Don't bring that booze into my taxi!

Shari'a law, with state sanction, will soon be applied to a mundane commercial exchange in Minnesota.

October 10, 2006 22:51
3 minute read.
Don't bring that booze into my taxi!

muslim women 298 88. (photo credit: AP [file])

A minor issue at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has potentially major implications for the future of Islam in the United States. Some Muslim taxi drivers serving the airport declared, starting about a decade ago, that they would not transport passengers visibly carrying alcohol, for example, in transparent duty-free shopping bags. This stance stemmed from their understanding of the Koran's ban on alcohol. A driver named Fuad Omar explained: "This is our religion. We could be punished in the afterlife if we agree to [transport alcohol]. This is a Koran issue. This came from heaven." Another driver, Muhamed Mursal, echoed his words: "It is forbidden in Islam to carry alcohol." The issue emerged publicly in 2000. On one occasion, 16 drivers in a row refused a passenger with bottles of alcohol. This left the passenger, who had done nothing legally and morally wrong, feeling like a criminal. For their part, the 16 cabbies lost income. As Josh L. Dickey of the Associated Press put it, when drivers at the airport refuse a fare for any reason, "they go to the back of the line. Waaaay back. Past the terminal, down a long service road, and into a sprawling parking lot jammed with cabs in Bloomington, where drivers sit idle for hours, waiting to be called again." To avoid this predicament, Muslim cabbies asked the Metropolitan Airports Commission for permission to refuse passengers carrying liquor, or even suspected of carrying liquor, without their being banished to the end of the line. The airport authority rejected this appeal, worried that drivers might offer religion as an excuse to refuse short-distance passengers. The number of Muslim drivers has by now increased, to the point that they reportedly make up three-quarters of the airport's 900 cabdrivers. By September 2006, on average, Muslims turned down three fares a day on booze-related grounds. According to airport spokesman Patrick Hogan, this issue has "slowly grown over the years to the point that it's become a significant customer service issue." "Travelers often feel surprised and insulted," Hogan added. WITH THIS in mind, MAC proposed a pragmatic solution: drivers unwilling to carry alcohol could get a special color light on their car roofs, signaling their views to taxi starters and customers alike. From the airport's point of view, this scheme offers a sensible and efficient mechanism to resolve a minor irritant, leaving no passenger insulted and no driver losing business. "Airport authorities are not in the business of interpreting sacred texts or dictating anyone's religious choices," Hogan points out. "Our goal is simply to ensure travelers at (the airport) are well served." Awaiting approval only from the airport's taxi advisory committee, the two-light proposal will likely be in operation by the end of 2006. But on a societal level, the proposed solution has massive and worrisome implications. Among them: The two-light plan intrudes Shari'a law, with state sanction, into a mundane commercial transaction in Minnesota. A government authority sanctions a signal as to who does or does not follow Islamic law. What of taxi drivers beyond those at the airport? Other Muslim hacks in Minneapolis-St. Paul and across the country could well demand the same privilege. Bus conductors might follow suit. The whole transport system could be divided between those Islamically observant and those not so. Why stop with alcohol? Muslim taxi drivers in several countries already balk at allowing seeing-eye dogs in their cars. Future demands could include not transporting women with exposed arms or hair, homosexuals, and unmarried couples. For that matter, they could ban men wearing kippas, as well as Hindus, atheists, bartenders, croupiers, astrologers, bankers, and quarterbacks. The airport authority has consulted on the taxi issue with the Minnesota chapter of the Muslim American Society, an organization the Chicago Tribune has established is devoted to turning the United States into a country run by Islamic law. The wife of a former head of the organization, for example, has explained that its goal is "to educate everyone about Islam and to follow the teachings of Islam with the hope of establishing an Islamic state." It is precisely the innocuous nature of the two-light taxi solution that makes it so insidious, and why the Metropolitan Airports Commission should reconsider its wrong-headed decision. The writer is director of the Middle East Forum.

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