A group of scholars that advise Muslims in North America on the application of Islamic law has declared the full body scanners being introduced at airports to be a violation of their religion's teachings.
In what the Detroit Free Press has described as a fatwa, although the scholars do not use that term themselves, the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) this week issued a statement which said that the "general and public use" of full body scanners is "against the teachings of Islam, natural law and all religions and cultures that stand for decency and modesty".
Emphasizing that it "fully supports the necessary measures for the safety and protection of all passengers" and "appreciates the alternate provision of pat-down search (when needed)" the FCNA stated:It is a violation of clear Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women. Islam highly emphasizes ‘haya’ (modesty) and considers it part of faith. The Qur’an has commanded the believers, both men and women, to cover their private parts. Human beings are urged to be modest in their dress
Further emphasis was placed on the fact that "extreme necessity" can result in an "exception to this rule".
The FCNA's origins lie with the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada and is a body with strong links to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
The Indiana-based FCNA also suggests that "software should be designed to produce only the picture of questionable materials on an outline of the body".
Support for the statement has come from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization which operates independently in the U.S. and Canada.
Nihad Awad is the Executive Director and co-founder of CAIR in the U.S. and he is quoted by the Detroit Free Press as saying:We support the Fiqh Council’s statement on full-body scanners and believe that the religious and privacy rights of passengers can be respected while maintaining safety and security
For the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesman Jim Fotenos advised that with 40 full-body scanners already in use at 19 airports in the U.S., there are plans to install a further 450.
Noting that passengers may refuse a full body scan, in which case a private pat-down search would be conducted, Mr Fotenos indicated that the images produced by the scanners are "like chalk outlines”. He said:TSA's use of these technologies includes strong protections in place to safeguard passenger privacy. Screening images are automatically deleted, and the officer viewing the image will never see the passenger
Security at airports and on planes has once more become the focus of much attention following the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25.
Body scanners form a part of increased security measures introduced or due to be introduced following that incident and their arrival is being opposed by more than just religious groups such as the FCNA.
The New York Daily News says that civil libertarians have voiced their displeasure at the prospect of full-body scanners becoming a regular part of airport security.
While the Telegraph reported back in January that the Equality and Human Rights Commission had written to the British Home Secretary Alan Johnson to express its unease with the scanners being introduced in the U.K.