Canadian Haj pilgrims told to avoid travel to US
WASHINGTON: The Canadian Islamic Congress is advising Canadian Muslim Haj pilgrims to give American airports a miss on their way to the holy land because they could be subjected to fingerprinting and other formalities that are in their case unnecessary.
The Congress said in a statement this week that US security regulations could cost American airlines $10 million during the Haj season.
Last week, the US launched a new security programme requiring foreign travellers landing in the country to be fingerprinted and photographed, and although Canadians are exempt, the Islamic Congress’s president, Mohamed Elmasry, said Canadians who were born in Muslim countries or have Muslim-sounding names will likely be fingerprinted. “Canadians preparing to leave for the Haj next week do not need the added stress of American security and border officials treating them like criminals,” he said.
The Congress which has completed an informal survey of Canadian Muslims who are going to Saudi Arabia for Eid ul-Adha found that the pilgrims were going to be using European or Middle and Far Eastern air carriers to avoid going through the United States. “It is usually less expensive to travel to the US and fly from there,” said the Congress’s vice-president, Ms Wahida Valiante. “But in today’s climate of heightened suspicion and security alerts, we advise that it is better to spend a little more money to avoid crossing the US-Canada border. Peace of mind is worth paying for.”
The Saudi Arabian consulate in Ottawa says 2,839 Canadian Muslims have already obtained visas for the Haj, and there could be more applications to come. They would join millions of Muslims expected to converge on Mecca and Medina for the Haj. The Congress estimates that 5,000 Canadians will go for Haj, spending an average of $2,000 each by way of airfares and purchase of items at duty-free shops. A total boycott of American airlines would thus cost the industry up to $10 million in lost revenues. Riad Saloojee, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations Canada, said his group has received complaints from Canadian Muslims who say that they have been harassed by American security officials. “If Canadian Muslims don’t have to travel to the US, they won’t,” he said. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council of American Islamic Relations in Washington, has said American Muslims also tend to be disproportionately singled out when returning to the US. He said his organisation is urging American Muslims to register to vote in the upcoming elections. “Some Americans have problems with Muslims. The only way that can be addressed is by political participation,” he said. —Khalid Hasan