(WASHINGTON, D.C., 9/30/13) – Thousands of American Muslims will soon travel to take part in religious observances associated with the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, taking place in mid-October.
SEE: Hajj Information
Because of past concerns about "flying while Muslim" airport profiling incidents, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today urged American Muslims taking part in this year's pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) to be aware of their legal rights and responsibilities as citizens and travelers when leaving from or returning to the United States.
[NOTE: Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime obligation, is one of the "five pillars" of the Islamic faith. The other pillars include a declaration of faith, daily prayers, offering regular charity, and fasting during the month of Ramadan.]
CAIR's "Hajj Travel Advisory" recommends that all those planning a pilgrimage first check Department of Homeland Security (DHS) - Transport Security Administration (TSA) regulations and rules at the TSA website.
CBP: Know Before You Go and Regulations for International Travel by U.S. Residents
IMPORTANT NOTE: The TSA today issued its own "Hajj Traveler Awareness: Know Before You Go" advisory.
The Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization's advisory also includes recommendations from its "Your Rights and Responsibilities as an American Muslim" pocket guide, which states in part:
"As an airline passenger, you are entitled to courteous, respectful and non-stigmatizing treatment by airline and security personnel. It is illegal for law enforcement officials to perform any stops, searches, detentions, or removals based solely on your race, religion, national origin, sex, or ethnicity."
CAIR Know Your rights Guide: Your Rights as an Airline Passenger
Other CAIR Hajj-specific travel recommendations for Muslim travelers include:
- Check any baggage containing Zamzam water bottles that you bring back to the U.S. Airlines will NOT allow you to carry liquids in large quantities on the plane, so be sure to check Zamzam and other liquids. (Zamzam water is drawn from a well within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and has religious significance for Muslims.)
- If you are bringing back dates, make sure they are processed and sufficiently dry. You may consider vacuum sealing your dates to ensure freshness and to minimize the likelihood of contamination.
- When packing, ensure that your shoes are cleansed of any soil. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has strict rules regarding entry of soil and chemicals into the country.
- If you are bringing back items worth more than $800 per person, declare them using the CBP Declaration Form made available by airline staff when landing. If you do not declare items worth more than $800, CBP may confiscate them.
SEE: CBP Travel Information
Entry into the U.S.:
In order to enter or re-enter the United States, travelers must go through two processes at U.S. ports of entry; immigration and customs.
CBP officers are required to verify the identities of travelers on their entry into the United States. They must also ensure that travelers have not been engaged in illegal activity that poses a threat to national security. It is critical to present valid documentation in the form of a valid passport and/or proper immigration paperwork if you are seeking admission into the United States.
Keep in mind that U.S. citizens have the unqualified right to re-enter the United States, which means that although customs may delay and search passengers, they must eventually allow U.S. citizens to enter the country.
CBP also has the authority to search all persons, baggage and merchandise arriving into the United States. This includes the search of files on laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices. Follow all CBP regulations on reporting luggage and currency. Also stay up to date on rules about prohibited items.
Along with travel advice, CAIR also urged pilgrims to consult relevant health advisories for those going on Hajj.
SEE: World Health Organization Interim Travel Advice on MERS-CoV for Pilgrimages to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
CDC: Hajj and Umrah, 2013
If you believe your rights have been violated:
CAIR asks that any pilgrims who believe their constitutional rights have been violated should fill out an incident report form.
CAIR's Civil Rights Department may also be reached by calling 202-488-8787 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Travelers experiencing difficulties should also submit a DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) complaint. To submit a complaint, go to: http://www.dhs.gov/dhs-trip