A group of Muslims was detained Wednesday at Orlando Sanford International Airport, apparently because of a misunderstanding over an Islamic cleanliness ritual, authorities said.
The captain of Allegiant flight No.625 from Allentown, Pa., radioed ahead and asked airport police to meet the plane when it landed about 8:30p.m., said Larry Dale, airport director and commander of its 11-member police force.
Members of the group were lingering in the lavatory and asked for a cup, arousing suspicion, Dale said. An FBI agent was interviewing three men late Wednesday, but it appeared that the travelers were detained because of a religious custom dictating cleanliness and that they would be released.
"In today's world, we'd rather be cautious," Dale said.
About half a dozen people and one child – at least some members of the same family – were traveling from Pennsylvania to Central Florida for a volleyball and badminton tournament, Dale said.
The travelers are of Middle Eastern descent, and at least one of the women wore a head scarf, he said.
Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, said devout Muslims customarily clean their private parts with water after using the restroom, and that is likely what members of the group were doing. The procedure is known as istinja.
"They [the airplane crew] didn't understand it, probably," Musri said. "If you didn't know the reason, you'd say, 'Why do you need the cup? Why are you taking it with you into the bathroom?'"
There was no disruption on the flight, Dale said.
"I'm glad they didn't have to divert the plane to another airport," Musri said. "Sometimes we overreact."