Of Congressmen and Cabbies

Hasan Zillur Rahim

Posted Feb 1, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Of Congressmen and Cabbies

Hasan Zillur Rahim

When Keith Ellison, the Minnesota democrat and the first Muslim elected to
Congress, took his oath of office in January of this year on a Quran that
once belonged to Thomas Jefferson, I experienced a sense of continuity with
the past. It enabled me to glimpse, even if fleetingly, the dreams and
aspirations of America’s founders and their stubborn influence in steering
the nation toward worthy goals.

Irony, of course, complicates the picture. Consider the statements of
Congressman Virgil Goode representing Albemarle County of Virginia, the
birthplace of Jefferson.

In denouncing Ellison’s decision, Mr. Goode declared that Americans needed
to “wake up” or else there would “likely be many more Muslims elected to
office and demanding the use of the Quran.”

Was the Congressman worried about more elected Muslim officials, or was he
disturbed that the Quran could become the norm for Muslim officials taking
their oaths?

Both, as it turns out. Goode’s fundamental concern was Muslim immigration to
America. “I believe that … we will have many more Muslims in the United
States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are
necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United
States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.”

For the records, Ellison is not an immigrant. An African-American who traces
his U.S. ancestry to 1741, the 42-year-old Congressman converted to Islam at
19 when he was a student at Wayne State University in Detroit.

The irony has now come full circle.

It appears that cabbies at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in Ellison’s
home state, one of the nation’s busiest, are refusing to transport
passengers carrying alcohol. Mostly of Somali descent, these Muslim cab
drivers claim that transporting alcohol violates Islamic law.

What nonsense! Refusing tired travelers a service because they may be
carrying alcohol violates only the laws of courtesy and reason. Islam bans
drinking alcohol, as Mahmoud Ayoub, an Islamic scholar at Temple University
said, not carrying it.

“What it comes down to,” explained Dr. Khalid Siddiqi, an Islamic scholar
from San Jose, California, when I asked him about the issue, “is that many
Muslims are unfortunately lacking in knowledge and are prone to anger and
emotion that cloud their judgment. We saw an example of this during the
Danish cartoon controversy. In this particular case, the Quranic verse that
comes to mind is: O you who believe! Ask not questions about things which,
if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. (5:101) The cabbies have a
responsibility to take their passengers from point A to point B. This is the
agreement they have signed with the airport authority and they must fulfill
it. That’s all.”

As an American-Muslim, I took pride in the support Congressman Keith Ellison
received from many of his fellow-representatives and the dignity with which
he confronted the bigotry directed against him. This pride was being
undermined by the ‘holier-than-thou’, sanctimonious attitude of some Muslim
cab drivers. Fortunately the attitude has significantly waned, which is a
good thing. As the syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote: “It is
foolish to needlessly invite negative attention. Why write Rush Limbaugh’s
script for him?”