A Muslim man was removed from a Southwest airlines flight earlier this year, after a fellow passenger overheard him speaking in Arabic on his mobile phone.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, 26, was on a plane at Los Angeles International Airport when he was escorted off by authorities and questioned, according to a discrimination complaint filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) this week.
The passenger who reported him claimed that he was using words in connection to martyrdom, but Makhzoomi maintains that he used the word “inshallah,” a common phrase in Arabic meaning “God willing.”
Makhzoomi is an Iraqi refugee who lived under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein and was granted political refugee status in 2010, The Independent reported.
Makhzoomi was returning from an event where he heard U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon speak and called his uncle to tell him about the experience. A fellow passenger overheard him use the phrase “inshallah” and reported him to the flight crew. He was then detained by the FBI and questioned over his “martyrdom.”
The local chapter of CAIR filed the complaint with the Department of Transportation, alleging discrimination and requesting a federal investigation into the incident.
“Worse than the inconvenience, Southwest Airlines humiliated Mr. Makhzoomi when the company unreasonably singled him out and removed him from his flight in front of fellow passengers. As a common carrier, Southwest Airlines is legally obligated to safely carry all individuals who are rightfully present in an equal and nondiscriminatory manner,” reads an excerpt from the complaint.
In addition to an investigation, CAIR is asking the Transportation Department to hold Southwest “ accountable for their actions against Mr. Makhzoomi.”
“We regret any less than positive experience a Customer has on Southwest,” Southwest said in a statement. “Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.”
A Southwest spokesperson told Travel + Leisure in an email that it was the content and not the language of Makhzoomi's conversation that disturbed the other passenger.