Muslim woman denied unopened can claims discrimination on United flight

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A 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 youths. 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.

United spokesman Charles Hobart said a flight attendant had tried several times to accommodate Ahmad’s beverage request but that there was a “misunderstanding.”

Hobart did not elaborate on the so-called misunderstanding but said United officials spoke to the chaplain Saturday afternoon to “get a better understanding” of what happened and to apologize for “for not delivering the service our customers expect when traveling with us.”

On Facebook, Ahmad wrote that she was “truly disappointed” with the airline’s response, which she said “disregarded and trivialized” the discrimination she experienced.

“I have not received a written sincere apology for the pain and hurt I experienced as a result of the discrimination and hateful words towards me,” she wrote. “This is not about a can of soda.”

Ahmad, who has Premier frequent-flier status with the airline, wrote that she been served unopened beverages on previous United flights and that she did not want the flight attendant fired.

“I simply did not expect United Airlines to dismiss the unwarranted and unfortunate rude behavior, discrimination and hateful words but rather acknowledge their accountability and role in the painful experience,” she wrote.

Ahmad said that when she told the flight attendant she felt she was being discriminated against, the attendant abruptly opened the beer can of the man seated near her.

“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.

“What?”

The man leaned over, according to Ahmad, and looked her in the eyes.

She said that the man told her: “Yes, you know you would use it as a weapon. So shut the f— up.”

“I felt the hate in his voice and his raging eyes,” Ahmad wrote in an earlier 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 initial post, people took to social media in to support, 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.

In an earlier statement, Hobart said the airline “strongly supports diversity and inclusion.”

“We and our partners do not discriminate against our employees or customers,” the statement said. “We are also discussing the matter that Ms. Ahmad describes with Shuttle America, our regional partner that operated the flight.”

Ahmad said she her intent is not going after the airline.

“This is about bigotry and racism and our country is going through a very difficult time right now. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others worked so hard …” Ahmad said, breaking into tears.

“They strove so hard so that Americans would not mistreat each other on the basis of the color of their skin or religious or ethnic background but I guess we’re still on that journey.”

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.

In 2013, Ahmad sparked outrage among Islamic conservatives when she became the first woman to recite the Quran at the Islamic Society of North America convention in Washington, the nation’s largest Muslim gathering, according to Northwestern.

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.

On Friday, protesters at a “Freedom of Speech” rally outside a Arizona mosque were met by counterprotesters. The two groups lined opposite sides of the street in front of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. They yelled at each other as a line of police officers kept them apart, CNN affiliate KNXV reported.

The Islamic center is the mosque once attended by Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, who drove from Arizona to a Dallas suburb to shoot up a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest there. Both were killed by police early this month. Many Muslims consider demeaning depictions of Mohammed to be blasphemous and banned by Islamic law.

In Washington, activist and conservative blogger Pamela Geller of New York wanted to place ads showing cartoons of Mohammed in the capital’s transit system. She hoped to display the winning cartoon from her group’s contest in Texas — the one where Simpson and Soofi were killed by police. The Washington Metro board voted to stop showing issue-oriented ads throughout its system.

Events such as this have some Muslims scared, said Imraan Siddiqi with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Recently, the mosques here in Phoenix actually received threatening letters — very specific threats, saying that we are going to massacre your congregations,” he said.

In a national survey by the Pew Research Center in 2013, 42% of respondents said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. In addition, Muslim Americans are seen as facing more discrimination than other groups, including gays and lesbians, Hispanics, African Americans and women.

In the same survey, 45% of the respondents said Muslim Americans face “a lot” of discrimination, and 28% said Muslims are subject to some discrimination.

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23 comments

  • Frank D.

    She should just not have had a drink of soda. Who does she think she is?….These Muslims should learn to fit in. They are neither better or worse than anyone else.Then these people wonder why their religion is loathed.

    • The Decider

      Frank, you should learn to stfu. You and Peggy. Clearly this was discrimination. They wouldn’t give her a can of soda but were giving cans of beer to others. Anyone else would have said something too. I sure of hell would have pointed it out. If they didn’t think it was wrong the pilot and flight attendant wouldn’t have apologized later.

      • Aaron Meyers

        The Decider, you do not understand why? The pop is complimentary, they do not give out full cans anymore as they try stretch the can out with 2 or more people. Beer on the other hand you have to pay for at a hefty price, which is why you get the entire can or bottle.

