This word can get me thrown off planes and land me in jail

Published: April 25, 2016
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I wonder if Muslims who are boycotting the airline that threw Mr Makhzoomi off the plane, will be willing to raise their voices against individuals who throw self-identifying Muslims in jail for using the same phrase. PHOTO: AFP

I identify as a Muslim in America. And it’s not always easy.

Recently, my home country has seen a rise in Islamophobia. Thanks to right-wing political players like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the fear of Muslims being nurtured over the last decade has now entered the mainstream. We have seen our community centres vandalised, Hijabi women assaulted, Muslim boys bullied at school etc.

The latest and probably most bizarre episode of Islamophobia reported in the media is of an Arab-speaking college student thrown off a plane for saying Insha’Allah. Khairuldeen Makhzoomi – a 26-year-old Iraqi refugee – was reportedly having a phone conversation with his uncle in Baghdad, when a woman who understood Arabic thought she heard him say Shaheed (Arabic for martyr). She got alarmed and quickly alerted law enforcement. Three FBI agents promptly arrived and escorted a startled Mr Makhzoomi off the plane, only to release him after a lengthy interrogation. It turned out that the student had in fact said Insha’Allah (Arabic for God willing).

And for this, he missed his flight and endured an eight hour long delay in getting to his planned destination. How sad to realise that saying a benign everyday word like Insha’Allah could potentially have me thrown off a plane in today’s America. Though Mr Makhzoomi was not lucky at all, things could have been much worse.

Which brings me to the second part of my story. I identify as an Ahmadi in Pakistan. And it’s never easy.

The State forbids me from identifying as a Muslim. Under Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws, any Ahmadi ‘posing as a Muslim,’ can potentially face up to three years in prison. Numerous Ahmadis have been jailed for saying the Kalima, reading the Holy Quran, saying the prayer and for using ‘Islamic epithets’ like printing the terms Insha’Allah or Masha’Allah on wedding cards.

Following Mr Makhzoomi’’s ordeal, there was a huge outcry in the American Muslim community. Vows of boycotting the airline were renewed. Multiple articles were penned. We sought to educate our colleagues on the meanings of simple Arabic terms. My fellow American Muslim, Mr Wajahat Ali, wrote a beautiful Op-ed in the New York Times explaining the various contexts in which Muslims (and non-Muslims who speak Arabic) use the phrase Insha’Allah in their everyday lives.

He wrote,

“Opportunity is often born from absurdities. I believe this latest episode is actually a great moment to bring the versatile and glorious term Insha’Allah into the vocabulary of more Americans.

Insha’Allah is the Arabic version of “fuggedaboudit.” It’s similar to how the British use the word “brilliant” to both praise and passive-aggressively deride everything and everyone. It transports both the speaker and the listener to a fantastical place where promises, dreams and realistic goals are replaced by delusional hope and earnest yearning…

Boy: “Father, will we go to Toys ‘R’ Us later today?” Father: “Yes. Insha’Allah.”

Translation: “There is no way we’re going to Toys ‘R’ Us. I’m exhausted. Play with the neighbour’s toys. Here, play with this staple remover. That’s fun, isn’t it?”

True, opportunity can often be born out of absurdity. But with an absurdity as humongous as the anti-Ahmadi laws, the opportunity to make a change is even greater.

Firstly, where us Muslims are busy educating fellow Americans on the innocence of a simple Arabic phrase, we must not forget to focus this education on where it is needed the most – Pakistan. Pakistani Muslim clerics must be taught that Insha’Allah – or any other Arabic phrase for that matter – is not a patent of a Muslim body or State.

Secondly, Muslims (especially of Pakistani origin) who rightly understand the Islamophobia in relation to Mr Makhzoomi’s case must not ignore the far worse Islamophobia institutionalised in Pakistan’s legal codes.

Thirdly, I wonder if Muslims who are boycotting the airline that threw Mr Makhzoomi off the plane, will be willing to raise their voices against individuals who throw self-identifying Muslims in jail for using the same phrase?

