It’s Never Just a Ride

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 neverjust a ride.”    

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A Conversation on Islam

I had a 30 minute cab ride with a driver from Tunisia.  A Sunni Muslim.  As I mentioned on August 19, 2012, when I get into a cab “it’s never just a ride.”  We started talking about Islam – and the issues that are forefront in the media.   We chatted about the Quran, the Prophet  and the hadith (the conversations of Muhammed).  It’s then he opened up.

You want to know the real problem is in the Muslim world?” he asked.   “You didn’t hear it from me.  Two words.  Saudi Arabia.”  This chap said that Saudi Arabia — with its Wahhabi (or Salafi) demands and sharia law — is wholly responsible for the radicalization of Islam.  Much of the negativity seems to orbit around that Middle Eastern power.  Women are denied the most basic of freedoms and the disease of sharia law infects everything and everyone.  You are a kafir (infidel) or mushrak (denier like Sunnis) if you are not a Wahhabi Muslim.  Saudi Arabia sponsors terrorism across the Middle East.  And elsewhere.  The tentacles of fundamentalism (and extremism) reach far and wide.  And now the Saudis seem to be caught up in their own cult of extreme Wahhabism – the puritanical, ultra-orthodox branch of Sunni Islam.  The offspring of Wahhabism now wants a return to the 7th Century caliphate.  ISIS cells are creeping inexorably into Saudi Arabia (as they are around the Middle East).  It will be interesting to see how Saudi Arabia fares in the next five years.      

It’s Never “Just a Ride”

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.”