Pilot refuses to fly with men dressed in Muslim garb

Two Muslim religious leaders on their way to a Charlotte conference were removed from a commercial airliner in Memphis because the pilot refused to fly with them aboard, they say.

Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul, both imams, were flying to Charlotte for a three-day conference about prejudice against Muslims.

The men, both dressed in traditional garb, arrived in Charlotte this evening, hours after they were originally scheduled to arrive.

Rahman said they were screened by security at Memphis International Airport and then were checked again at the gate as they waited to board the plane.

They said they didn’t mind going through additional security.

“It’s their job," Rahman told the Observer. "We want the security of America. It is our security, too.”

The plane left the gate, but before it reached the runway, it turned around, he said.

Rahman said the pilot spoke over the intercom to tell passengers there was an issue and that they needed to return to the gate.

At the gate, Rahman said, he and Zaghloul were asked to get off the plane.

They were screened again, he said, and a Delta official spoke with them. As they talked, the plane left, Rahman said, but the Delta official called the plane back and went on board to speak to the pilot.

When he returned, the official apologized.

"I apologize to you," he said, according to Rahman. "This shouldn’t happen.”

He said the official told them he had asked passengers if they felt uncomfortable with the imams flying with them.

“No one raised their hands," said Rahman, an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis.

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