Mr Ali ended his piece with this request:

“Here’s my humble request: If you see me sitting on an airplane… and praying out loud “Insha’Allah, Trump and Cruz get zero votes,” don’t worry… I assure you there’s no need for panic. I’m just a harmless dork like you, hoping to stay on the plane.”

And I will end mine with the same request to the clergy in Pakistan:

If you see me writing Insha’Allah on my brother’s wedding card (or use any other term that you might perceive as ‘Islamic’), don’t worry… I assure you there’s no need for panic. I’m just a harmless dork like you, hoping to enjoy my rights as a free human being. Insha’Allah.

kashif.chaudhry

Kashif Chaudhry

A graduate of King Edward Medical University, Lahore and Mt Sinai University Hospital in New York, Kashif is currently completing his Cardiology fellowship in Boston, USA. He writes for various American newspapers and Pakistani publications and blogs at the Huffington Post. His interests include medicine, human rights and interfaith dialogue. He tweets @KashifMD (twitter.com/KashifMD)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Laskero

    We don’t live in a vacuum. This is an unfortunate but expected reaction to Islamic terrorism.Recommend

  • Kamrul Miah

    I’ve always said this was the biggest problem afflicting the Muslim world today ▬ the complete unwillingness of [regular] Muslims to police their own. There is a saying in Europe: ❝There are two types of Muslims, the extremist and the moderate. The extremist wants to chop your head off. The moderate wants the extremist to chop your head off.❞

    While this is obviously not true for any person familiar with Muslims living in a Muslim country, the fact is that we do almost NOTHING to prove the assertion wrong. I’m from Bangladesh, where there have been a spate of killings of various “free-thinking” authors, many of them writing against religion in general and Islam in particular. Ignore the details of what was being said or written — what is remarkable is that anyone would think it reasonable to chop someone’s head off for something that was merely written or said, however dishonourable it was. The funny thing is, that civil society in Bangladesh is pretty strong, and would overwhelmingly be AGAINST this type of activity. Yet you listen to people who identify strongly as Muslims, and you will continuously hear excuses being made about the content of what was written, or that the authors should not have written such things, or that it is against Islam etc. They may disagree with the killing, but they fail to condemn it outright, because on some level they have internalized the necessity to “stick up” for their own side, even when that side is practically indefensible.

    The weaker the identification with Islam, the more vocal the opposition to these killings. So don’t tell me that Islamic identity has nothing to do with it. It does. This characteristic of Muslims, to be completely unwilling to police themselves [including various propaganda in the mosques, by the ulema etc.], is what leads to this polarization with other communities. I’m saying this coming from an Islamic background myself, and even sympathizing with the troubles Muslims have to go through day-to-day, and from a country with a fair amount of tolerance for other faiths and creeds. This attitude of Muslims needs to be updated and modernized. Else Donald Trump will be the least of your worries.Recommend

  • Ardumanish Rustomjee.

    Don’t equate US to your third world desi country. In US, the people
    are educated, can read and write, are well informed, and human rights
    are respected. And information, any kind, is available to anyone.
    Also, anti discrimination laws, are on the books. Followed diligently.
    You can hire a lawyer, if you feel you were discriminated against.There
    is a night and day difference between your country and US.
    Your desi country, is in the bottom 10 of any list. Illiteracy is rampant.
    The State does not have it’s writ anywhere. Corruption is a way of life.
    Politicians and lawmakers have one agenda…how much they can loot.
    Mullahs rule the roost, and in your Punjab, there are parallel Sharia
    Courts, everywhere, while the Govt. looks the other way and sticks it’s
    head in the sand.
    For decades, imported Saudi Wahabism/Khwarijism has distorted Islam
    to an unrecognizable religion. Thanks to the mullahs preaching their poison
    to the ignorant, illiterate, masses. Including some highly educated people too!
    [Safoora Goth Massacre comes to mind, committed by engineers!!]
    Did you think of all this? You being an educated person, a doctor to boot.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Kashif, you are addressing the wrong audience.

    Please write the same stuff in Arabic and Urdu and address the likes of ISIS and LeT.

