No Islamic Law in Minnesota

Date: 16 Oct 2006


No Islamic Law in Minnesota, for Now
by Daniel Pipes
October 16, 2006

A week ago, it appeared likely that Muslim taxi drivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport would win special dispensation to avoid transporting alcohol-carrying passengers. The Metropolitan Airports Commission had proposed to give those Shar'i-minded drivers an off-colored light atop their cabs, allowing them to remain in queue while customers with bottles found other cabs.

I opposed this "two-light solution," arguing in "Don't Bring That Booze into My Taxi" that it intrudes Islamic law into a mundane transaction of American commercial life. I urged readers who share my views to write the commission to make known their views.

On October 10, a few hours after my article first appeared, the commission met and reversed itself on the two-light solution. A press release issued later that day, "Proposed Taxi Test Program Canceled at Minneapolis-St. Paul International; Other Options Will be Considered To Improve Taxi Service," explained that public response to the proposed program "has been overwhelmingly against creation of a two-tiered taxi service system."

MAC executive director Jeff Hamiel noted that, based on public response to the proposed test program the test program (which never went into effect and will not be implemented)," it is clear that its implementation could have unintended and significant negative impacts on the taxi industry as a whole." Or, in the words of MAC's press release, "Some taxi service providers have expressed fears that people opposed to the program will choose other ground transportation options rather than take any taxi from the airport."

Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan further elaborated: Since the airport began making plans for the two-light solution, "we've heard from Australia and England. It's really touched a nerve among a lot of people. The backlash, frankly, has been overwhelming. People are overwhelmingly against any kind of cultural accommodation." That backlash, Hogan said, included 400 e-mails and phone calls.

I thank my readers, including those from Australia and England, who turned out in force and were apparently decisive in stopping this small but worrisome application of Islamic law.

Hassan Mohamud, vice president of Minnesota MAS, naturally expressed his disappointment in the decision. "More than half the taxi drivers are Muslim and ignoring the sensibilities of that community at the airport I think is not fair." But other Muslims publicly dismissed the drivers' fastidiousness. Mahmoud Ayoub, an Islamic scholar at Temple University, stressed that Islam bans drinking alcohol, not carrying it. "I know many Muslims who own gas stations [where beer is sold] and sell ham sandwiches. They justify it and I think rightly so, [saying] that they have to make a living."

The Free Muslims Coalition announced it is "disgusted" by the Muslim drivers' behavior, on two grounds: First, "Most Muslims don't agree that cab drivers are prohibited from transporting alcohol. Islam merely prohibits Muslims from drinking alcohol and those drivers are seeking to impose their religious values on others." Second, "When the cab drivers chose to drive a cab they entered into an agreement to perform a public service that is essential to the economy of any city. They have no right to refuse a fare because the passenger is holding a bottle of wine or other spirits." Kamal Nawash, president of the Free Muslims Coalition, added: "These taxi cab drivers basically think they're living in their own countries where it's OK to impose your religious beliefs upon others."

The MAC press release also contains information on another interesting point. The number of incidents has dropped drastically:

At the time discussion of the issue with the taxi industry began in May, cab drivers were refusing to transport customers with alcohol from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport 77 times per month, on average. However, recent changes in federal regulations now prohibit air travelers from taking most liquids  including alcoholic beverages  in quantities larger than three ounces through security checkpoints. Since the federal liquids prohibition went into effect in August, far fewer people are noticeably carrying alcohol through airports or subsequently being refused service by taxi drivers.

In a private conversation, Patrick Hogan specified that since the August 10 thwarted terrorist plot in London, there have only been about four incidents per month. Ironically, then, British Islamists plotting a terrorist operation in London effectively solved the problem for U.S. Muslims not wanting to transport alcohol in Minnesota.

For now, taxi drivers who refuse fares so as to avoid transporting alcohol will continue, as has been the case, to forfeit their place in the airport taxi queue and must return to the back of the line, in keeping with a MAC ordinance. But the Free Muslims Coalition correctly argues that this does not suffice. Cab drivers who discriminate against passengers with bottles of alcohol, it holds, "should be banned altogether from picking up passengers at the airport" and their hack permits should be cancelled.

Exactly. Islamists need to understand that the Constitution rules in the United States, not Shari'a, and Americans will vigorously ensure that it continues to do so.