December 27th, 2006 06:03 EST
U.S. Airport Security Officers Briefed on Hajj Traditions
Washington -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has provided special training to sensitize the 45,000 security officers working in the nation’s airports to the cultural traditions of American Muslims traveling to Saudi Arabia to participate in the hajj.
“We put out information telling everyone that hajj is coming; this is the time frame; individuals are going to be traveling with these types of items; just to be aware that they may also be praying,” TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser told USINFO December 26. “I guess you would call it cultural sensitivity training.”
Kayser said cultural awareness has been an integral part of TSA training since the agency assumed responsibility for managing airport security after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He said the hajj briefings were essentially “refresher training” and a chance to alert officers that a larger number of Muslim travelers will be passing through the airports during this season. He said the TSA had a particular interest in performing the training this year, as the hajj corresponds with the busy Christmas-New Year holiday travel season.
The training comes just one month after Department of Homeland Security personnel came under criticism for removing six imams from a domestic flight for what one passenger considered suspicious behavior. (See related article.)
The hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is a religious duty for Muslims. According to Saudi officials, it draws about 2.5 million pilgrims each year.
The number of American Muslims participating in the hajj has been increasing in recent years. According to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, about 15,000 Americans made the pilgrimage in 2005. (See related article.)
Kayser said the training included reminders about procedures for screening individuals with head coverings and TSA policies regarding the transport of holy water. According to TSA guidelines, any container larger than 88 milliters must be carried in a passenger’s checked baggage.
The TSA began its training sessions in mid-December and expects to see hajj travelers through early January 2007.
Additional information on hajj travel is available at the TSA Web site.
More information on U.S. society is available at Population and Diversity and International Religious Freedom.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer