Two Muslim religious leaders were asked to leave a commercial airliner in Memphis - and were told it was because the pilot refused to fly with them aboard.
North American Imams
© KCNCIronically, the two men were headed to a North American Imams conference discussing Islamophobia or fears of Islam and discrimination against American Muslims.

Masudur Rahman and another imam had already been allowed to board their Delta Connection flight from Memphis, Tennessee, to Charlotte, North Carolina before they were asked to get off the plane.

'It's racism and bias because of our religion and appearance and because of misinformation about our religion.' Mr Rahman said. 'If they understood Islam, they wouldn't do this.'

Mr Rahman said he and Mohamed Zaghloul, of the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis, were cleared by security agents and boarded the plane for an 8.40am departure.

The aircraft pulled away from the gate, but the pilot then announced the plane must return, Mr Rahman said.

When it did, the imams were asked to go back to the boarding gate where they were told the pilot was refusing to accept them because some other passengers could be uncomfortable.

Mr Rahman said Delta officials talked with the pilot for more than a half-hour, but he still refused to fly with them aboard.

The men were taken to a lounge and booked on a later flight. They flew on to Charlotte later the same day.

Mr Rahman said a Delta manager apologised for the pilot's actions, but that he and Mr Zaghloul never spoke directly with the pilot.

Both passengers are Memphis-area residents. Mr Rahman, who is also an adjunct instructor of Arabic at the University of Memphis, said he was dressed in traditional Indian clothing.

Mr Zaghloul was clad in Arab garb, including traditional headgear.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Jon Allen in Atlanta confirmed the incident but said it was not initiated by that agency.

A Delta Air Lines spokesman said the flight was operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which is also based in Atlanta.

Jarek Beem, a spokesman for Atlantic Southeast, said the airline was investigating the incident. 'We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience that this may have caused,' he said.

Mr Rahman and Mr Zaghloul have contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

Ibrahim Hooper, of the American-Islamic organisation, said the group will follow up with the airline and with the TSA to help ensure such incidents do not continue to occur.