Joseph S. Fulda
Joseph Fulda is a freelance writer living in New York City. He is the author of Eight Steps Towards Libertarianism.
Ralph Peters, in his September 7, 2006, New York Post column, has pointed out that only "a minority of a minority" of Muslims are in sympathy with the fanatics of Islam, who regard Wahhabism as the "true Islam" and take every one of its tenets literally. Peters goes on to note in his column that those who come to America leave behind them the environments which they escaped and become loyal citizens: "The problem," he writes, "isn't the man or woman of faith, but the cultural environment. Once free of the maladies of the Middle East, Muslims thrive in America. Like the rest of us."
My first experience with a practicing Muslim came in 1994 at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where I agreed to teach a single course as an adjunct faculty member for one semester. (The experience itself is described in this journal in October 1995, pp. 39-41.) This student would offer me rides across the bridge into Manhattan, and no matter how hard I tried, he refused to accept even the bridge toll. (My normal practice was to pay students who drove me less than a taxi would cost me, but enough to compensate for their expenses and time at a level considered quite respectable for a college student.) Now, this might not be thought so unusual during the semester, even though it had never happened to me before. The real surprise, however, came after the semester was over. I took work for almost two years at a software firm doing some of their technical writing. That company, entirely coincidentally, rented space in an office tower located on the Fairleigh Dickinson University campus where I had taught. Every time the student saw me walking towards the bus stop, perhaps five times in all, he treated me with the same respect as he had when he was my student-and drove me home gratis. Many Muslims, like many Asians and like Orthodox Jews (such as myself), treat their teachers with extraordinary respect. This particular student (who was on a visa from Saudi Arabia) treated me with the utmost respect, very possibly more than any other student I had had.
Much more telling is a more recent experience that occurred after September 11. My wife and I were invited to a friend's home for the Sabbath, and due to a combination of the small margin of time we left and the complete lack of the cooperation of the subway system, we decided we had no choice but to turn back. At that time of year, when the Sabbath starts early, but not extremely early, disembarking from a subway train at that time coincides with the taxi drivers' change-of-shift. A good number of cabs refused to take us for that reason.
Finally, a religious Muslim agreed to take us-even though he, too, was rushed because he had to turn over his cab to the next shift's driver. It was very late. I knew, as did my wife, that we would be at his mercy. So I struck up a conversation. I told him we were Orthodox Jews, who keep holy days just like Muslims do. My wife added that although Jewish women do not cover their entire faces with a veil, they are required upon marriage to cover their hair. His response was that this was "very good." Normally, the Sabbath is accepted some 15-18 minutes before sundown, as our way of showing how beloved it is to us. But the final 3 minutes of this extension are part of the Biblical requirement to bring the holiness of the Sabbath into the week, and it was within those 3 minutes that we arrived home. During the fifteen minutes prior to that, we explained all the rules of the Jewish Sabbath to the Muslim driver. He listened intently. He took the money, including-of course a generous tip from us-without our having to give it to him, which we could not. He did not a take a penny more.
He opened the car door for us, so we did not have to, and which we could not. He carried our bags from the street to the building-because carrying in a public domain is prohibited to Jews on their Sabbath. He then proceeded to carry our bags upstairs, because some items in the bag are better not moved on the Sabbath (e.g., a shaver, which cannot be used on the Sabbath, should not be moved at all.) We urged him to take the elevator, explaining that although we could not take the elevator, there was no reason for him to carry two people's heavy bags up staircases. His response was "If you must walk up the stairs, I will, too." We invited him in for a snack and drink, but he declined because we had made him so late for the change of shift. If this does not describe a servant of God, I do not know what does. *
"I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons." -Will Rogers