Some Muslim Cabbies Refuse Fares Carrying Alcohol

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 26, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS -- The ban on carrying liquids on commercial airliners has had an unintended consequence in Minneapolis: It has made catching a cab easier.

Over the past few years, a growing number of Somali taxi drivers in the Twin Cities have been interpreting Koranic prohibitions on carrying alcohol to include ferrying passengers with alcohol in their bags.

"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."

When flight attendant Eva Buzek returned to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from France in March and told a cabdriver to be careful with her bag because there was wine in it, she was shocked at the response she got from the Somali Muslim driver.

"He said, 'I don't take alcohol,' " Buzek said in an interview this month. She said she was refused service by three more drivers. Then in August, Buzek told cabdrivers that she had wine in her bag even though she did not, just to test responses. She said four drivers refused her service that time as well.

"Some people have been refused by driver after driver after driver," said Pat Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

Last month, the airports commission proposed putting colored lights on top of cabs to indicate which ones will carry alcohol, a compromise worked out in discussions ongoing since May with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. But the commission got about 2,000 e-mails opposing the idea and announced this month that it had scuttled the plan.

"Opposition came from both sides politically," Hogan said. "There are people who say, 'If they don't like the job, they should go back to Somalia.' And on the other side people are saying, 'We support diversity, but the Christian right is trying to tell us what to do, and now we're getting it from Muslims, too.' People were saying they wouldn't take a cab at all. . . . There was concern the industry as a whole would suffer."

About three-quarters of the 900 taxi drivers who serve the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport are Somali Muslims. The Twin Cities have the country's largest Somali population and are home to most of the state's about 11,200 Somalis.

"This is a Somali issue more than a Muslim issue," said Hogan, noting that Muslim drivers from other countries tend not to interpret the Koran the same way.

Younes, a Muslim cabdriver from Iran who asked that his last name not be used, has no problem transporting passengers with alcohol. "People are tired; they want to get home. You should just give them service no matter what," he said.

Drivers have to go to the end of the line if they refuse a passenger, which can mean a three-hour wait for another fare. "So if you turn down two passengers, you're waiting six hours," said airport taxi driver Abbsilan Hassa, 36.

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