Muslim Taxicab Controversy: Should Muslims be allowed to impose Islam on others?

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Many Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis are refusing to allow passengers carrying alcohol in their cabs, saying it is against the Islamic Shariah [law] to do so. More than half the taxi drivers on the airport are Muslims, and as soon as they got a majority, they have resorted to imposing their beliefs on others.

Imagine if you have just flown in from Baghdad after a long flight, you can�wait to get home, reconnect with your family, and share a glass of some exotic alcoholic drink that you purchased at the Dubai airport [a Muslim country] with your wife to celebrate your return home alive from Iraq. It is 2:00 AM, but your reunion is delayed because cab after cab, driven by Muslims, refuses to take you home once they spot you carrying alcohol.

Sounds crazy, but sadly it is true. As a Muslim, I am both ashamed and shocked at this strange conduct of my coreligionists. In principle, Islam does not advocate imposition of Islamic values on others; there are several injunctions in Islamic sources which make this clear. To cite only two:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion” [Quran: 2:256]

“To us shall be accounted our deeds, and to you, your deeds. Let there be no contention between us and you: God will bring us all together – for with Him is all journey�end” [Quran, 42:15].

But when it comes to contemporary Muslims, we must always remember, there is always an ocean between what Islam teaches in principle and what Muslims practice in reality. Most Muslims will acknowledge this readily. I call it the ocean of ignorance.

Apparently, the cab drivers have provided the Metropolitan Airports Commission with a fatwa, dated June 6, 2006, from the Fatwa department of the local chapter of the Muslim American Society [MAS]. The fatwa proclaims that “Islamic jurisprudence” prohibits taxi drivers from carrying passengers with alcohol, “because it involves cooperating in sin according to Islam.”

MAS, the organization behind this fitna [Arabic for contention and strife], is the American extention of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, and a close affiliate of Islamic Circle of North America. MAS hypocritically run a public affairs department called “Freedom Foundation”. I guess it is seeking the freedom to infringe on the freedom of others.

To be fair to them, Islamic sources do forbid alcohol consumption unequivocally [Quran 2:219] and Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, also forbid trade in alcohol [Bukhari 34:297, 8:449, 34:429], but all these sources forbid selling and trading alcohol. Extending this ban to giving rides to tired travelers carrying alcohol for personal consumption requires an irrational and politically motivated leap that smells of mischief. Moderates and Muslims of goodwill should not stand for such thinly veiled attempts to sow discord.

Most Muslim scholars and most Muslims of Minnesota will tell you that the fatwa is indeed without merit. And indeed many Muslim voices, yours truly included, have already condemned and ridiculed this position. Even in Saudi Arabia, which is usually the champion when it comes to extremely narrow, irrational and intolerant interpretations of Islam, non-Muslims are allowed to consume alcohol, and even carry them on flights.

The alcohol issue is not really the problem. It is just the tip of the iceberg. It raises a fundamental and critical issue of whether Muslims who live in free and democratic societies can simultaneously demand freedom and tolerance for Islam while denying others the same. Can we and should we demand freedom to practice Islam, and then turn around and use these same freedoms to impose anachronistic understandings of Islam on others?

What next? Will Muslim doctors working in ER refuse to administer to patients brought in from an accident site or with a heart attack because they have alcohol on their breath? Will Muslim doctors refuse to serve an HIV-positive patient because he or she is gay? Will Muslim firefighters refuse to save people who are caught in a fire in a place that sells alcohol? Will Muslim cops refuse to protect women who do not wear Hijab [head scarf]? Will Muslim teachers refuse to educate children because their mothers do not wear the veil? All of the above would entail supporting sin according to popular Muslim beliefs.

If the cab episode in Minnesota becomes a norm – and MAS could make it so, as it claims that it is the biggest Muslim grass roots organization in America – can America then trust Muslims in any job where it is important to treat all people, Muslim and non-Muslim, sinner and Imam equally? Since 98% of Americans are non-Muslims, I am sure they routinely commit acts which according to Islam are sins, such as worshipping Jesus. Will Muslims stop doing business with them?

Can Muslims live with those who do not share their beliefs?

This is an important debate, especially for Muslim immigrants, who come to America with their religious baggage. Are we here to give our families a better life, or are we here to convert America into an Afghanistan under the Taliban? Do we want to use American freedoms to learn about Islam and practice it in an intimidation-free environment, or use it to spread the disease of religious intolerance? Will Muslim presence in America strengthen it or subvert it?

American Muslims have the opportunity to demonstrate that not only is Islam a religion for all times and all places, but is not a threat or trial for others. We can prove that Muslims can live in harmony with non-Muslims and that the thesis of the clash of civilizations is bogus.

America, in spite of its faults, its limitations, and even its sins and sinners, is easily the best place to live on earth. If you do not believe me, then ask the millions of Muslims desperate to leave their countries, their families, their societies to come to America.

The thing that is most precious about America is not its capitalist nature or its wealth, it is the first amendment. The ideal of freedom of religion and thought in America has allowed it to become a society that most people in the world aspire to emulate and live in. The principle of freedom of religion allows Muslims to practice Islam. In essence there can be no faith without freedom; it must therefore be guarded very jealously.

A vast majority of American Muslims are highly educated, enlightened and have for decades performed their jobs with dignity, integrity and excellence. Unlike the Fatwa department of MAS, they remember what the Quran really teaches:

Where Muslims are allowed to practice their religion and there is no one trying to drive them away from their homes, Muslims are required to deal kindly and justly with all non-Muslims [Quran 60:8].

Muslim scholars have a name for places like America ᠄r-ul-Aman [house of peace].

We, and by we I mean all Americans, Muslims and non-Muslims must not allow, a few rotten apples, to impose their thoughtless understanding of Islam on others, subvert free societies, distort Islamic teachings and undermine the hope for a harmonious relationship between America and its Muslims.

At 2:00 AM in the morning, we cannot leave you hanging in the cold waiting to go home. It would be inhuman.

Muqtedar Khan is Assistant Professor at University of Delaware and a Senior Nonresident Fellow with the Saban Center at Brookings Institution. He is the author of American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom [2002] and Islamic Democratic Discourse [2006]. His website is www.ijtihad.org


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