Thursday, October 26, 2006

Minneapolis Muslim cab driver controversy gets an angle.

Culture: The question I and others have been thinking about when this whole Muslim cab drivers from Somolia refusing to carry passengers with alcohol in their cabs is when/why/how did this pop up. It has grown over the last couple of years to be a serious problem. Couple of weeks ago we found out the Muslim American Society who is the American branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was behind the push. Now we find out it goes much deeper than just a push for lights.

"But many Somali drivers at the airport are refusing to carry passengers with alcohol. When I asked Patrick Hogan, Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman, for his explanation, he forwarded a fatwa, or religious edict, that the MAC had received. The fatwa proclaims that "Islamic jurisprudence" prohibits taxi drivers from carrying passengers with alcohol, "because it involves cooperating in sin according to the Islam." The fatwa, dated June 6, 2006, was issued by the "fatwa department" of the Muslim American Society, Minnesota chapter, and signed by society officials. The society is mediating the conflict between the cab drivers and the MAC. That seems odd, since the society itself clearly has a stake in the controversy's outcome. How did the MAC connect with the society? "The Minnesota Department of Human Rights recommended them to us to help us figure out how to handle this problem," Hogan said. Omar Jamal, director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, thinks he knows why the society is promoting a "no-alcohol-carry" agenda with no basis in Somali culture. "MAS is an Arab group; we Somalis are African, not Arabs," he said. "MAS wants to polarize the world, create two camps. I think they are trying to hijack the Somali community for their Middle East agenda. They look for issues they can capitalize on, like religion, to rally the community around. The majority of Somalis oppose this, but they are vulnerable because of their social and economic situation."
The agenda of the MAS group becomes clear.
Hassan Mohamud is vice president of the society's Minnesota chapter. The society is independent and has no connection with the Muslim Brotherhood, he said. The Minnesota chapter's website, however, states that the organization's roots lie in the Islamic revival movement that "brought the call of Islam to Muslim masses ... to reestablish Islam as a total way of life." Mohamud says the society has three goals: to present the "real image" of Islam in American society, to preserve the identity of Muslims here and to "make that identity fit without having clashes between cultures and laws." He emphasizes, however, that Muslims must follow shari'a, or Islamic law, in every aspect of their lives. "There are two conflicting systems here -- two ways of life -- that want to live in the same place and respect each other," he says. The society aims to facilitate conciliation between the two. Mohamud adds that Americans need to learn about Islamic law because the Muslim population here is growing. That's why the proposed two-tier system for airport cabdrivers is important, he says. It could become a national model for accommodating Islam in areas ranging from housing to contractual arrangements to the workplace. MAC officials will hold another meeting today about the airport controversy, and Mohamud says he will try to revive the two-tiered pilot project for taxis. Whatever the meeting's outcome, we now have reason to believe that the issue is only a prologue to a larger drama playing out in Minnesota and the United States.
One small battle in Minneapolis I gather they didn't think would get this much attention. On another note the Wash Post finally send out a reporter to cover this and comes out with an article that is the complete opposite in some respects on certain positions.
Washington Post's Kari Lydersen: "....If you are a cabdriver and a practicing Muslim, you can't carry alcohol," said Idris Mohamed, an adjunct professor of strategic management at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. "It would be the same for a practicing Christian trying to honor their beliefs." Somalis interviewed at several late-night coffee shops on a strip of Somali grocery stores, cafes and money-transfer outlets in downtown Minneapolis all thought Muslim drivers should have the right to refuse passengers visibly carrying alcohol. "If the passengers don't show what they're carrying, it's not a problem," said Abdi Ahmed, 20, working in a lively, no-frills basement coffee shop where young Somali men crowded around a TV set watching soccer. "But if you're openly carrying it, Muslims don't accept that."
Star Tribune's Katherine Kersten: "...An animated circle of Somalis gathered when the question of the airport controversy was raised. "I was surprised and shocked when I heard it was an issue at the airport," said Faysal Omar. "Back in Somalia, there was never any problem with taking alcohol in a taxi." Jama Dirie said, "If a driver doesn't pick up everyone, he should get his license canceled and get kicked out of the airport." Two of the Somalis present defended the idea that Islam prohibits cabdrivers from transporting passengers with alcohol. An argument erupted. The consensus seemed to be that only a small number of Somalis object to transporting alcohol. It's a matter of personal opinion, not Islamic law, several men said. Ahmed Samatar, a nationally recognized expert on Somali society at Macalester College, confirmed that view. "There is a general Islamic prohibition against drinking," he said, "but carrying alcohol for people in commercial enterprise has never been forbidden. There is no basis in Somali cultural practice or legal tradition for that."
Much as I loathe the Red Star Tribune, their article smokes the Washington Post by a lot in terms of depth and giving answers to why this situation is being created.

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