    Muslims in non Arab world saying “Inshallah” is like a Christian in Pakistan saying to a Mullah “Bonjour Messieurs”.Recommend

  • LS

    One more “We are victim” blog…Recommend

  • Jayman

    Unfortunately, with the decline of the importance of Gulf oil, the economic influence of Muslims has declined to levels not seen. Unless they make radical changes, it will only get worse. Saudis seem to comprehend this now.Recommend

  • i

    As the saying goes: Better be safe than never be alive to say sorry!Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Did all of the comments so far missed the point completely?Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Com’on! mods, these comments below deserve some bashing at least. Recommend

  • omaranis

    while in rome do as the romans do or go back to your landRecommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    There is a saying in Europe: ❝There are two types of Muslims, the extremist and the moderate. The extremist wants to chop your head off. The moderate wants the extremist to chop your head off.❞

    Yep, Ignorance alert!

    I can understand your frustration, being a Bangladeshi seeing your fellow countrymen chopping your fellow countrymen into pieces is heart wrenching, but when you have an example of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, 125 years of persecution but still they are going on in their peaceful struggle to spread the message of peace love and harmony, you are left with no other choice but to blame the driver, and not the vehicle. Ahmadis and all Muslims with sanity certainly DO NOT want extremists to chop your head off. so please stop spreading this filthy assumption of yours about Islam.Recommend

  • Kamath

    I bet , soon or even before he completes his residency, Chaudhry Saab will apply for visa so that he can stay in the infidel country like USA. Insha-Allah!Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Just like hindus trolls. Congregating like flies in ET.Recommend

  • Pukhnatwaney

    The man is a very confused desi. As they say.Recommend

  • siesmann

    D you read something before commenting?Recommend

  • siesmann

    Victims never play victim cards!Ahmadis are the worst off of any communities that has been persecuted, and legally too.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Mullahs and their zombie hordes will never listen to reason.They will allow and insist often on non-Muslims to use Islamic terms,but will kill Ahmadis for it.Recommend

  • Kamrul Miah

    ≫ •••being a Bangladeshi seeing your fellow countrymen chopping your fellow countrymen into pieces is heart wrenching≪

    And what does it tell you that Bangladesh is one of the more peaceful Muslim countries, both now and historically?

    ≫ •••but when you have an example of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community≪

    Your cult isn’t even considered “Muslim” by the vast majority of Muslims, and it’s members are actually officially banned from entering the most holiest of Muslim regions/countries, Saudi Arabia L☺L!

    The fact that you had to use an outside group that is declared non-Muslim by the vast majority of Muslims, are persecuted around the world for being the same, and there are legitimate Islamic scholarly reasons they should be considered as such, tells people all they need to know.

    You can bury your head in the sand all you like over this issue. But it’s widespread global presence in vastly heterogeneous cultural terrain tells me there are underlying root causes that are common amongst Muslims. Detailing the ledger of a group that is by all considerations totally aberrant amongst mainstream Muslims is laughable at best and dangerous at worst. It’s time to grow up a little.Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    Rightly said bro.Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    Good one Kashif. And my sympathies for your words.
    But the opening line is again a classic victim line. You keep on saying Islam is religion of peace. Name one religion with which Islam is in peace with. Isn’t it true that as soon as muslims increase by certain percentage in any host nations they start demanding Shariah law for themselves ? They do not want to be treated under unified law of nation. They don’t like themselves to be treated equal. They want to be treated special. Just recently a guy was cribbing here writing blog in ET about rise in Islamaphoebia because he wanted to stop his car in middle of parking lot near a local mosque somewhere in Europe and a guy behind him who wanted to get out keep honking at him. The author truly believed that he is victim of Islamaphoebia but fail to see how he caused inconvenience to other.
    Islamaphoebia increases because of people like them which are unfortunately not very less in number as the few liberal muslims like to claim. Trump and Ted Cruz only have to point fingers to such events, the job is done for them by your own fellow muslims.Recommend

  • LS

    Care to see how pakistanis comment on TOI? We are civil here.Recommend

  • LS

    Lets see the coherence of your arguments…

    “being a Bangladeshi seeing your fellow countrymen chopping your fellow countrymen”
    – You say as if this does not happen in any other musim country including Pakistan?

