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Get out of the cab

"Get out of the cab" Continued...

Issue: "Iraq and terrorism," Nov. 11, 2006

Jamal, who like most of the cab drivers is a Muslim immigrant from Somalia, says MAS is an organization of Middle Eastern Muslims attempting to fold Minnesota's large population of Somali Muslims into its divisive political campaign. "If this is a serious Islamic law issue, how come it doesn't exist at every airport in this country?" he asks. "They've been driving the taxis for the last 20 years. How come it became an issue now all of a sudden? Were all the Muslims born again?"

MAS leader Mohamud, who is Somali, contends that just such a revival occurred, that nominal Muslims began practicing their faith. He says that as more Muslims do the same, similar issues will continue to spring up throughout the country. Asked if he believes local governments should enforce Shariah law in communities dominated by Muslim immigrants, Mohamud replied, "I believe in American democracy, which is majority rules."

The website for the Minnesota chapter of MAS underscores "the call of Islam to Muslim masses all over the world to reestablish Islam as a total way of life." An investigative report by the Chicago Tribune in September 2004 documented links between MAS and the Muslim Brotherhood, an extreme underground movement. The Tribune contended that MAS developed as the public face of a mission to establish Islamic law in the United States by democratic means.

Mohamud stated last week that no connection exists between MAS and the Muslim Brotherhood, but he defended the Brotherhood as not one of the terrorist organizations under official watch by the U.S. State Department. He also argued that seeking government sponsorship for an Islamic prohibition on transporting alcohol fits in with U.S. history: "The American government banned the consumption of alcohol and wine in the 1920s. At that time, the American system had government to enforce that."

If MAS wins this battle, other developments are likely. In England and Australia, Muslim taxi drivers have refused to transport blind passengers with seeing-eye dogs, arguing that dogs are unclean. The British have also been debating whether Muslim women can wear veils that obscure their faces in ID photographs for passports or licenses.

Many "slippery slope" questions affecting not only Islam remain. A decision by Minneapolis Metro Transit authorities last month accommodated a driver's wish not to operate buses with a gay-themed advertisement. The bus driver objected on religious grounds to a billboard with a photo of a young man and the slogan "Unleash Your Inner Gay." Transit authorities agreed to assign the driver only to buses that do not feature the ad, but later said they regretted that decision: "We are not persuaded that advertising infringes on religious practices, and would be reluctant to make similar accommodations in the future."

Some observers note the difference between actions of a private business and those of government authorities on public land. For example, many Christian pharmacists in private businesses have refused to fill prescriptions for the morning-after pill.

Many American government bodies have been very accommodating to Muslims, often setting aside special rooms for noontime prayers. In recent years some classic Supreme Court cases have concerned claims of religious liberty in areas as unlikely as peyote-smoking, and it's often small cases that lead to major decisions.

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