I take taxis several times a week. And I have concluded that most Chicago taxi drivers are from Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Ghana. A smaller number are from Somalia and Ethiopia. And there is a new crop of young drivers who are from the Transylvania region of Romania. It is my custom whenever I get in a taxi to never allow it to be “just a ride.” I turn my cab ride into a tutorial. After all . . . . . why not?
Upon closing the door, I may ask “how’s business“? That always prompts a response. If I can identify the name or accent, I chat with the driver in his language (I get by in Urdu, Hindi and Yoruba – long story). With the Pakistanis and Indians (who are nearly all Muslim), I start talking religion. When I quote the Quran (I have a copy – with the Bible – by the bed) and the Pillars of Islam in Arabic – I have gotten long looks in the rear view mirror and an occasional free ride (“please good Sir – this ride is on me“). Maybe they’re not quite sure. . . .
I share my belief in the similarities of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. We all come from Abraham and after all Jews and Christians are Ahl al-Kitab (“People of the Book”) to whom Mohammed instructs tolerance (yes, tolerance). Then there is the Quran’s acknowledgment that we are all children of God. This preamble usually opens the floodgates for response. And I sit back and listen. And learn. I will venture that it is politicians and fundamentalists who cause all the trouble in the world. This brings vigorous agreement on “politicians” and occasional hesitation on the “fundamentalist” component. When I observe that each of Islam’s 72 different sects believe that they alone have the ear of God (and often hate each other) — this usually results in cautious acknowledgment on that point as well. Upon leaving the cab, I will offer salaam alaikum (“peace be unto you“) and inevitably receive back wa-alaikum as-salaam (“and peace unto you“). Sometimes we shake hands.
From the Horn of Africa people, I learn of the sectarian strife and territorial conflicts in Eritrea, Somalia, Ethipia and Somaliland. From the Nigerians it is fascinating to hear of the tribal tensions among Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo (Ibo). And from the Romanians, I learn of struggles with school and advancing careers. I like to think that the ride benefits everyone. Sitting in a taxi is never “just a ride.”