I recently went on a trip with my wife to California. It was our second honeymoon, and while I had every reason to be excited, I was a bit nervous. It was the first time I have traveled in several years, and the first time I have traveled after September 11.
Numerous images of the past ten months flashed in my mind as we were driven to the airport by my father: the Arab-Americans who were thrown off planes for "acting suspiciously"; Muslim women wearing the hijab being strip searched while passing through security. Will they throw me off the plane? Will security personnel subject my wife to a strip search? Will our dream vacation turn into a nightmare?
With all praise due to God, my fears never materialized. On the contrary, everyone was very polite and courteous to my wife and me. Yes, we did have to wait in long lines at the security checkpoint and show our "government-issued identifications" several different times to several different people. Yes, I did have to remove my shoes at one airport. But, I was happy to do so; it was for my own protection and the protection of all my fellow passengers. Our travel to and from the West Coast was as smoothe as can be, and I have nothing but praise for all the airline employees we encountered throughout our trip.
How was traveling different now than before? Other than the much tighter security measures, not much. Still, there are some things I would never do after September 11, such as pray in public in the airport, as I might have done on September 10. There still exists sufficient ignorance of Islamic religious practice, coupled with an already jittery traveling public, to create a stir if someone saw me praying in a relatively empty section of the airport gate. Thank God, Islam is flexible enough that I can usually wait and pray in the comfort of my hotel room. Is this giving in to ignorance? Perhaps. Am I being a ninny? Perhaps. Still, I have not abandoned praying five times a day. I just have settled for fulfilling my religious duty while not causing the airport terminal to be evacuated unnecessarily.
While my worst fear never materialized, there was one negative incident of note. During our trip, we drove down to Tijuana, Mexico and did some shopping. It was truly an amazing experience, entering and exiting the many shops, stands, and restaurants. Everywhere we went, vendors selling all types of goods enticed us to enter their shop and buy something. Some even said to us, "Salam-alaikum," which suprised me. It would have been a perfect day if it were not for two words, "No bomba?" At first, I thought little of it, not really realizing what he said. Then it dawned on me: he asked me whether or not I had a bomb. That same person said the same thing to us when we walked past his restaurant again. Unfortunately, I have forgotten most of my Spanish so that I could not respond in an intelligent manner to his insults. I thought to myself, "Even here, in Mexico, the stereotype endures." We still have a long way to go.