A simple request for an unopened can of Diet Coke on a United Airlines flight left Tahera Ahmad in tears.
A Muslim chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University, Ahmad, 31, was traveling Friday from Chicago to Washington for a conference promoting dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth. She was wearing a headscarf, or hijab.
For hygienic reasons, she asked for an unopened can of soda, she said. The flight attendant told her that she could not give her one but then handed an unopened can of beer to a man seated nearby. Ahmad questioned the flight attendant.
“We are unauthorized to give unopened cans to people because they may use it as a weapon on the plane,” she recalled the flight attendant telling her.
When Ahmad told the flight attendant she was being discriminated against, the attendant abruptly opened the beer can.
“It’s so you don’t use it as a weapon,” Ahmad said she was told.
Shocked, Ahmad asked other passengers if they had seen what happened.
A man sitting across the aisle turned to her and yelled, “You Muslim, you need to shut the f— up,” she said.
The man leaned over, looked her in the eyes and said: “Yes, you know you would use it as a weapon. So shut the f— up,” according to Ahmad.
“I felt the hate in his voice and his raging eyes,” Ahmad wrote on Facebook while the plane was still in flight. “I can’t help but cry … because I thought people would defend me and say something. Some people just shook their heads in dismay.”
After her Facebook post, people took to social media in support of Ahmad using the #unitedfortahera hashtag. Some pledged to boycott United.
Suhaib Webb, a prominent Muslim American imam, tweeted, “I’m asking all of you to let @united know that you are disgusted with this bigotry.” He also tweeted a photo of a can of Diet Coke over #unitedfortahera.
The flight attendant as well as the pilot later apologized, she said.
“She said she’s working on her rude behavior and that the man (sitting across the aisle) should not have said anything,” Ahmad recalled.
Ahmad was recognized at the White House last year “as a leading Muslim female in the United States” during Women’s History Month, according to Northwestern University. She had previously attended a Ramadan dinner hosted by President Barack Obama.
Ahmad was born in India and grew up in Morton Grove, Illinois. She said she has been spat on and had her hijab ripped off in Islamophobic encounters after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“This time I was being treated as a threat to everyone around me 30,000 feet above the ground and being told that I could use a can of Diet Coke as a weapon,” she said. “And no one said anything.”
The incident comes amid growing hostility toward Muslims living in the United States.
Source : CNN