So as an American Muslim I have traveled through many many airports. Prior to 9/11 traveling wasn’t so difficult for everyone.. let alone Muslims. However since that horrible day known as 9/11, traveling as a Muslim has become a demeaning, exhausting and disheartening process. So I have some tips of things I personally do or have thought of to make the process easier for when “Traveling While Muslim.”
#1. If your a hijabi or look “ethnically” Muslim anticipate being “randomly” selected. Ask the TSA staff politely to keep an eye on your stuff while you are waiting in the Plexiglas chute waiting to get a pat down. It also doesn’t hurt to smile and say something nice,complimentary or crack a joke to the woman or man who will be patting you down. One of my favorite things to say is … “I get the VIP treatment again?! You guys really go out of your way to make me feel special.”
#2. Arrive earlier than normal to the airport. This way if security is backed up and you have to wait longer than normal to get pat down or you are traveling with children or a large group you don’t miss your flight and you can take your time.
#3. Because your bag will most likely get V.I.P. TSA treatment I suggest packing both the luggage you check and the luggage you take on the flight in plastic compression bags. This way everything remains clean, organized and easy to repack while allowing TSA to see everything you have packed in addition to making room for any trinkets picked up during one’s travels. I recommend the- Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Bags because you don’t need a vacuum to suck the air out – just seal, roll and pack.
#4. Don’t be the person to hold up the X- Ray line. Wear slip on & off shoes, no belt, no spare change or have it in a coin purse of some kind, have your laptop in a laptop sleeve that pulls out of your bag that is going to go through the X -Ray machine separately, chug all water in your water bottle while in line- leave the cap off to indicate that it is empty and have all your liquids in a zip lock baggie not exceeding the 2 or is it 3 oz rule. If you have kids – make sure the stroller is collapsible, have everything for baby in ONE bag and make sure that you don’t have any liquids that the TSA might want you to taste test as was the case of the woman asked to drink her own breast milk.
#5. Introduce yourself to your aisle mates. Odds are people are already keeping an eye on you for any sudden movements or possibly shady actions or things you might say before or on the flight. So once you have taken your seat, introduce yourself and start a conversation about something innocent and non – threatening like your love of cats or why you are traveling to the destination you are traveling to.
#6. If you have followed tip #5 now you can casually say to your new acquaintances – Hey I am going to pray.. anyone need access to the aisle before I get started? This way A. People know whats going on B. Your being polite and usually polite people aren’t shady or scary people. C. They know your name and something about you – so the worry of your prayer being a threatening or dangerous sign is a lower possibility.
#7. If you have to pray in the airport and you have the time – check to see if they have a chapel or mediation room in the airport. Many airports provide that space but if your to far away to get there and get back to your gate try and find a quiet location out of the way. If it seems like that’s a difficult task ask one of the check in people – they usually have a good idea of where there might be a quiet spot – they might suggest a business center as one of the alternatives.
#8. Because airports don’t keep the same level of ritual cleanliness as the masjid does and weigh limits can make it difficult to pack a prayer rug on a carry on. I suggest taking a old sheet from home and cutting in 6 – 8 prayer rug size pieces. This way you can stash one in your carry on and other places where you want a clean surface to pray on like the car – in case you want to stop in the middle of traveling somewhere to pray.
#9. Wudu and Istinjaa in the airport can be awkward. Wudu can be a delicate balancing act of water, keeping your feet off the floor and not falling to that previously mentioned floor. One quick way to solve that problem is with Kuff’s aka leather socks although I believe wool socks are also ok in the Maliki methab.
So a favorite item for Istinjaa that I know many Muslimah’s carry are wet wipes or baby wipes as they are also known as many places don’t have a special container for water to cleanse one’s self with. You can carry also an extra water bottle with a pop top that can be used for this specific purpose.
#10. Travel with proper identification. I always use my passport for any flight I take domestic or international. Why? Because in order to have a U.S. Passport you have to submit your birth certificate and social security card as proof of citizenship. The TSA worker’s know this and thus because of this I have yet to be harassed as much as other individual I know who travel using just their drivers license. It’s also saved my cookie when I thought I lost my drivers license in Portland. Carrying two forms of ID is never a bad thing.
#11. Feel free to turn down the full body scan. It’s an invasion of privacy and the TSA people know how to do a full pat down. If they ask to take you to a back room – I personally would turn that down and make them pat me down in public – under their own security cameras and the public waiting in line at security to have everyone held accountable for their actions. If they ask why – say its for religious and privacy reasons – even Orthodox Jews and Christians are saying no to the full body scan.
#12. Do your best hold off on speaking any Arabic or making security or bomb jokes until your outside the airport. I know you really want to tell your habib that the shipment of falafel has just come in and that the kitab he has been looking for is to the right of the bab before the flight takes off. However just saying the word – word – kalimat in Arabic in airports – is enough to get other passengers and TSA sweating not to mention the bomb jokes.
#13. Tired of “randomly” being selected every time like I am? As I like to say, “Its not random, if it happens every time.” Complain to the TSA. Here is the link so you can know your rights and file a complaint directly to the TSA authorities Passenger Civil Rights and Complaint Website. I would also urge Muslims to read the TSA Blog to see what other things TSA has going on security wise and pick up the new app MyTSA from the iTunes store.
If these tips aren’t or are helpful.. let me know or if you have one of your own to add.. just leave a comment below.