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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Dr. Daniel Pipes on the Minnesota airport sharia lights taxi plan : Don't Bring that Booze into my Taxi"

Dr. Daniel Pipes on the Minnesota airport sharia lights taxi plan : Don't Bring that Booze into my Taxi"

October 10, 2006


Don't Bring That Booze into My Taxi

by Daniel Pipes
New York Sun
October 10, 2006

A minor issue at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) has potentially major implications for the future of Islam in the United States.

Starting about a decade ago, some Muslim taxi drivers serving the airport declared that they would not transport passengers visibly carrying alcohol, in transparent duty-free shopping bags, for example. 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 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 MSP 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 taxi drivers asked the Metropolitan Airports Commission for permission to refuse passengers carrying liquor - or even suspected of carrying liquor - without being banished to the end of the line. MAC 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 MSP's 900 cabdrivers. By September 2006, Muslims turned down an estimated three fares a day based on their religious objection to alcohol, an airport spokesman, Patrick Hogan, told the Associated Press, adding that 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," Mr. Hogan told USA Today.

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 on alcohol 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. Namely, the two-light plan intrudes the Shari‘a, or Islamic law, with state sanction, into a mundane commercial transaction in Minnesota. A government authority thus sanctions a signal as to who does or does not follow Islamic law.

What of taxi drivers beyond those at MSP? Other Muslims 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.

MAC 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 be 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. Readers who wish to make their views known to the MAC can write it at [email protected].


More on Those Minnesota Taxi Drivers

October 10, 2006

In an article today, "Don't Bring That Booze into My Taxi," I take up the issue of hacks at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and their unwillingness to transport passengers who visibly carry alcohol. Here are some additional points of interest that could not fit the column.

  • According to one commentator on my website, Wiley Freeman, the two-light solution is already dead, due to taxi industry disapproval. He writes: "It appears the taxi companies feared that taxi customers would boycott the Muslim taxis, identifiable by their lights. They also feared that customers would use other means of transportation."

  • Neither I nor anyone I queried has ever heard of cabbies in a Muslim-majority city raising an objection to carrying a passenger with liquor. Even Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American Islamic Relations acknowledged that the cab drivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International are the first he's heard objecting to carrying alcohol.

  • There are reasons to doubt that the drivers' understanding of the Koranic prohibition on alcohol makes sense. The ban on alcohol concerns its consumption, not its transportation. Mohammad Al-Hanooti, a specialist on Islamic law, states that "some Islamic scholars disagree altogether with the Minneapolis Muslim cabbies' interpretation of Islamic law." Al-Hanooti himself explicitly finds that "it is lawful for a Muslim driver to carry a passenger who has alcohol." He dismissed the cabbies' concerns: "They think it is unlawful because they carry this feeling from home, because they come from Muslim countries."

  • Ironically, Muslim drivers do not object to drunken passengers, just those who are evidently carrying alcohol in bottles.

  • I raised the prospect of Muslim drivers objected to – and refusing to transport "women with exposed arms or hair, homosexuals, and unmarried couples." I could have mentioned transgendered individuals, but did not. Today, I learn that this issue has already arisen, not at MSP but in the city of Minneapolis, according to a news report from the local Fox affiliate. (For the article, click here; for the video, here.)

    In her bright pink hat, Paula Hare has found herself waiting on her stoop a lot lately, for taxi cabs that never come. Not to avoid confusion, Paula even tells the taxi dispatcher she's transgendered. But on three occasions when the taxi actually showed up, she says Muslim drivers have refused to give her a lift. "This is more than just religion, it's flat out discrimination," Hare said. "And we've got laws against that in this state." The city of Minneapolis says she's right. Of the nearly 2,000 taxis in the Twin Cities metro, estimates are as many as half the drivers are recent immigrants – many Muslim.

    The same item reports from MSP: "When FOX 9 stopped by the airport taxi lot to talk about the controversy, we got a near riot. No one said they would give us a ride with a bottle of wine, and they told us to go somewhere else."

  • Back in 2000, the Council on American-Islamic Relations jumped in to the fray with its usual helpfulness. "There is a large group of Muslims out here," remarked Damon Drake, CAIR's local outreach director. "Now that the Muslims are here, they need to be accommodated." Building on this aggressive attitude, Drake suggested that passengers with alcohol be segregated from everyone else and be handled by "special call" drivers willing to transport alcohol who could jump the line to take them. In proposing this, CAIR not only sought state endorsement for the Muslim prohibition on alcohol but tried to shift the burden of being anomalous and exceptional – not the Muslim driver shunning liquor but the alcohol-consuming passenger.

  • Passengers reacted with displeasure to the Muslim aggressiveness: "They're really kind of imparting their religious views on the public," said Katie Patterson of McKinley, Texas, who suggested that the cabbies should perhaps "look for other work."

  • If anything, airline personnel seem to be even less pleased: Eva Buzek, a flight attendant returned to Minneapolis from a trip to France and encountered five straight taxi drivers who refused to take her home because she was had two bottles of wine in her suitcase. Buzek, an immigrant from Poland, considered this un-American. "I came to this country and I didn't expect anybody to adjust to my needs. I don't want to impose my beliefs on anyone else. That's why I'm in this country, because of the freedom. What's going to be next? ... Do I have to cover my head?"

  • Non-Muslim taxi drivers at MSP would seem to dislike this situation the most. "To work out here is the choice of the driver," says one of them, Tim Swiler. "We're talking about the choice to run a business. If you choose not to transport alcohol, that's your choice. It's the same choice if you decide not to take someone with a cane or a limp, a toupee or a bad hat. Go to the back of the line."

(October 10, 2006

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