Some Muslim taxi drivers who refused to transport alcohol-toting passengers due to religious concerns and Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) have reached today a tentative compromise aimed to restoring deteriorating service. Under the new pilot deal, taxi drivers have to buy and install a distinct top-light that would yield for airport employees to redirect passengers to another driver.
“We hope this process becomes seamless for our customers and painless for drivers who don’t want to carry alcohol,” said Steve Wareham, airport director.
Officials at the airport and Muslim taxi drivers, most of who are from Somalia, said the problem started years ago with few drivers, but grew rapidly over the years as the number of Muslim taxi drivers peaked in the last seven years.
“We kept tabling the alcohol issue for sometime until too many complaints were filed earlier this year,” said Wareham.
No airport in the U.S. has experienced this dilemma, even though some have much bigger Muslim taxi drivers, according to Wareham.
Abdisalam Hashim, manager of Bloomington City Taxi, who represented taxi drivers for the intense negotiations with MAC, says his group is satisfied with the compromise.
“All we want is to protect our faith and respect other people,” he said.
He says his group refused alcohol-carrying customers only if the alcohol is visible.
“We never asked a client if he or she is carrying alcohol in their bags. That’s simply unacceptable,” he said.
Islam not only bans drinking alcohol, but also prohibits carrying, selling and serving it. But Muslim scholars seem to be deeply polarized on whether giving a ride to an alcohol-toting person falls under the ban on carrying alcohol. The nexus of the disagreement lies on different interpretations of the specific narration from the prophet that prohibits Muslims from carrying alcohol.
The Minnesota chapter of Muslim American Society (MAS), which mediated Muslim cabdrivers and MAC extensively over the past several months, concurs the taxi drivers’ position.
“A Muslim person shouldn’t carry alcohol knowingly,” said MAS-MN in a Fatwa, or an Islamic edict issued recently and signed by four of its leading imams.
Other Muslim scholars don’t agree that transporting a person carrying alcohol translates to going astray from the teachings of Islam.
“Refusing to give a ride to a person carrying alcohol is equal to refusing to haul a drunken person whose body is full of alcohol.” said Dr. Farouq As-Samaraa’i, imam of Al-Huda Mosque in Columbia Heights and a senior member of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of Minnesota, a highly respected body on Islamic theology.” Would a Muslim driver give that person a ride? I bet you they would.”
The purpose of the ride, he argues, is not carrying alcohol, but hauling someone from one destination to another, merely on business terms.
In addition to alcohol, Wareham, the airport director, says that there have been insignificant complaints of ride refusals for customers with dogs or gay customers.
Hashim, cabdrivers’ representative, vehemently denies that.
“That’s a propaganda intended to discredit our legitimate concerns with illegitimate claims,” he said.
Both MAC and Muslim drivers hope that the new compromise, which lasts six months, morphs – or leads- into a long term solution.