Muslim Man Refuses Seat Beside Woman Reading Bible-Unproven! 

Summary of eRumor:

The legend of a Muslim man who refused a seat next to a woman reading a Bible on a flight, only to have the flight attendant move the woman to first class so she wouldn’t have to be seated next to an “unpleasant person,” has been circulating via forwarded emails for years.

The Truth:

Given a lack of key identifying details, there’s no way to definitively prove whether a long-running forwarded email about a Muslim man who refused a seat next to a woman reading a Bible, only to see the woman moved to first class, actually happened or not.

The forwarded email has been around since at least March 2012. The earliest version we could find appeared under the “politically incorrect humor” section of a lifestyle called BeliefNet.com that provides daily words of wisdom and inspirational anecdotes. Given that the post was listed under “humor” and not “news” it seems reasonable to assume that it was meant as a spoof, not a factual account.

Nevertheless, different variations of the anecdote have been circulated in countless forwarded emails and posts on discussion forums since 2012. The general idea is that a 50-something Muslim passenger refuses a seat beside an elderly woman reading a Bible. After talking to the pilot, the flight attendant informs the man that all of the flight’s economy seats are sold out, but that passengers can be moved to first class to avoid scandal resulting from passengers having to sit next to an “unpleasant person.” Then, the kicker comes as the flight attendant turns to the elderly woman and says, “Therefore ma’am, if you would so kindly retrieve your personal items, we would like to move you to the comfort of first class as the captain doesn’t want you to sit next to an unpleasant person” to applause from other passengers.

Numerous versions of that anecdote have been circulated over the years, none of which include important details needed to authenticate the story. The name of the passengers, the airline, the location, and the date that the exchange supposedly happened are always absent. That’s why we’re calling this one “unproven.”

There was, however, a somewhat similar account that appeared in the news in February 2016. Renee Rabinowitz, a retired lawyer who fled the Holocaust as a girl, found herself in a similar situation when a man who she described as “this rather distinguished-looking man in Hasidic or Haredi garb, I’d guess around 50 or so, shows up,” who had been assigned the seat next to her, the Boston Globe reports:

The man was assigned the window seat in her row. But, like many ultra-Orthodox male passengers, he did not want to sit next to a woman, seeing even inadvertent contact with the opposite sex as verboten under the strictest interpretation of Jewish law. Soon, Rabinowitz said, a flight attendant offered her a “better” seat, up front, closer to first class.

Reluctantly, Rabinowitz, an impeccably groomed grandmother of 81 who walks wine a cane because of bad knees, agreed.

Rabinowitz said that she felt “minimized” by the encounter and decided to take an” intellectual, idealogical and legal” stand against it. Rabinowitz ultimately sued the airline, El Al, for gender discrimination. It’s not clear how, or if, the case was resolved.

The parallels between the story of the 50-something Muslim man who refused a seat next to a woman reading a Bible and the 50-something orthodox Jew who refused a seat next to a woman are undeniable. And, in both accounts, the woman was moved to a better seat, not the person making the original complaint.

Still, given that it’s impossible to verify story about the Muslim man who refused a seat beside a woman reading a Bible, we’re still calling this one “unproven.”

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Collected on: 06/16/2017

A 50-something year old Muslim man arrived at his seat on a crowded flight and immediately didn’t want the seat. The seat was next to an elderly white woman reading her Bible. Disgusted, the Muslim man immediately summoned the flight attendant and demanded a new seat. The man said “I cannot sit here next to this infidel.”

The flight attendant said “Let me see if I can find another seat.”

After checking, the flight attendant returned and stated “There are no more seats in economy, but I will check with the captain and see if there is something in first class.”

About 10 minutes went by and the flight attendant returned and stated “The captain has confirmed that there are no more seats in economy, but there is one in first class. It is our company policy to never move a person from economy to first class, but being that it would be some sort of scandal to force a person to sit next to an UNPLEASANT person, the captain agreed to make the switch to first class.”

Before the irate Muslim man could say anything, the attendant gestured to the elderly woman and said, “Therefore ma’am, if you would so kindly retrieve your personal items, we would like to move you to the comfort of first class as the captain doesn’t want you to sit next to an unpleasant person.”

Passengers in the seats nearby began to applaud; some even gave a standing ovation.