|November 16, 1999|
|EgyptAir 990 Pilot’s Prayer Indicates Criminal Act?|
A Muslim pilot’s prayer as an EgyptAir plane was going down is
said to point toward a criminal act, and the investigation into last month’s
crash off Massachusetts may be turned over to the U.S. Federal Bureau
Today’s Washington Post carries a front page, above the fold head-
line: “Pilot Prayed, Then Shut Off Jets Autopilot.” The article states
that “voice and data recorders from EgyptAir Flight 990 reveal that just
before one of the pilots, apparently alone in the cockpit, turned off the
autopilot, he uttered a very short Muslim prayer, government sources
said. National Transportation Safety Board officials found the evidence
so disturbing they are considering turning the probe over to the FBI.”
ABC’s Washington affiliate displayed the words of the Islamic prayer,
known as the shahadah, as the prayer uttered by the EgyptAir pilot.
Agence France-Presse quoted an airline official saying the prayer was the
Aviation experts have stated that there could be several reasons for
taking the plane off autopilot, and shutting down the engines, but the
utterance of the shahadah has caused the NTSB/FBI team to classify
the investigation as a criminal matter.
If this is all the evidence available to date, then this is a grievous act
of bigotry by top officials of the U.S. government. Had they reached
similar conclusions based upon a Jewish or Christian pilot’s prayer, U.S.
congressmen and media would be demanding that these officials be
A Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, or Christian may well utter a prayer when
confronted with a potentially deadly situation. A prayer so uttered is
not in itself evidence of a deliberate criminal act.
What may be criminal is to rule out other explanations for the crash.
At this stage all options should be kept open, but speculation on the
basis of a prayer uttered by the pilot is at the very least irresponsible.
The shahadah is one of the five “pillars of Islam.” It is a short prayer:
“There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” The
|The War on Islam—139|
|four other pillars of Islam are prayer five times daily, fasting, alms-giv-
ing, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
To become a Muslim, one has only to recite the shahadah. Like the
pilgrimage to Mecca, it is required only once in a lifetime. However,
pious Muslims recite the shahadah throughout their lives, even as often
as several times each day—particularly in times of distress. Sufis, Islam’s
mystics, use the first part of the shahadah, “There is no god but God,”
repeatedly in their chanting. The shahadah is recited as one is dying,
and if one cannot do so someone else may recite the shahadah for them.
It is normal for the Muslim pilot of EgyptAir 990 to have uttered
the shahadah if confronted with a deadly situation beyond his control.
What is not normal is to consider the recital of this prayer as an indica-
tion of a criminal act.
Normally, the transfer of an investigation from one agency to an-
other would not be a matter of concern. But we question the transfer of
the investigation to the FBI, whose case against the blind Egyptian,
Muslim cleric Sheikh Rahman was not one which would inspire confi-
The New York Times reported that there was scant evidence that
Sheikh Rahman even knew of the plan to bomb the World Trade Cen-
ter, and other buildings in New York. The government’s primary witness
against Sheikh Rahman was an FBI informant, Mr. Emad Salem, who
confessed to lying under oath in a previous trial. Six months before the
World Trade Center bombing, the FBI terminated Mr. Salem after he
failed several lie detector tests. Following the bombing, Mr. Salem was
rehired for a fee of over $1 million.
The shahadah is also the last sentence of The Wisdom Fund’s 600
word introduction to Islam, known as “The Truth About Islam.” It is
available on the Internet at http://www.twf.org, and has been displayed in
international journals and in Washington Metro rail stations.
|[Michael J. Sniffen reported (“EgyptAir Probe Focusing on Tape,” AP, November
18, 1999), “A team of government safety experts, hired translators, and Egyptian, FBI
and manufacturer representatives is trying to precisely transcribe EgyptAir 990’s cockpit
voice recorder tape, . . . The group will work all weekend and hopes to complete the
transcript next week, the NTSB said Wednesday.”]