During the month of Ramadan I tend to increase my use of Careem (Africa/Middle East version of Uber) out of not wanting to walk to various locations in the hot Cairo sun or get on an overcrowded bus when I’m fasting. So on one particular night as I had finished the night’s worship in another part of town, I ordered my Careem and stood waiting on the sidewalk for it to arrive. When it arrived I almost immediately wanted to cancel. He was driving so quickly and his tires screeched when he came to a halt in front of me. Nonetheless I placed my body inside and began invoking God’s protection and asking for forbearance and patience.
My hand reached for the button to lower my window to its lowest position so that my elbow could reach out and feel the wind. The ride started to speed up a bit and the music started to get louder. The driver eventually changed the station to some English music, which did nothing to make me feel any better about the ride. I continued to invoke God’s name on my tongue, asking for forgiveness for the lack of perfection in the day’s fast, and for my inability to worship the way I should have, and for the sins I undoubtedly will commit in the future. I thought of my duties as a husband and lover, son and brother, and my calls for forgiveness increased as the “AstagfirAllah (I seek forgiveness from God) rolled from my tongue. The music since the beginning of the ride was bothering me, especially as I had just gotten out of night prayers and a feeling of Divine tranquility was surrounding me, but I didn’t want to offend him and ask him to change it. It’s always awkward being that guy that wants to listen to Quran, or wants to pray, or wants to read a Quran in the company of those who you feel may judge you as being self-righteous. That is until Taylor Swift came on the station and I immediately beseeched the driver to change the radio to Quran. He looked at me surprised, with a look that I was used to receiving. The look of, did this black guy just ask me to change the station to Quran? At the time I was’t wearing any garments that would identify me as a Muslim and my name on his phone read Arthur Richards, so I supposed I needed to understand where he was coming from. I repeated my request.
He turned to me, “This is the first time someone has ever asked me to change the station to Quran.”
I’d be lying if I wasn’t shocked. After all, we are in Cairo where the call to prayer rings through the streets. Where the most unexpected women and men can begin reciting verses from the Quran as though it was revealed to them by the Angel Gabriel himself. “Really? That’s interesting. I love the words of God. Am I the first American you’ve ever driven?” I replied to him smiling, still occasionally invoking God.
He laughed. “American? No I’ve driven plenty of Americans, Malaysians, Egyptians, Saudis, and Arabs. But in general no one has told me to stop and put the Quran on. It is the best of speech and now you and I will listen to the best of speech together!” The voice of an Islamic teacher spoke to us through the speakers as he began to speak on the benefits of the nights of Ramadan.
“And though I love this, this isn’t the speech we were looking for.” We both laughed. I thought about how just moments before I was hesitant to ask him to change the station, I didn’t want to him to feel uncomfortable, to feel I was being self-righteous, but now here we were discussing the beauty of the Quran and the purpose of my life here in Cairo. Our conversation continued until he dropped me in front of my apartment building. I paid him, he smiled, and he went on his way, except this time, with the words of God blessing him and those that he passed on the narrow street, and he was driving a bit slower.
If your intention is in the right place, sometimes people may feel you’re self-righteous, and you may make someone feel uncomfortable, but the default is that your intention always comes through. When you speak from the heart, it goes to the heart. When you truly don’t see yourself as better than anyone else, then people see you as an equal. Maybe that driver knew that I was invoking God because I saw my self as a sinner, as broken and as one direly in need of God. Maybe he realised that I wanted to hear the words of God to calm my soul, to remind me of salvation and of His Mercy. Or maybe He too wanted to hear God’s words but didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable or that he was self-righteous.
Either way, at the end of the night it was a reminder for me, for him, and for all of those who believe.