British Muslim woman detained after cabin crew spot her reading Syrian art book

Published: August 4, 2016
Faziah Shaheen was quizzed under terror laws after Thomson Airways cabin crew saw her reading a book about Syrian art on her honeymoon flight. PHOTO: INDEPENDENT

Faziah Shaheen was quizzed under terror laws after Thomson Airways cabin crew saw her reading a book about Syrian art on her honeymoon flight. PHOTO: INDEPENDENT

A Muslim NHS worker was detained at a UK airport and questioned under terror laws after a cabin crew member spotted her reading a Syrian culture book on board her honeymoon flight.

Faizah Shaheen, the victim of yet another Islamophobia incident, works at the NHS in Leeds to help prevent teenage mental health patients from becoming radicalised. She was returning from honeymoon in Marmaris, Turkey, when she was stopped by South Yorkshire Police at Doncaster Airport on 25 July.  She was pulled over because a Thomson Airways cabin crew member on her outbound flight a fortnight earlier had reported her for suspicious behaviour.

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“I was asked what I do. I told them I work as a child and adolescent mental health services practitioner for the NHS,” said the 27-year-old. “Ironically, part of my job is working on anti-radicalisation and assessing vulnerable young people with mental health problems are at risk of being radicalised. I said that to the police. I’m actually part of trying to fight radicalisation and breaking the stereotypes,” she added.


Faizah Shaheen works in the NHS helping to prevent vulnerable teenagers from being radicalised. PHOTO: INDEPENDENT

Narrating the incident she said, “I was completely innocent – I was made to feel like a culprit. I was queuing at passport control and saw police staring at me. I just got through passport control and then two police officers approached me and took me aside and asked me to show my passport again.”

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“I asked what was going on and they said I had been reported due to a book I was reading and was to be questioned under the Terrorism Act. I became very angry and upset,” she continued. “I couldn’t understand how reading a book could cause people to suspect me like this. I told the police that I didn’t think it was right or acceptable.” Shaheen was given an information leaflet explaining that Schedule 7 legislation is used by police to determine whether a person appears to be or has been involved in terrorism. Police officers questioned her for 15 minutes.

“It was a very hurtful experience to go through. I fight for different causes and then to be victimised and experience this first-hand and made me realise how bad it is. Instead of reminiscing about our honeymoon I am left talking about this experience. I do question if whether it would be different if it was someone who wasn’t Muslim,” she said.

The book that Shaheen was reading, Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, by Malu Halasa is a collection of essays, short stories, poems, songs, cartoons and photographs from Syrian authors and artists. It has won an English PEN award. Shaheen bought it after it was recommended to her at Bradford literature festival in May. She said she was left angry and in tears by the experience – and with a feeling she had been discriminated because of her faith. She said she now intends to make formal complaints against the police and Thomson Airways

The award-winning ‘Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline’ by Malu Halasa. PHOTO: INDEPENDENT

Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, said the airline had overreacted. “In the current climate people are worried. But there is always a balance to be struck in circumstances of this kind. We want the public to report suspicious activity,” he said. “Reasonable people would not regard reading a book on Syria on its own, without any other concerns, as warranting the questioning of an individual. Thomson Airways should accept that a mistake was made and apologise to the woman concerned. I am sure if they had done so there would have been a better understanding of the entire situation,” he added.

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A Thomson Airways spokesperson said its crew are compelled to report any concerns as a precaution, but it understood Ms Shaheen’s frustration. The spokesperson said in a statement; “Our crew undergo general safety and security awareness training on a regular basis. As part of this they are encouraged to be vigilant and share any information or questions with the relevant authorities. We appreciate that in this instance Shaheen may have felt that overcaution had been exercised. However, like all airlines, our crew are trained to report any concerns they may have as a precaution.”

This article originally appeared on Independent.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Last Man Alive
    Aug 4, 2016 - 4:03PM

    Very soon they will offloading Muslims for looking outside the window,

    for fastening seat belts, for asking for a glass of water, for switching

    channels on in house entertainment, etc. etc. Recommend

  • Khilari
    Aug 4, 2016 - 5:13PM


  • Zee
    Aug 4, 2016 - 5:25PM

    Most of those vigilantes are typical close minded hate filled bigots with zero common sense intelligence. Think about it – when was the last time a real bad guy was actually caught displaying openly such “incriminating” or suspecious material? They always try to blend in by keeping a low profile. Look at the those who were involved in Belgium or France or even 9/11 incidents, all of them were living a life of a typical westerner … having girlfriends, drinking, western style clothing etc.Recommend

  • Mirza Asif Baig
    Aug 5, 2016 - 2:50AM

    They are sick… Recommend

  • Umar
    Aug 5, 2016 - 4:44AM

    I don’t think there is any harm in being questioned. She should have been understanding and answered questions. She wasn’t detailed, just taken away from an interview!

    I wouldn’t mind if the same happened to me. It’s our job as Muslims to help the police. What if someone was really reading an extremist guide. I would want them to be reported by default rather than given benefit of doubt. Doesn’t do anyone any harm, but could save many lives.Recommend

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