This is the second time I’ve been in a Washington D.C. taxi on my way to the airport and learned a “secret of life.” Maybe it’s the quality of the cabbies here; most are foreign-born (lots from Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Indian subcontinent) and quite educated.

Mohammad is a smiling 41-year-old Pakistani man who recently became an American citizen. A college graduate, he came to the States to get a masters degree. He drove a cab at night to support himself and earn enough money to send for his wife. The financial demands were such that he worked more and studied less until he had to drop out of school.

We got to know each other when I asked him about the Native American medicine wheel hanging from his rear-view mirror. Mohammad said he got it from an American Indian friend who told him it was a good blessing. He liked it because it reminded him that in this country everybody could pray freely. He was Muslim but he didn’t care what a person’s religion was as long as their religion didn’t interfere with their humanity. When I asked him what he meant by that he said. “If I pray five times a day but I wouldn’t stop on my way to the mosque to help a wounded neighbor, then my religion would get in the way of my humanity.”

Raised in a traditional Moslem home, his marriage was arranged by his parents. Since he came from an educated family, they did not seal the deal with the prospective girl’s parents; instead, they gave him a choice of four potential wives. He met them all, and during their initial chaperoned meeting, after introductory conversations, Mohammad asked them all the same hypothetical question, which for him was the crucial deciding factor. What would she do in if she were driving home after work and saw an accident on the road — people were crowded around the injured person whom she could not see, nor could she see the vehicle. This was also about the same time her husband usually came home. Mohammad wanted to know if she would stop. (A religious Muslim woman is prohibited from looking at another man, especially one who might be exposed.)

Only one said she would stop, and that’s the one Mohammad chose to marry. He said if she did not let her religion get in the way of her humanity, then they could work out any potential problems in their marriage.

They have been married for eight years and have two children. Both of them work six days a week; he drives the cab during the day, and his wife cares for the children and works nights when he is with them.

I asked Mohammad if he had any regrets about leaving school and being a cab driver. He said, “No, I don’t compare myself to rich people. I don’t get jealous or angry; I don’t have any room for that. I embrace my life and welcome what comes. I look at what God has given me and have found riches more valuable than anything money can buy.”

As I listened to him I thought, whatever religion he’s got is the one I want to have. Here is another secret of life: it doesn’t matter how you pray or how often, a person of faith is one whose humanity comes before their religion.

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