    “you are left with no other choice but to blame the driver, and not the vehicle”..
    -Pathetic Analogy – Vehicle does not run all by itself, driver drives it. Upkeep of the vehicle is also driver’s responsibility. So you don’t blame the vehicle. You always blame the driver or the Manufacturer.

    Lastly, who are the people who protest the killing of Osama? Who are those people in pakistan who say they have no comments on ISIS when asked if it is a dangerous organization per pew poll (62% of them).. who are those people who support ISIS in pakistan (9% On higher end among polled nations)? Who are the members of all the terrorists organizations in pakistan? Each terrorist needs support of at least 10-15 people to function… starting from his own family… Who are those people? Who are those people in madarsa’s who teach extremism? Who are those parenets who send their kids there knowing what is going on these madarsas?

    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/in-nations-with-significant-muslim-populations-much-disdain-for-isis/Recommend

  • LS

    Did I say he wasn’t? If every other article he writes is about the same topic then they are playing that card. Pick any article he wrote it is always about being a victim.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    It is rather bizarre, an atheist telling me who is and who is not a Muslim. Religion is between Man and God, so who worries what people say and think of Ahmadis
    Please, take a break have a chocolate or something. and stop explaining people something of which You, jamaat islami, ISIS or their brethren in crime know nothing about.
    Peace.Recommend

  • siesmann

    I don’t see this as aplaying a victim cartd;if any it is about Muslims being victims.You hate it only because an Ahmadi wrote it.Recommend

  • LS

    I don’t care about the different strands of Muslims… To me all are same. Recommend

  • Kamrul Miah

    ≫ It is rather bizarre, an atheist telling me who is and who is not a Muslim≪

    It’s not me that you have to worry about. It’s basically 90+% of the Muslim world that doesn’t consider you a member of the faith. Those are quite bad odds, to consider yourself a spokesperson of the religion in general, don’t you think?

    ≫ Religion is between Man and God≪

    Unfortunately here on planet Earth, it happens to be an issue between different men [and women]. Many millions of whom are happy to see your head parted from your shoulders, simply because you disagree with them. I’d say that’s a problem… perhaps on this finer point we disagree.

    ≫ Please, take a break have a chocolate or something≪

    This might be hard for you to understand as a Pakistani, but believe it or not that’s not how problems are solved in the REAL WORLD. You kind of have to face the reality of what’s going on around you. And this most certainly IS a problem with Islam [at least in it’s modern incarnation], whether this is an uncomfortable truth or not.

    ≫ Peace≪

    It’s funny how you can say that without considering how the multitudes of people of your kind are persecuted by the “true believers”. You must live outside Pakistan [or South Asia]. Which makes this all the more hilarious. As I said before, it’s not my “kind” that you and your kin have to worry about.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Even if 100% non-ahmadi Muslims consider Ahmadis non-Muslim, it doesn’t changes the fact that Religion is between Man and God. and not between a parliament and people. So honestly we don’t care what they think or want to do to us or have done.

    Scientifically, chocolate does makes one happy, dopamine and stuff you know. So if you don’t want to try that, have a look at the 125+ years history of Ahmadis, and how Ahmadis are solving the problems of Humanity in the REAL WORLD where it is needed the most. Humanity First.

    In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims have to deal with Muslims only. Outside Pakistan Ahmadi Muslims have to deal with other Muslims, Christians and Atheists. The difference is, Pakistan discriminates and persecutes Ahmadi Muslims on a constitutional level.

    You couldn’t even greet back with Peace, and you are on about solving REAL WORLD problems. meh.

    Peace.Recommend

  • Kamrul Miah

    I don’t need to greet you back with “peace”, since I’m not the one who’ll be standing by your head with a scimitar, ready to decapitate you for believing goofy things. A point you continually disregard.

