I frequently take taxis. 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 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’ll ask “how’s business”? That usually prompts a response. If I can identify the driver’s name or accent, I offer a few words in their language. With the Pakistanis, Indians and Somalis (who are nearly all Muslim), I start talking religion. We discuss the Quran (I have a copy – with the Bible – by the bed) and the Pillars of Islam. And when quoting surras, I have gotten long looks in the rear view mirror and an occasional free ride (“please Sir – this ride is on me“).
We discuss the similarities of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. We are all children of Abraham (which makes us all cousins). After all Jews and Christians are Ahl al-Kitab (“People of the Book“) for whom Mohammed instructs tolerance. Then there is the Quran’s acknowledgment that all are born in innocence. This preamble usually opens the floodgate for comments. And I sit back and listen. We share the lament that the vast majority of victims of Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban, al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda are Muslim. Upon leaving the cab, I will offer Assalamu Alaikum (“peace be unto you“) and always receive back Wa-Alaikum Assalaam (“and peace unto you“).
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. For me, sitting in a taxi is never “just a ride.”