WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Muslim pilot's prayer as an EgyptAir plane was going down is said to point toward a criminal act, and the investigation into last month's crash off Massachusetts may be turned over to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Today's Washington Post carries a front page, above the fold headline: "Pilot Prayed, Then Shut Off Jets Autopilot." The article states: "The voice and data recorders from EgyptAir Flight 990 reveal that just before one of the pilots, apparently alone in the cockpit, turned off the autopilot, he uttered a very short Muslim prayer, government sources said. National Transportation Safety Board officials found the evidence so disturbing they are considering turning the probe over to the FBI."
ABC's Washington affiliate displayed the words of the Islamic prayer, known as the shahadah, as the prayer uttered by the EgyptAir pilot. Agence France-Presse quoted an airline official saying the prayer was the shahadah.
Aviation experts have stated that there could be benign reasons for taking the plane off autopilot, and shutting down the engines, but the utterance of the shahadah has caused the NTSB/FBI team to classify the investigation as a criminal matter.
If this is all the evidence available to date, then this is a grievous act of bigotry by top officials of the U.S. government. Had they reached similar conclusions based upon a Jewish or Christian pilot's prayer U.S. congressmen and media would be demanding that these officials be terminated.
A Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, or Christian may well utter a prayer when confronted with a potentially deadly situation. A prayer so uttered is not in itself evidence of a deliberate criminal act.
What may be criminal is to rule out other explanations for the crash. At this stage all options should be kept open, but speculation on the basis of a prayer uttered by the pilot is at the very least irresponsible.
The shahadah is one of the five "pillars of Islam." It is a short prayer: "There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God." The four other pillars of Islam are prayer five times daily, fasting, alms-giving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
To become a Muslim, one has only to recite the shahadah. Like the pilgrimage to Mecca, it is required only once in a lifetime. However, pious Muslims recite the shahadah throughout their lives, even as often as several times each day -- particularly in times of distress. It is recited as one is dying, and if one cannot do so someone else may recite the shahadah for them.
It is normal for the Muslim pilot of EgyptAir 990 to have uttered the shahadah if confronted with a deadly situation beyond his control. What is not normal is to consider this prayer as an indication of a criminal act.
Normally the transfer of an investigation from one agency to another would not be a matter of concern. But we question the transfer of the investigation to the FBI whose case against the blind Egyptian, Muslim cleric Sheikh Rahman was not one which would inspire confidence.
The New York Times reported that there was scant evidence that Sheikh Rahman even knew of the plan to bomb the World Trade Center, and other buildings in New York. The government's primary witness against Sheikh Rahman was an FBI informant, Mr. Emad Salem, who confessed to lying under oath in a previous trial. Six months before the World Trade Center bombing, the FBI terminated Mr. Salem after he failed several lie detector tests. Following the bombing Mr. Salem was rehired for a fee of over $1 million.
The shahadah is the last sentence of The Wisdom Fund's 600 word introduction to Islam, known as "The Truth About Islam," which is available on the Internet at http://www.twf.org, and has been displayed in international journals and in Washington Metro rail stations.
[November 17 -- ABC's Washington affiliate stated that the pilot said, "I have made my decision. Now I put my faith in God's hands." It is not clear whether the pilot also uttered the shahadah, or whether his utterance was incorrectly reported yesterday.]
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