Muslim Cab Drivers Object to Driving PassengersWith Alcohol

December 2, 2000

Source: Star Tribune

On December 2, 2000, the Star Tribune reported that "Muslim cabdrivers who object to transporting alcohol for religious reasons complain they are being forced to choose between their faith and their livelihoods at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Under airport policy, drivers must accept passengers who are carrying liquor--often bought at airport duty-free shops in the United States and abroad--or wait as long as four hours for another fare. Officials of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) said that drivers can refuse a fare for any reason, but that they then must go to the back of the taxi waiting line. Getting back up to the departure stand often takes hours and cuts into already tight profit margins, drivers said. The Council on American Islamic Relations-Minnesota is working with the Muslim drivers to get the MAC to change its rules. About 70 percent of the taxi drivers serving the airport are Muslim. 'There is a large group of Muslims out here,' said Damon Drake, the relations council chapter's outreach director. 'Now that the Muslims are here, they need to be accommodated.' Islam forbids using or being in the presence of alcoholic beverages, he said...Each day, Liban Mohamud, a Somali immigrant, is among nearly 600 taxi drivers who spend hours of their day waiting in a sea of taxis in a lot just off Post Road in Bloomington. He often spends time in a back room at a nearby SuperAmerica store where drivers play Nigerian checkers, eat and talk while watching a TV monitor that tells them when it's their turn for a fare. Mohamud said he once waited for hours, only to be turned back when he refused to take a passenger with a bottle of alcohol. Once is too often when a single fare can mean the difference between making and losing money for the day, he said...But not all drivers agree. 'To work out here is the choice of the driver,' said Tim Swiler, a driver who represents suburban drivers on the Taxi Advisory Board. 'We're talking about the choice to run a business. If you choose not to transport alcohol, that's your choice. It's the same choice if you decide not to take someone with a cane or a limp, a toupee or a bad hat. Go to the back of the line.'...The issue has rarely affected passengers, airport officials say. Normally it happens once or twice a day out of about 2,150 cab rides. But one day about four months ago, 16 drivers in a row refused a passenger carrying a visible alcohol bottle, the MAC's Johnson said. Returning Thursday from London, Jerr Boschee and Linda Ball of Eden Prairie said they brought back Scotch and vodka. As they waited for a taxi, they said they would be upset if they were turned away because of alcohol in their bags. 'It kind of goes with the job,' Ball said. 'I'm not drinking in the back of the cab.'...Tyrone Terrill, director of the St. Paul Department of Human Rights, said he has begun investigating, although his department has no jurisdiction at the airport. He said the issue could eventually affect St. Paul hotels and businesses...But driver Joseph Tsehai called the issue a matter of changing cultures. 'It is necessary, this change,' he said. 'It is not only necessary, it is humane. We don't have a choice.'"