Middle Eastern politics, bombs and Wendy’s: After being reported to police, two Muslim students’ home was searched over their restaurant conversation. https://t.co/raH0TL6hw7 pic.twitter.com/yRwHVqdf9N— Montana Kaimin (@MontanaKaimin) February 4, 2018
A pair of Muslim students who attend the University of Montana in Missoula were briefly apprehended and had their apartment searched, simply because they had enjoyed a meal in a fast-food restaurant days before.
The two students reported their story to the Missoula Kaimin, the university’s student-run newspaper. In an attempt to keep their anonymity, they asked the paper to refer to them by aliases, Zyru and Aishia.
According to their account, the couple were eating at a local Wendy’s restaurant about a week ago discussing many topics, among them Middle Eastern politics. Nothing eventful happened during their meal, which took place on Sunday, Jan. 28.
But perhaps because of their outward appearances — both wear traditional Muslim attire, including a hijab for Aishia — someone at the restaurant apparently felt threatened and called the police to report the two discussing building a bomb using their cell phones.
Three days after their meal, a police officer stopped Aishia at her bus stop and brought her into the station for questioning. She was asked about her conversation with Zyru at Wendy’s, including what political beliefs the two held, as well as whether they had tried to learn about bomb making.
“I know for a fact we weren't talking about setting bombs off with a cellphone” at the restaurant, Aishia told the Kaimin. “At one point, I did talk about my cellphone bill.”
Aishia agreed to let police search her and Zyru’s apartment, knowing there was nothing they had there that would incriminate them. The two also said the FBI got involved in the search, but soon it was clear that they weren’t a threat to the community. Police left without pressing charges.
Zyru explained that he and Aishia shared their story with the student paper “to show what Muslims in America deal with” on a regular basis. Indeed, practicing the faith can lead to violent actions against Muslims by bigots for no other reason than expressing their faith in a quiet, dignified way. And sometimes law enforcement wrongly harasses Muslim devotees, for “transgressions” as meaningless as wearing too many articles of clothing.
It should go without saying that fears over Muslims being in public are unwarranted, and individuals who call the police over a couple who are enjoying a Wendy’s Frosty are exposing their bigotry for the world to see. Obviously if a crime happens, it should be reported. But being Muslim isn’t a crime, and individuals who follow Islam’s teachings shouldn’t be punished or harassed for doing so.