Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cab-driving while Muslim

This article in today's LA Times is not the first I come across on the 'controversy' about Muslim cab drivers refusing to take passengers carrying alcohol. In this particular instance, it's Somali cab drivers in Minneapolis (who make up over 70% of licenced cab drivers in that city).

This is the drivers' position:

"Nobody asks you what's in your luggage," said driver Abikar Abdulahi, 24. "But if it's in a box that we can see, we can't take it."

If they ever did knowingly transport alcohol, the drivers say, they would have to answer to God on Judgment Day.

This is how their position is misconstrued:

"[Do] I have to hide my Star of David necklace to get service … do I have to wear a burka?" another asked.

Who said anything about a dress code??


"You call a cab, but he can't give you a ride," he started.

"Because you have alcohol on your breath," Psihos said, finishing his thought.

"I mean, that's why I need the ride!" said Wohlwend, 39. "Because I'm hammered!"

Who said anything about transporting drunk people? And by the way, even if they did refuse (although I don't think they would on religious basis), they're allowed to by law as the article later quotes: "Drivers may legally refuse to carry passengers who appear drunk or dangerous..."

Oh, and check this out:

Spokesmen for two national Muslim organizations said they had not seen similar conflicts anywhere else. The refusal to transport alcohol (and to scan pork products) appears limited to Somalian immigrants in the Twin Cities. Their strict interpretation of the Koran does not have universal support among local Muslims.

Who do you think these "national Muslim organizations" are that are speaking on behalf of the American Muslim community? ISNA? Fiqh Council? CAIR? MPAC? Not even close. The Somali Justice Advocacy Center and the Confederation of Somali Community. Basically, professional, ethnic-based (not faith-based) organizations that are by no means qualified to issue a judgement on this issue.

Personally, I completely understand the Muslim cab driver's position. I am by no means qualified to issue a ruling on this issue, but as an average Muslim Jane the cab drivers' position does not seem to be an overly strict or 'extreme' interpretation of Islamic law.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure about the position of Muslim supermarket cashiers refusing to handle pork items (which the article also mentions). Although both alcohol and pork are prohibited Islamically, the rulings on handling and transporting them are different (to my limited knowledge).

Has anyone done any research on these issues? I would be interested to know what the scholarly opinions are regarding them.

Once that's all figured out, we need to work on sharing the information with the public and clearing up the media distortions. But we have to know what we're talking about first.

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