I travel a great deal, and I can’t tell you how many times, as I’m existing on stale coffee and plastic food, beaten down by the bustle, the noise, and endless dinning of the numbingly repetitive security announcements (“Report suspicious behavior,” they keep saying, in outrageous Islamophobic defiance of CAIR and the Flying Imams), there is nothing I long for more than a chance to sit down, close my eyes, and let some cool water run between my toes.
Don’t you feel the same way? Can you think of anything more relaxing? More restorative? Isn’t it great that the Indianapolis Airport, like so many others, is now bowing to public pressure and installing these footbaths, so that finally the legions of foot-weary travelers, trudging endlessly through, harried and poked by officious airport personnel, dragging their roller bags, subjecting themselves to what Christopher Hitchens aptly calls the “misery and humiliation” of air travel, this endless succession of Willy Lomans on their way to peddle their paltry wares — now they have a chance to reach for something higher. Now they have a chance, as the cool water massages their feet, to dream of better things, of better days, of moonlit streams where righteous kings paused a moment to compose psalms.
In reality, of course, I think it very likely that as you have gone through airports throughout your life, you have never once stopped and longed to wash your feet. Not even once. You did not ask, and no one but Muslims ever have asked, for footwashing stations in the Indianapolis Airport or anywhere else. Last night during a layover in a major American city I saw an Oxygen Bar in an international airport. Some airports have massage facilities. Many have big leather armchairs in which, for a small fee, one can repose and become, for a moment, an armchair strategist. But these are truly facilities “for everybody’s use,” as Indianapolis Airport spokesman David Dawson would have us believe the footbaths are. I tried to explain to Francesca Jarosz when she called me that these footbaths were quite obviously meant to accommodate Islamic prayer and only Islamic prayer, that no one else would want them, and that to pretend otherwise was only a face-saving (or foot-saving) measure. She didn’t see fit to print any of that, but I have no quarrel with Francesca Jarosz; I’ve learned over the years to brace myself for the worst whenever a reporter calls, but she was not as outrageously unfair as most — in fact, her article is almost balanced. Instead of giving him the last word, she might have called Dawson on his nonsensical statement and asked him to explain just under what circumstances non-Muslims might even want to use the footbaths, and what might happen if a non-Muslim decided on an aqua-foot-massage just as a crowd of Muslim taxi drivers converged upon the footbaths to prepare themselves for prayer, but hey, you can’t have everything. “Indianapolis,” says Michael Saahir, an imam at the Nur-Allah Islamic Center of Indianapolis, “is coming of age. They need to have accommodations for all of their citizens” — and that’s all that matters. Accommodation is the order of the day, and the one certain thing is that we will be seeing plenty more of it.
“Airport’s sinks to help Muslims carry out rituals,” by Francesca Jarosz in the Indianapolis Star:
In the parking lot where they wait to be dispatched, some fill plastic bottles with water and pour it over the right foot, then the left. Others clean their feet in the restroom sink.
The practice is the last step in a ritual called ablution — “wudu” in Arabic — which involves washing several parts of the body to cleanse before Muslims’ five daily prayers.
And by November 2008, when the new $1.07 billion airport terminal is scheduled to be complete, the restroom near the parking lot where taxi drivers stay between runs will include floor-level sinks that will make their daily ritual easier.
Such foot baths have started to crop up across the country, in schools such as the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where more than 10 percent of students are Muslims, and at airports such as Kansas City International Airport.
They have drawn the ire of bloggers and pundits, who say they violate the separation of church and state, and the praise of advocacy groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations….
An official cost estimate for the foot baths won’t be ready until November, but Hawvermale said similar sinks cost between $400 and $600 to purchase and install.
The new airport terminal is funded primarily through general airline revenues. About 10 percent of funding, for devices such as safety and flight equipment, comes from federal grants.
But some critics say these foot baths are religious facilities in a public place — and a clear constitutional violation.
Robert Spencer founded the group Jihad Watch, which aims to raise awareness of what its founders perceive as a proliferation of Islamic law into mainstream society. Spencer compares installing a foot bath in a restroom to putting in a holy water font to accommodate Catholic cab drivers.
“The only conceivable group that will use the foot bath are Muslims for prayer,” Spencer said. “It’s a religious installation for a religious use.”
Airport officials say they see it differently.
“These facilities are for everybody’s use,” said David Dawson, spokesman for the new terminal project….
Khalid Zouecha, 38, said he rinses his feet with a bottle of water outside the bathroom to avoid the stares of other drivers.
“Most of them look at you like, ‘What are those guys doing?’ ” Zouecha said. “They know what we’re doing, but they look at us like they’re strange actions.”
And some drivers say the water-bottle routine gets old, especially in the winter.
“It’s like you are in the jungle, like a primitive human,” said Aziz Nachid, 42.
Performing the ritual in these conditions doesn’t interfere with its religious aspect, as long as the water is moving and all the body parts are cleaned in the correct order, said Michael Saahir, an imam at the Nur-Allah Islamic Center of Indianapolis.
But he said the drivers deserve better conditions, which the foot baths will provide.
“This is long overdue,” Saahir said. “Indianapolis is coming of age. They need to have accommodations for all of their citizens.”