation.
I have checked the other pictures in the hall to see if other religions are represented in the same manner. To my surprise, there are none. The only religious symbols that exist in such a manifest manner are Islamic.
This situation raises an important question: Why don't airport authorities acknowledge other faiths as well? If the answer is that Muslims are a minority, then why aren’t other religious minorities acknowledged? Aren't they humans who deserve respect for their faiths, too? Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are also minorities in the U.S., yet their faiths are neither recognized nor respected by the airport authorities to the same extent that the Muslim faith is.
It is not only unfair but also discriminatory when Islam is the ONLY faith that is respected in such a manner, while other faiths are ignored.
If airport authorities want to show that they respect religions as a form of multiculturalism, they should have used photos that portray Muslim women in hijab, Christian nuns carrying a cross, a Jewish Rabbi wearing a kippah, or perhaps a synagogue with the Star of David on it as well.
The second question that occurs to many when they see that Islam is the only faith that gets such respect in the airport is, "what did Muslim communities do to deserve such recognition?" Are they being recognized because members of their society committed the 9/11 attacks and continue to conduct barbaric atrocities and terrorist acts around the world almost daily? If this is the case, then giving such respect to Muslims and ignoring other faiths conveys a message that the best way to get respect for your faith in the United States is to commit similar atrocities. Is this the message airport authorities want to convey?
Another important question is whether authorities have realized that, according to Shariah teachings, the hijab is a dress code that aims at discrimination? Free women are allowed to wear it, while slaves are not permitted to wear it. Is it a good choice for Dulles International Airport to display prominently such a discriminatory symbol?
In addition, Muslim women who do not wear the hijab could feel alienated if they see that such respect and recognition in the U.S. is given only to Muslim women who wear the hijab. Many Muslim women who do not wear the hijab already face some element of discrimination and disrespect from their Muslim societies for not wearing it. Is the U.S. also going to share in the crime of discrimination against these liberal Muslim women who want to dress as they wish? What would be the problem with showing respect for both types of Muslim women instead of only for those who wear the hijab?
In brief, discrimination against non-Muslims and Muslim women who do not wear the hijab must not occur in the U.S. If the authorities want to show religious tolerance they must acknowledge faiths other than Islam. The U.S. is not an Islamic country, and attempts to show Muslims' contribution to the U.S. must be accompanied by recognition of the greater contributions of other faiths, such as Christianity and Judaism. The choice is either to recognize all faiths equally or not to recognize any of them. Showing respect to one faith (Islam) and ignoring the others is a form of discrimination that MUST stop.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad." He was a former associate of Dr. al-Zawahiri (second in command of al-Qaida) and currently he is a reformer of Islam. To know more about Hamid please visit www.tawfikhamid.com. Hamid's writings in this blog represent only his thoughts and not the views of the institute where he works.
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