A Belgian imam known for advocating a form of "rational Islam" found out he was barred from flying over US territory after being denied boarding on his flight to Mexico.
Ghent-based Khalid Benhaddou was at Zaventem airport when a check-in clerk told him he would not be allowed on board his flight, citing a decision by the US security services.
"I had booked a trip to Mexico, but when my passport was checked at the check-in counter I was told that my departure was being refused by the United States Secret Agency (sic), because I was flying over American territory," Benhaddou said, according to De Standaard.
He said that the reason for the US agency's decision was not disclosed to him, and described the incident as "frustrating" and "a very bad signal" when reporting it to the Belga news agency himself.
Benhaddou is the main imam of the El Fath mosque in Ghent, has published several books and is known for promoting a "rational Islam," which he argues can counter stricter forms of practising the religion.
He is also the chair of the Platform of Flemish Imams and a founder of CIRRA, an Islam expertise centre researching and advising on intercultural and Islam-related questions, and his work, including on preventing radicalisation, has earned him recognition from the Flemish government and the Flemish League of Human Rights, who awarded him prizes in 2017 and 2018.
"This is of course very frustrating, not only because I have lost my money — since the airline is not at fault— but mainly because I went out of my way in the fight against extremism," Benhaddou said, adding: "If people who are committed to this are stopped and humiliated, this is a very bad signal."
Benhaddou said he intends to reach out to the American embassy, hoping that a diplomatic solution could be reached and noting that he had not been the only one confronted with such a situation.
"This story goes further than my person, because I hear that many other people experienced the same thing," he said.
The Brussels Times