        There was nothing to apologize for.

        • David G

          She might be Aaron but this doesn’t change the fact that the flight attendant behavior was rude, arrogant and not to her employers best interest. Since Sep 11 and those guys act as if they have God rights over passengers in the name of the safety of the plane. Frankly, It is too freaking much

    • David G

      Clearly you guys have the IQ of a dinner plate. It is not about the can of soda, it is about discrimination based on how you look. It is like discriminating against a Jew for wearing a kippah or a Christian for wearing the cross. Besides, I am an engineer who studied physics my whole life, can someone tell me how in the hell a can of soda – open or not – can be used as a weapon against anything other than thirst?

      • dg54321

        It really isn’t. It’s about some Muslim chick seeing dollar signs and throwing a fit because she got treated like EVERYBODY ELSE, the exact OPPOSITE of discrimination.

        • David G

          Everybody else??!! Did you read the article? Did you read about the guy with the unopened can of beer?!
          Am I the only one here who reads past the first paragraph?!

          • dg54321

            LOL because you’re foolish enough to take her story at face value. And the dude PAID for that beer, she was getting free soda. She’s just looking for a payday and to rile up social media. Plenty of idiots that just believe whatever they are spoon fed.

        • David G

          DC, Is name calling is the best you got? What about logic, have you got any? Free or not, the airlines claim to not give unopened cans is to prevent the use as weapons. So, if I am asking for a weapon in a plane and I am welling to pay for it, I should get it then!! Lot’s of low class uneducated idiots out there who thinks they know sh*t

          • dg54321

            I agree, you really don’t know what you are talking about yet you keep trying to talk. Maybe you should just quit while you’re behind.

          • David G

            Nothing can be possibly behind or below your IQ. Tyou idiot is not worth my time. So keep rambling

      • David G

        She might be Aaron but this doesn’t change the fact that the flight attendant behavior was rude, arrogant and not to her employers best interest. Since Sep 11 and those guys act as if they have God rights over passengers in the name of the safety of the plane. Frankly, it is too freaking much

  • dg54321

    This is such made up BS. I don’t believe the guy said that or we’d be hearing about it from more than just her. She just was having a hissy fit because they wouldn’t do what she wanted, so she decided to make it into some made up victim story about it being because of her being Muslim.

  • thatguy

    Not to dismiss this story if is true, but asking for an unopened can because of hygiene?!?!? Is there any rational person who really believes that the inside or outside of a soda can is clean?

  • Oz Lopez

    An now she’s gonna file a lawsuit an get $10 mil gtfoh we’ve all been descriminated but this article is ridiculous .. I don’t even know how this is news.

  • Victoria

    This is ridiculous. I do believe there was obvious discrimination. I’ve never been on a flight that didn’t offer at least 2 cups of soda. So everyone gets at least a full can anyway. No big deal to give someone a can. If they can accommodate people who can’t wait to have an alcoholic beverage then they can accommodate someone because of religious beliefs. Yes I understand he may have paid for his beer but I mean the outrageous cost of airfare these days alone should entitle someone to a ‘complimentary’ can of soda. And then to rub it in her face more by telling her she could use it as a weapon is just being hateful.

  • "peety"

    This is about a woman with allergies who just happens to be Muslim. Her request had nothing to do with Islam
    Shame on the airline for not accommodating her.

    Who was the jackwad sitting next to her who gave her a big dose of American Hate? That’s what I want to know. Eff that guy.

  • Just Sayin'

    I’m a nervous flyer and sipping on something while in flight for some reason helps calm me. I’ve always asked for a full can of soda and cup of ice and always gotten them. I’ve even asked for one when the cart wasn’t going around and received it. This is just outrageous and instead of this country moving forward it’s taking major steps back.

  • k

    This was not even a United Plane or crew. At least blame the right people. It was a feeder airline whose flight attendant works her ass off sometimes 16 hours at a stretch dealing with rude entitled jackasses all day for about $1500 a month. What do you expect is going to happen. The smaller planes dont have as much on board and fly more legs in a day, so they dont usually give away whole cans anyway. The beer is a paid for item and you recieve the whole can. Ive seen people treat airline employees like crap and blame them personally for every stupid thing that annoys them. The FA probably was at her limit and the other passenger didnt help matters at all. But is his behavior also the fault of the airline?

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