Daily Mail: A theme park was forced to shut its gates to visitors when a mass brawl broke out after Muslim women were banned from rides unless they removed their headscarves.
Two park rangers were injured and 15 people, including three women, were arrested in the scuffle at Rye Playland in New York yesterday. They have since been charged with disorderly conduct and assault.
Muslim visitors involved in the fight accused police of brutality and claimed they were treated 'like animals'. One said: 'It's clear, this all happened because we're Muslim.'
‘[The guards] were beating down the girls, then they started beating down the guys as they came to their aid,' Lola Ali, 16, of Queens, told the Journal News. The incident started at around 2pm when the theme park was crowded with around 6,000 visitors. Roughly 3,000 were in a Muslim tour group celebrating a holiday at the end of Ramadan.
Trouble reportedly flared when women wearing Muslim hijab scarves tried to get on rides banning any head coverings. The women were refused entry and offered refunds - but then male and female visitors started to argue among themselves, Westchester County officials said. That apparently led to park guards stepping in, sparking the huge brawl. The park entrance was closed for two hours as the fighting escalated.
Ola Salem, 17, of Brooklyn, New York, was wearing a headscarf and said she was denied entry onto a ride with her eight-year-old sister. 'They said no because my of my "headgear",' she told the New York Times. 'I said: "It’s not my headgear, it’s my religion".'
Dena Meawad, 18, told the New York Daily News her friend Entisai Ali, was pushed to the ground and arrested when she began arguing with cops over the head scarf policy. Her cousin, Kareem Meawad, 17, went to try to protect the woman and was beaten by cops and also arrested, she added. Her brother, Issam Meawad, 20, was pushed to the ground and taken into custody when he tried to help his cousin, she told the New York Daily News.
'She just wanted to get on a ride. That was it,' Dena Meawad said of the initial confrontation. 'It's clear, this all happened because we're Muslim.'
Ayman Alrabah, 24, of Brooklyn said her husband, brother and father were all tackled by cops and put into handcuffs when they tried to intervene. She told the New York Daily News she was unaware of the head-scarf rule until after she and her sister tried to get on the park's Dragon Coasters.
'We requested a refund and all of a sudden an argument became a riot,' Alrabah said. 'Cops came. They were hitting my brother, my dad. My husband was on the floor and they were handcuffing him.'
She told the New York Daily News her four-year-old son was left 'traumatised' by seeing his father arrested. 'They treated us like animals, like we were nothing,' Alrabah said. 'They came with their dogs and sticks. We came to have fun.'
Amr Khater, of Brooklyn, told The Journal News: 'Everybody got mad, everybody got upset. It’s our holiday. Why would you do this to us?'
Park officials insisted the ban was for safety reasons and said they respect their customers' religious beliefs. John Hodges, chief inspector of Westchester County Public Safety, insisted that police did not use excessive force. Two intervening park rangers were injured and hospitalised. A huge police response then saw 60 patrol cars and 100 police arrive from nine departments.
The Muslim American Society of New York had been 'painstakingly' advised of the rule many times before its tour took place, parks official Peter Tartaglia said. He defended the policy against head coverings on rides for safety reasons and faulted the group for not ensuring visitors understood the policy.
Mr Tartaglia said the policy is for safety, as scarves can become entangled in mechanical parts, choke riders or fly off and land in a ride's tracks. 'We respect the religious purpose of wearing it, but we have several rides that you cannot go on with any sort of headgear,' he said.
'The misunderstanding was very unfortunate,' Mr Tartaglia told Fox News.
The park entrance was closed for two hours as police responded to the scene, where more than 6,000 people were inside at the time - half of whom were with the Muslim group. Mr Tartaglia said all the people arrested were later released.
'In this heightened state of Islamaphobia, a woman wearing a hajib is an easy target these days,' Zead Ramadan, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations - New York, told the New York Daily News. 'Unfortunately, this turned ugly due to a lot of miscommunication.' He added, according to The Journal News: 'The people feel like victims, and the police feel like they were just doing their jobs. Personally I think things got a little out of control on both sides.'
The celebration at the theme park, located just north of New York City, was for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Islam's holy month of fasting, Ramadan. Rye Playland, owned and run by Westchester County, is America's only government-owned amusement park, reported Fox News.
A spokesman for the Muslim American Society of New York said it plans to investigate what happened.