As I prepare this morning to go through the indignity that is modern air travel, I can't help but nod my head in agreement with this article about how new body scanners violate some religious sensibilities. These are the scanners that show your naughty bits to the friendly TSA agents who are trying to detect bombs. When word first came out about this technology being used in the aftermath of the Christmas Day Undyterrorist, most of the coverage seemed to focus on how travelers felt it was a reasonable new security measure. We'd all rather have our private parts photographed than get blown up at 35,000 feet, right? Any concern that was issued related to privacy. While the public was assured that these machines don't take photographs, just this week the sexy Shahrukh Khan said he was presented with printouts of his body scan at Heathrow.
But what I didn't see in the coverage was much discussion of the interplay between this new technology and religious morals. Niraj Warikoo penned this piece for the Detroit Free Press:
The Fiqh Council of North America -- a body of Islamic scholars -- issued a fatwa this week that says going through the airport scanners would violate Islamic rules on modesty.
"It is a violation of clear Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women," reads the fatwa issued Tuesday. "Islam highly emphasizes haya (modesty) and considers it part of faith. The Quran has commanded the believers, both men and women, to cover their private parts."
The decision could complicate efforts to intensify screening of potential terrorists who are Muslim. After the Christmas Day bombing attempt in Detroit by a Muslim suspect from Nigeria, some have called for the use of body scanners at airports to find explosives and other dangerous materials carried by terrorists. Some airports are now in the process of buying and using the body scanners, which show in graphic detail the outlines of a person's body.
But Muslim groups say the scanners go against their religion. One option offered to passengers who don't want to use the scanners would be a pat down by a security guard. The Muslim groups are urging members to undergo those instead.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it also endorses the fatwa. Now, this is just an early report on the fatwa so it lacks some information, but I hope that other stories on the topic dig a bit deeper. Not just in terms of citing the particular passages or teachings at play but also in terms of looking at what different Muslims and Muslim councils have to say about the matter. Is this just a Sunni thing? What differentiates the Fiqh Council of North America from other North American Islamic scholars?
And more than that, this just seems like a great story for exploring all sorts of religious angles. For instance, what do various Christian and Jewish bodies think about such body scans? How does TSA protect employees who don't feel comfortable checking out, say, the opposite sex in these scans? And how do all of these issues affect our national security?