My Muslim Taxi Driver's Definition of Extremism [Chicago Day 5]
As I got in his taxi after Church, my taxi driver exclaimed his sadness that there is war in the world, declaring that he (as a Muslim) and me (as a Christian) can have a wonderful conversation and focus on the similarities, rather than the differences, of our religions.
And that started one of the many perspective-changing conversations I seem to have with my taxi drivers.
Imran is originally from a small town near Mumbai, India. He has been driving taxi for about 18 years and is married (but he and his wife have been having miscarriages and so far, unable to have children, though he repeatedly said they pray for it, "God willing"). He had his Quran in his car and it was obvious he is a devoted student to his scriptures. The moment I got in the car, I had such a good vibe from this man.
A few lines that stuck out in our conversation are the following:
"When Jesus Christ comes down I will be the first to go to him - I will be the first to be with him and help kill the anti-Christ. I believe in Jesus!"
He said that in order to be a Muslim, he must believe in Jesus as a prophet. He then asked me if I thought Muhammad was a prophet and I replied that I believe he is an inspired man by God - to which he responded, "but that is a prophet!" :) I then shared that Mormons are unique because we know that God has always called prophets and continues to call prophets today. So for the rest of the conversation he was quick to say, "the LAST prophet" whenever he referred to Muhammad. :)
After I mentioned "extremist groups" several times, he stopped me and said,
"There is a BIG difference between extremism and terrorism. Extremism is those who serve God, love our fellow man, spread peace. You are extremist in your religion because you live your religion fully. I am extremist in my religion because I live my religion fully. What they do is not extremism, it is terrorism. There is a BIG difference between extremism and terrorism."
This statement was an absolute paradigm shift for me to realize that he is absolutely 100% right. What these people are doing around the world is "terrorism" - there is nothing religious about it, other than what they declare as they do it. To call it extreme religion is to soften what is truly happening: terrorism.
"If someone were to come to your home and try to rape you, what would your fathers and brothers do to him? Kill him, do whatever they can to stop him. THAT is jihad. Jihad is not terrorism. Muhammad taught: Never fight first, never attack first, just self-defense."
At BYU I studied the term "jihad" for a short time and how the rhetoric of a "holy war" is used by terrorist groups as a call to battle. I did not even ask him about jihad, but I appreciated his forwardness in clarifying doctrines that are thrown around in the rhetoric of modern day journalism and politics.
"There is only one God. There is no Son or family. He is alone and he cannot tolerate us saying that he has a family. I must tell you this so you know, so I can stand before God and tell him that I did my best to tell Destiny."
Imran was so kind to share what he felt to be true with me. I could tell that he was sharing this with his whole soul because he cared about me. He wanted me to go to Heaven so he was adamant in declaring that I must learn the truth about one God.
I continuously thanked him for caring enough to share this with me openly. As I shared my thoughts and beliefs, I could tell it was hard for him to hear - just as it was hard for me to hear his perspectives on how Jesus didn't take our sins and is not the Son of God. BUT, the wonderfulness of these kind of conversations is that we both left that conversation respecting each other's strong beliefs and feeling that we had done what we are asked to do by God: share the truth.
As we parted, I told him I would pray to Heavenly Father for he and his wife's ability to have children and Imran sent blessings to my family.
I have such joy in meeting people from every walk of life on these trips. Every one of my taxi drivers and I have had incredible conversations - usually regarding religion and peace.
As Imran and I were driving through Chicago, I saw this wonderful sign on the window of a church:
Of course we welcome refugees - we're Christians.
All but one of my taxi drivers have been hard-working immigrants from India, Somalia, and Bangladesh with families, morals, and religious beliefs. These are the vast majority that are coming over as immigrants and refugees - moral people willing to work hard to make a peaceful living. I could not help but read this sign and know, deep in my soul, that this is the message of Christianity that we must hold to.
How grateful I am to be part of a faith that 100% welcomes and supports refugees around the world! [Speaking of which, Elder Uchtdorf is currently visiting refugee camps in Europe and giving funding from member's fast offerings. How awesome is that!]
Like I said, all but one of my taxi drivers have been immigrants, my other taxi driver was a hard-working man from Memphis who shared his perspective on promoting peaceful change as a black man. He and I were in the taxi together when we heard about the additional 3 police officers killed in Baton Rouge. Again, in a time when tension is high, we were able to have a deep conversation about the absolute need for peace and healing when our nation seems to be falling apart.
These are the conversations that never leave me - they change my perspective on life and make me a better person. Respectful discussions on differences in opinion give me hope for the world - something that I desperately need this year.
Traveling just opens the door for growing in understanding. Happy travels, all!
P.S. I didn't get to share about church this morning. I was able to go the YSA ward in downtown Chicago, held in an elementary school. A new sister who was baptized this last week was confirmed and just GLOWED. The blessing said that everyone before her and after her is celebrating her decision to become and member who can now be baptized for them. The first talk in sacrament meeting was by a young sister on the autism spectrum who shared that the Lord helps her love the best parts of herself. As I was leaving, I met a man who was wandering around with a bible in his hand who told me his friend from Nigeria had been encouraging him to visit The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so I was able to show him where church was being held. So awesome to see the work of the Lord move forward! :)
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