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, who wrote Mayor Bart Peterson about his concerns this week, said putting sinks on public property would be unconstitutional, given that their primary purpose is to serve Muslims.
Beyond that, Hillenburg said, the move would represent an “appeasement” of Muslims at a time when he has serious doubts about whether Muslims can be loyal Americans.
Hillenburg plans to preach Sunday on what he calls America’s problem of “caving in to Islam” at his 700-member Hope Baptist Church on the Far Westside. He announced the sermon and his church’s concerns about Muslims with a news release that said: “We also oppose the fraternization with our open enemies during a time of war.”
Those seeking proof of the loyalty of Muslim Americans should look no further than the Muslims in the nation’s armed forces, said Shariq A. Siddiqui, executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana.
Disagreements about the constitutionality of the proper use of public facilities are natural, Siddiqui said. But he’s convinced the real issue here is a basic intolerance that American Muslims face every day.
“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 spoke by phone with Hillenburg on Friday. He promised the pastor that he would address Hillenburg’s questions about how the decision on the foot sinks was made. Like airport officials, Campbell said including the foot sinks in the project “is nowhere near a done deal.”
Campbell said the pastor didn’t discuss his views on Muslims. “I think the pastor would agree with us that most Muslim Hoosiers are just like us,” Campbell said. “They pay their taxes and they go to school and they are trying to live the American dream.”
Told of the pastor’s comments about Muslims, Campbell said the mayor would not agree with such broad generalizations.
Nevertheless, Dawson said criticism over the foot sinks could be factored into final design decisions.
“It is not a question of rethinking it. It is a question of any design going through the review procedure,” he said. “Certainly comments that members of the public make have an effect.”
The Airport Authority, which owns the property, is a public entity. And even though private funding will cover the foot sinks, Hillenburg said he objects to their placement on public property. The airport has an interfaith chapel, but the pastor said he expects the authority would never go for installing a baptistery or basins for holy water. And he sees Muslims as bent on taking over America.
“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.”
ABOUT THE RITUAL
Muslims perform the cleansing ritual ablution, or “wudu” in Arabic, to prepare for prayer. They may perform it up to five times a day — as needed, based on cleanliness — for their five daily prayers.
€¢ How it works: Muslims wash their hands and face, rinse their mouths and, to finish, wash their feet, starting with the right. Each body part is washed three times before prayers begin.
€¢ The sinks: The foot sinks, estimated to cost less than $600 to purchase and install, would not be paid for with taxpayer funds, said airport project spokesman David Dawson. Like most of the expansion project, airline revenues will pay most of the costs. Federal funds are scheduled to cover about 10 percent of the project, but only for flight and safety equipment.
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