Monday debates: Islamic prayer lawsuit and Michelle Obama in China


CHARLOTTENC, March 24, 2014 —  Two stories planted the seeds of debate last week and, given the complexities of our modern world, will most likely create nothing more than a ripple in our news cycle even though they speak volumes about contemporary trends.

The first was a report in the New York Post about a Muslim family that is suing the Empire State Building in New York for religious discrimination because they claim they were removed from the observation deck last year for participating in their Islamic prayers.

According to the report, Fahad and Amina Tirmiz and their two children were observing evening prayers in a corner of the 86th floor when they were approached by two security guards who told them they could not pray on the observation deck. After that, the family was removed from the building.

Taken at face value, without further details, the case appears to be one of those instances where poor judgment may have outranked tact and where common sense conflicts with legality.

The family’s claim alleges they were “assaulted” and “battered” in the process, which, if true, would give greater justification for their charges. However, based purely upon the claim that the family was asked to leave for praying on the observation deck does raise several interesting points of conjecture.

One of the five pillars of Islam is prayer which is practiced five times at sunrise, sunset, late in the evening and two other designated time periods during the day. That much is a given, but then the question becomes muddy.

Islam has well over a billion believers throughout the world, many of whom observe the traditional prayer times religiously. However, many others do not. Still more do not participate when there are other events or daily activities that preclude them from doing so. Muslims are also allowed to do make up prayers if they miss a particular session.

In addition, devoted Muslims are keenly aware of prayer times and regulate their lives accordingly. In Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries, for example, all prayer times are listed in the papers and on the internet so that people can schedule their daily rituals. Not only does it affect Muslims, but non-Muslims as well, because they must also adhere to various Islamic guidelines during the period of prayer.

In other words, the Tirmiz family could have, and should have, known when the call to prayer would take place and adjusted their sightseeing appropriately. Had any other religious group attempted to do something similar, they too would probably have been asked to leave.

So the question then becomes a case of whether the family was merely attempting to create a scene in the name of religious discrimination or not. Whether or not the security guards were abusive or handled the events properly is the subject of another debate, but a $5 million lawsuit is excessive.

Story number two has to do with Michelle Obama and her royal entourage as they tour China on a “cultural exchange visit” at taxpayer expense. Such junkets are nothing new for FLOTUS and her throng but they do bring into question why American taxpayers should be required to foot the entire tab.

Understandably the first children reap the benefits of their parent’s notoriety, but why does the first mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, rate such exclusivity at taxpayer expense? She is already living on our dime in America’s house with no other qualifications other than being Michelle’s mother.

According to reports, the Michelle Obama delegation is staying in an $8, 350 a night presidential suite in Beijing. All well and good for a legitimate visit, but the problem lies in the fact that the U.S. press has been denied access to America’s royal family. That would be fine too, if the first lady was picking up her own bills.

The so-called “cultural” input Ms. Obama has provided has yet to be clarified though she did say in a speech that “Education is an important focus for me. It’s personal, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents investing and pushing me to get a good education.”

Yes, education is, indeed, important, but let’s be honest, Michelle Obama would not be where she is today if she was not the wife of the president of the United States. And neither would her mother.

Then again it’s only Monday. There’s a full week in front of us for more serious debate.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (  

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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  • 21st Century Pacifist

    The new aerial fighting platform for our military is costing us almost a trillion dollars. A good will trip to enhance relations and markets doesn’t sound to me like a bad idea.
    As for the praying part, while it is odious to many to interfere with religious moments (even for me as an Atheist), the observation deck is private property and the management is within its rights to tell them to stop/leave. Some people are fanatic about their religion and for bad or worse, we need to be understanding.