    Eat all the chocolate you want. You constantly ignore the major issue that nobody outside Islam give’scares Ahmadiyyas/Qadianis. Thereby the persecution Ahmadiyyas suffer is a uniquely Muslim phenomenon [see how that works?]. So once again, we are back to square one with regards to why Muslims cannot accept criticism or diverting philosophies without violent backlash. And why other Muslims [like you for instance] cannot help but back up the more extremist branches of the faith even if they disagree with them, for fear of betraying some wider “loyalty oath”.

    Do you have any idea how preposterous your ramblings are beginning to sound? You, a “persecuted” Ahmediyya, are arguing that Islam has no issues with persecution or extremism, despite ONLY being persecuted in countries where Islam is the state religion! Are you just posting incoherent babble for a laugh?Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Ahmadi Muslims are persecuted, they are not extremists, they are for the separation of mosque/state while following the same Book and Prophet, I don’t know why you can’t see that.
    You wishing me dead was really kind of you, the only difference between Atheists and Extremists is that atheists say there is no God, while extremists are hell-bent on becoming God.
    Ahmadiyya is the only counter force against extremism, History speaks for itself. more then a century of persecution, yet they go on spreading the true teachings of Islam, the teaching of love, peace and harmony.
    So much hatred inside is not good. you should try those chocolates, it really helps.
    Whether you like it or not, but our job is to spread peace, and serve mankind regardless of color, religion or no religion.
    So have a nice day.

    Peace.Recommend

  • Kamrul Miah

    The only thing you have proven throughout your rambling posts is just how utterly incoherent and semi-schizophrenic religious people truly are, even the “peaceful ones”. Just read your own statements:

    •You wishing me dead was really kind of you

    Where did you derive that from what I wrote? Do you actually understand sentences?

    •Ahmadi Muslims are persecuted, they are not extremists, they are for the separation of mosque/state while following the same Book and Prophet, I don’t know why you can’t see that.

    Ahmadi/Qadiani Muslims are a minority, and are persecuted. We have no idea what they would be like as a majority. But the fact of the matter is, they are ONLY persecuted in Muslim countries. Nobody else cares about them. You can dance around this until the end of the century, but it still won’t change the basic FACT.

    •the only difference between Atheists and Extremists is that atheists say there is no God

    This statement alone shows how frighteningly unhinged the “faithful” are, even a relatively “peaceful” sect like Ahmediyyas. That you could twist a problem that is solely within the domain of the Islamic world to somehow involve atheists who clearly couldn’t give a damn what you believe is telling of the ludicrous lengths Muslims will go to in order to avoid tackling an issue head on. You’ve actually PROVEN my point, unwittingly.

    •Ahmadiyya is the only counter force against extremism

    Not even remotely true. There are LOTS of counter-forces against extremism, and not all are even spiritual in nature. In fact, I contest that Ahmadiyya is even a legitimate candidate for this role; as you have aptly demonstrated even Ahmadiyya’s cannot face reality any more than other “sects” of Islam.

    •So much hatred inside is not good. you should try those chocolates, it really helps.

    OK, let’s cut this “chocolates” euphemism. It wasn’t funny the first time, and now you’re beginning to look rather retarded. I don’t have any hatred for your cult. It’s the people who you claim are your co-religionists who consider you to be a heretic, and will happily cut your head off for the same. I LITERALLY DO NOT CARE WHAT YOU BELIEVE, as long as you are peaceful. Atheists DO NOT CARE what you believe, as long as you are peaceful.

    As I have stated before, all you have proved with your posts is just how delusional and detached from reality people of a religious persuasion in general, and Muslims in particular, are.

    •our job is to spread peace,

    You’re doing a terrible job. The first port of call in this matter is to FACE REALITY. There is a MASSIVE problem in the Islamic world. It does “moderate” Muslims no good to ignore it. It’s an issue present in mainstream Islam, and must be dealt with.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.
  • gp65

    The difference here is about
    1) who persecutes Ahmadis? Only other Muslims.
    2) where are Ahmadis prosecuted? In Muslim majority countries.Recommend

  • gp65

    You say Islam is religion of peace. Fine. Please explain though why the only people who persecute you are Muslims and the only place where you are persecuted is in Muslim majority countries.Recommend