A profound journey with a Muslim cab driver

Sometimes signs are undeniable. They go beyond the probabilities of mere coincidence. Today, I was shown just such a thing that sometimes you find what you’re looking for in the most unlikely places. I was invited to be on British Muslim TV, a program on Sky to speak about the Women’s Mosque which just opened last month. I was quite happy to do so as I believe that mosque space is one of the main areas where misogyny is most expressed. Female spaces in mosques are mostly just afterthoughts. This was enshrined in a line from the movie ‘Four Lions’ where Umar’s (the terrorist leader) wife said about such spaces ‘it was a flippin’ toilet till you took the china out!’. That is the situation, in a nutshell.

I had prepared myself with some sound theological arguments. To me, it was clear as day that was not an offense against Islam. I saw the prayer institution as a cultural practice anyway. How can culture be wrong?

British Muslim TV had very kindly offered to pick me up via taxi and I graciously accepted. I waited at the agreed spot as instructed by the cab driver. However, it was not easy for him to find the spot. That part of London was notoriously difficult to manoeuvre and you’d be lucky not getting fined. He had me on the phone while he looked for me and it was a good fifteen minutes before he finally found me. I thought this guy would just give up and then I’d be in hot soup but no, he was as cool as a cucumber. Finally he found me (before I found him!) and he had to yell across the road before I finally clued up and saw him. Into the cab I got.

Boris 'The Bullet Dodger' from Snatch
Boris ‘The Bullet Dodger’ from Snatch

This was a Polish or Lithuanian man (possibly an associate of Boris the Bullet Dodger – called that because he dodges bullets, as we are told in the film ‘Snatch). I particularly liked speaking to East Europeans because of their very novel outlook to life. Theirs was a fresh immigration experience, much like my own.

I tried some small talk (weather, traffic, sorry about not seeing him) but it didn’t seem to take. He had a lot going on. Looking for the roads to take him to the next passenger was his number one priority. The area, as I said, was a mass of closed roads and hard to find exits. I decided to shut my gob. Then a call came on his mobile and he jabbered in a foreign language…except it wasn’t Polish or Lithuanian or even Russian. I was trying to remember when I had heard it before when he ended his call with a loud ‘khudaaa hafiz!’. This man was Iranian!

Finally we found the place where he was meant to pick up the next passenger who, as it turned out, was also a panellist on the same show as myself. Finally this Iranian gentleman was able to speak and introduced himself. He had been in this country for twenty-five years, he said. When I correctly identified his country of origin (we immigrants call it ‘coo’ for short), he became extra-friendly.

Then the other passenger got in. I became slight tense as this young man was dressed very conservatively. He wore a topi, a jubbah and had the standard Sunnah beard sans moustache. Uh oh, I thought. Guys like this usually hated guys like me for my irreverent views. He was sure to slaughter me during the show, I expected. I introduced myself and he surprised me then and there by saying he was part of a very important movement for social justice. I was very impressed because the cause he stands up for is a particularly sensitive issue in the Muslim community. He has his work cut out for him.

This other passenger and our cab driver quickly got to know each other through the whole Muslim brotherhood thing. Naturally the conversation turned to the topic of discussion and the other passenger asked my views. I figured he’d find out soon enough so I came out with it. To my surprise, he was open to the idea of an inclusive masjid. I dropped my defences and was ready to open up, being rather ashamed of myself for jumping to conclusions.

When three Muslims get together, it would be surprising if the conversation did not turn to the sorry state of affairs Muslims are currently experiencing. We got to that topic in about two seconds. It turned out, our cabbie had a lot to say!

I really felt as if this man had some personal connection with Allah or something.

He first talked about the beautiful religion of islam. He says it gave him so much peace and tranquillity. I really felt as if this man had some personal connection with Allah or something. Ok, if I wanted to get technical, I could perhaps fault his quotations from the Quran but that would be besides the point completely. The Quran was not his hymnbook, it was his jumping off point, his springboard. Perhaps his springboard usage wasn’t great but he more than made it up with his physical prowess (still sticking to the metaphor here). I’m referring to his deep intuition of what was islam and I was intently listening.

He also spoke of some of the more unsavoury characters he has had to ferry over the years. One in particular disgusted him by saying we shouldn’t feel bad for those who are suffering in the cold if they are ‘kuffar’ (infidels). He replied by first asking permission to the Islamofascist if he could speak freely. When he got permission to do, he said to him, if you were in the hospital seriously ill and the doctor said, I don’t want to treat him because he’s a Muslim, what would you do? Not many can argue with such logic.

He also had a wonderful ‘feel’ for the hadith and sunnah. Prophet Muhammad is known in the Muslim world as ‘rahmah lil ‘alameen’ (mercy to the worlds, Traditional translations tell us) but with the presence of Islamofascism, one can rarely feel it these days. But he didn’t forget. He knew of some stories which captured the essence of the Prophet’s character. Even I, a Quranist, who haven’t been moved by these stories for so long felt the love for the Prophet again. Were these stories ‘sahih’ (authentic)? I don’t know. I would ask , were those stories authentic? The stories of him calling for the subjugation of mankind and forcing them into Islam? Our cabbie said, if they were authentic, he would not able to feel what he felt in Islam. That was good enough for me.

And so went on our happy chatter for the better part of an hour (traffic was heavy and it was a long-ish journey). Our cabbie told us about what he thought the Muslim world needed. To stop exploiting each and to go back to the basics. Islam was a religion for humanity. We are to be good neighbours to each other. We are not to force each other into our respective religions. We are to hold back our negative emotions and try to be patient (this man was the Job of cab drivers, believe me).

Finally we arrived at our destination with time to spare. Despite my fears, I did not want to say anything because I knew our cabbie. would just chalk whatever happens down to it being fated by Allah. Such was his absolute reliance. It turned out I had my epiphanic experience even before I arrived at the studio having an intellectual discussion. And it was all thanks to Shiekh Al-Cabbie.

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