Two Muslim religious leaders on their way to a Charlotte conference on "Islamophobia" said they were removed from a commercial flight Friday because the pilot refused to fly with them on board.
Imams Masudur Rahman, an adjunct professor of Arabic at the University of Memphis, and Mohamed Zaghloul said they and their bags were checked twice by security agents at the Memphis airport before boarding the 8:40 a.m. Delta connection Flight 5452 to Charlotte.
Rahman said the plane left the gate and was taxiing to the runway when the pilot came over the intercom. "The pilot said: 'There is an issue. We need to return to the gate,'" Rahman said.
"They were screened and cleared to fly," said TSA spokesman Jon Allen in Atlanta. "The decision to deny boarding was made by the airline, not TSA."
The imams were flying to Charlotte to attend the North American Imams Federation 2011 Conference this weekend. Organizers said more than 150 religious leaders from across the country will meet through Sunday to discuss prejudice and fear of Islam or Muslims.
"The conference is about 'Islamophobia,' so it's ironic that these guys were stopped on their way here because of this same issue," said Jibril Hough of the Islamic Center of Charlotte. "These guys definitely have something to talk about."