Report: Full-Body Scans at Airports Might Violate Teachings of Some Faiths


body-scannerThe Vacouver Sun reports: As Mahnaz Shabbir thought about a coming flight, she grew worried about the full-body scanners used at some airports. Kansas City International Airport will be one of 11 airports getting body scanners by this summer, federal authorities announced last week. The scanner coming to KCI would be installed at a security checkpoint serving Southwest Airlines.Shabbir is concerned that the scanners might compromise the modesty teachings in Islam. Other religious groups, such as Orthodox Jews and conservative Christians, express similar views.

The question is whether religious teachings on modesty will be trampled in the march toward better security.

“In Islam, both men and women should dress modestly,” said Shabbir, who does diversity training. “Women covering their arms and hair are part of being modest, even though some Muslim women may not cover their hair and even wear sleeveless shirts

“But the body scan is going underneath our clothing.”

She also doesn’t want her children to be subjected to the body scan because “that is exposing them.”

“I don’t have an issue with going through additional security,” she said. “But I would rather have a pat-down, which would be done by a woman.”

As to whether a refusal to undergo scanning will make a Muslim more suspicious, Shabbir said that since 9/11, “Muslims already feel that we are viewed with more suspicion.”

The Fiqh Council of North America, which is affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America, recently issued a fatwa, or religious edict, stating that scanners violate Islamic law and suggesting instead that Muslims request a pat-down.

The edict states that the scanners are a violation of Islamic law that men and women not be seen in that fashion by other men and women and that modesty is considered part of the faith.

Renewed interest in airport body scanners has come since a Nigerian hid a chemical explosive in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight on December 25.

The Transportation Security Administration is in the process of deploying 150 scanners nationwide purchased with federal stimulus money, and that number is expected to grow. There are 40 machines in use in 19 airports across the country.

The full-body scanners are designed to detect items that metal detectors can’t. The TSA said the scanners produce a picture resembling a fuzzy image; facial features are blurred, and screeners helping the passenger can’t see the image.

Security officers viewing the images are in another area and do not see the passengers, and the images are automatically deleted after they’re viewed, the agency said.

But the religious concern is that the images, although grainy, show outlines of organs.

TSA officials say customers may request a personal pat-down.

Orthodox Jews also have reacted. In a letter to Congress, Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish umbrella group, called the full-body imaging “offensive, demeaning and far short of acceptable norms of modesty” within Judaism and other faiths.

It said the devices should be used only on passengers who fail metal detectors.

Rabbi Steven Weil, CEO of the Orthodox Union, said the scanners violate Jewish laws on modesty. While Islamic interpretations discourage exposure to either male or female eyes, it is not a violation of Jewish law for men or women to be seen exposed by the same gender, meaning Jews can walk through scanners if men are screened by men and women screened by women.

“You have two competing values. You have the need for security and safety, and the need for human dignity and modesty,” Weil said.

Rabbi Daniel Rockoff of Congregation Beth Israel Abraham Voliner in Overland Park, Kan., said that although modesty is a value across the Jewish spectrum, in general, the Orthodox community places added emphasis on dress.

“Women are to dress modestly; many will wear skirts below their knees and sleeves that go beyond the elbow and maintain an emphasis on modesty,” he said. “They would be uncomfortable knowing that the posture that they normally assume is being compromised in this situation (using the scanners).”

A pat-down done in private by a member of the same gender would be more acceptable, Rockoff said.

“If there is a real concern, someone wearing baggy clothing and thinking someone is hiding something under their clothes, then they absolutely should use a body scanner,” he said. “You are talking about saving lives. Within Jewish law that would be permissible.”

Some conservative Christians also share concerns about the scanners. Bishop Jack Vaughn of the Evangelistic Center in Kansas City, Kan., said the Pentecostal tradition, of which his church is a part, teaches modesty.

The definition of dressing modestly may vary from congregation to congregation, but modest dressing is the general principle, he said.

“In light of what a scan would reveal, I personally would not feel comfortable,” Vaughn said. “You don’t want to feel that you are being violated. I would be more comfortable with a pat-down.”

Buddhism and Hinduism seem to have fewer problems with the scanners.

“We are very logic-based, so we would consider the motivation and the rationale behind the need for scanners and that it is done with respect,” said Lama Chuck Stanford of the Rime Buddhist Center and Monastery in Kansas City.

In Hindu teachings, modesty is a value that applies to several aspects of life and dress is lesser in priority, said Suhag Shukla, managing director and legal counsel for the Hindu American Foundation.

“Modesty, most importantly, is a value that all individuals, regardless of gender, are encouraged to apply to their thoughts, attitude and action.”

The full-body scanners could be a source of discomfort for anyone, she said.

“Hindu scriptures, however, are also replete with examples of individuals sacrificing personally for the greater good,” she said. “In this case, safe air travel.”

{Vacouver Sun/Noam Newscenter}