The Huffington Post: TSA Ramadan Alert: Expect Unduly Clean, Respectful, Teetotaling Travelers

In honor of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the Transportation Security Administration has provided the public with some curious “travel information,” under the heading “Traveling During Ramadan.” Ever devoted to protecting the safety and civil rights of travelers, the “TSA has reminded its security workforce that traveling passengers may be observed at various areas in the airport — including security checkpoints or on aircraft — engaged in religious practices and meditations during Ramadan.”

Included on the list of practices about which TSA “would also like to inform the traveling public” are the following, all taken directly from the TSA website:

  1. Passengers observing Ramadan will abstain from any food, water, smoking or vices of any kind.
  2. Passengers observing Ramadan may be more likely to engage in prayer at airports or on airplanes while traveling than at other times during the year.
  3. Before prayer, Muslims go through ablution, i.e., a cleansing or washing of certain areas of the body that is usually done in private if possible, but may be observed in airport restrooms.
  4. Passengers observing Ramadan may be seen reading, listening to or orally reciting the Holy Qur’an at airports and on airplanes.
  5. Passengers observing Ramadan may carry prayer beads and “whisper” prayers constantly.

Of course people will be shocked upon witnessing passengers decline stale pretzels and $10 bags of M&M’s. Of course they will be alarmed upon seeing a woman wearing a headscarf who isn’t drunk, smoking or shouting obscenities. Of course travelers — who often tend to be, um, well-traveled — will be startled to see folks engaging in practices endemic to the world’s second-largest religion. And of course, fellow passengers will be stunned by all the inordinately clean hands, faces and feet.

Given the TSA’s special interest in cultural sensitivity absent cultural knowledge, I recommend adding “none of the above” to the aforementioned list, as many Muslims on the move take advantage of a loophole in the Ramadan rulebook, which explicitly exempts travelers (among others) from fasting.

In all seriousness, who does the TSA expect to read this travel advisory? It’s not prominently — or even negligibly — displayed in airports. And I highly doubt the desired audience (presumably Americans who genuinely consider kneeling on a prayer rug, washing one’s feet or reading the Qur’an suspicious acts in and of themselves) is scouring the TSA’s website for a Ramadan travel advisory.

What’s more, even if they are, they won’t find it on the TSA homepage or the “Traveler Information” page or the “Religious and Cultural Needs” page or the TSA blog. In fact, despite being pretty tech savvy, I was unable to find the “Traveling during Ramadan” page using any of the links on the TSA homepage. The only reason I came across it was because a friend and fellow Muslim forwarded me the link in an email, adding, “Thought you might find this of anthropological interest.” Indeed.

The nation’s largest Muslim civil rights advocacy group, the Council on American Islamic Relations, has expressed appreciation for this TSA initiative. While I generally agree with CAIR’s positions on most things, I’m drawing the line here. This “travel information” hidden deep in the recesses of the TSA website is not only useless; it’s an insult to the American public’s intelligence and a testament to the TSA’s lack thereof.