Lessons from British taxi driversBy Stephen Kriss
Just before the world’s eyes were on London for the Olympics, I traveled with a group of Eastern Mennonite Seminary students to the U.K. to visit Anabaptist-related groups.
It was a good time to visit, despite arriving in the rainiest June on record, in the weeks wedged between the queen’s celebrations and the Games. With last-minute Olympic preparations everywhere, we explored the East London neighborhoods shaped by immigrant waves, most recently those from South Asia, including many Muslims.
Our best conversations with Muslims kept happening in taxi cabs with drivers who asked questions and made assertions about their identity and ours.
Some researchers say that by 2050, if not before then, most weekends will have more Muslims in mosques than Christians in churches in the U.K. This invites new images and realities to emerge, challenging and at times perpetuating cultural and religious stereotypes.
It’s not England as imagined. It’s transforming. It’s an England where chicken tikka masala is more common than fish and chips. It’s a land of plural identities and possibilities. It’s the fruit of empire, both a gift and a challenge.
In these taxicab conversations, our drivers readily asserted Islam is ultimately about peace. In discovering we were from the U.S., they wanted us to know that Islam was a religion of peace.
It was an interesting first assertion. It wasn’t the first line that we’d use in explaining ourselves or our own identities as Christians. But we found ourselves several times explaining to these incredulous taxi drivers that we believed following Jesus was also the way of peace.
We had the same driver for a nearly three-hour trip from Birmingham to East London. Our driver was announcing to his friends on his iPhone in Urdu that he was driving a minivan of American Christians to East London, where he also planned to visit his brother.
He said that in mosques, both in England and in Pakistan, imams tell us your wars in the Middle East are wrong. He wondered if American Christians hear sermons about wars.
I said not all of us thought the wars were right or good or just. He wondered why we are not more vocal.
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