Airport officials, facing complaints from the public and criticism from a local Baptist minister, say plans to accommodate the prayer needs of Muslim taxi drivers in a new terminal's design are a long way from being "set in stone."
Special floor-level sinks that would make it easier for Muslims to wash their feet before prayer are part of the current plans for restrooms that would serve taxi drivers in a new airport terminal due for completion next year.
But airport officials, who last week said the sinks were needed to solve a potential safety hazard from wet floors and to make the restrooms more sanitary, said Friday that plans for the foot sinks were "only preliminary."
"We're really a long way from having this set in stone," said Airport Authority spokesman David Dawson . . .
Complaints about the foot sinks, Dawson said, have been steady for about a week, since reports about them in The Indianapolis Star and other local media. One person objecting is the Rev. Jerry Hillenburg, a Baptist pastor who lost a son in Iraq two years ago.
Hillenburg believes placement of the foot baths in public restrooms is unconstitutional because they are being put their for a specific religion's ritual. Hillenburg accelerates tensions in the debate by questioning whether Muslims are loyal Americans."We also oppose the fraternization with our open enemies during a time of war." "I don't hate Muslims. I don't hate people who follow Islam," he said. "But I am at odds with anyone who threatens America and its citizenry, and I am at odds with anyone, period, who wants to destroy Christianity."
That brought a rebuke from Shariq A. Siddiqui, executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana. "The problem I have with him is that he associates Muslims with the enemy," Siddiqui said. "For him to demonize all of us is the problem." Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell told King that Mayor Peterson does not agree with Hillenburg's broad generalization of American Muslims.
While I don't condone Hillenburg's comments about Muslims in general, I think the Muslim faith invites this form of criticism when their leaders fail to criticize extremist members of their own faith who are advocating terrorism against Americans and Christians. As a Christian, I have personally been called "anti-Christian" by those who disagree with my criticism of the religious right for using the political and legal processes in our country to impose their narrow view of Christian law on all Americans. Until Muslim Americans speak out against the terrorism and havoc extremists within their own faith are wreaking on our world today, many Americans are going to question their loyalty.
On the origins of the foot bath controversy at the airport, I suspect former CCC member Patrice Abduallah lobbied airport officials for the foot baths. You may recall he was critical of Marriott Hotels treatment of Muslim employees and questioned a public subsidy for the new convention center hotel unless the hotel's owners assured him it would not discriminate against Muslim employees wearing religious garb to work. Although he was only one vote on the council, he carried heavy sway with Mayor Peterson because Democrats have only a one-seat margin on the council. His vote, for example, was the deciding vote on the Mayor's $90 million, 65% increase in the county option income tax.