After graduating from university in 2009, I worked as a systems controller for numerous family-run taxi firms in my hometown of Bedford. Whilst seeking a full-time job in journalism, what became apparent to me was the shocking racist and Islamophobic attitudes many white Britons had towards Islam and Muslims, especially after they’d “had a few bevies” on the weekend, writes Dilly Hussain.
The Department for Transport’s National Taxi and Private Hire Statistics 2011 recorded 299,200 taxi drivers in Britain.
One in seven are of Pakistani ethnicity, one in eight are of Bangladeshi ethnicity and two in seven cab drivers in the UK are Muslim. The majority of Muslim taxi drivers are located in London, West Yorkshire, the Midlands and the South East.
It is a well-established fact amongst taxi drivers – particularly those who work night shifts and weekends – that at some point during their time in the taxi trade, they will face some sort of abuse. The abuse could range from verbal, physical or generally negative body language from customers who perceive them as “inferior”.
Many of the “old school” drivers have become immune to these attacks, usually ignoring it with a smile or simply accepting the reality that abuse from drunk customers is part and parcel of their job.
The motives behind the abuse ranges from racial, intoxicated aggression, disputes over fares and most recently post 9/11 and 7/7, Islamophobia. As an avid reader of the monthly Private Hire Magazine, the official publication of the National Private Hire Association, I always read stories about violent attacks against Asian or Muslim taxi drivers.
But not all the stories reported in the PHM depict Muslim cab drivers as the victims.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Whilst many in society (when they’re sober from the night before) appreciate and accept that taxi drivers are one of the backbones of everyday life in Britain, there is a darker side to world of cabbing.
Besides the obvious fact that the taxi service cleans up the streets of Britain more effectively than the police do (by taking drunk clubbers to their homes after a messy weekend), their exposure to that very “un-Islamic” lifestyle can sometimes entice them.
A pattern emerged from my reading of the PHM for the last three years, monitoring regional news and mainstream media, that a significant minority of Muslim taxi drivers have been arrested and charged for drug couriering, sexual offenses and involvement in grooming of young girls.
Taxi driver Mohammed Nadeem from Bedfordshire was given a four years prison sentence for being caught in possession of two kilograms of heroin whilst driving back from Teeside, Middlesborough in January 2012. Mr Nadeem was part of a 10 man drug ring from Middlesborough.
Also in 2012, father of six Tamur Yaqub from Oldham was imprisoned for eight years for raping a 15 year old girl in the back of his taxi.
Most recently, the grooming gangs of Rochdale, Derby and Nottingham also included taxi drivers.
But the above examples can in no way be linked to Islam or Muslim men’s “perception of women”, as the mainstream media and politicians have openly suggested.
From my personal experience in the grimey world of night-time cabbing, its the open exposure to vices and western society’s marketing of women as objects of sexual pleasure that influences these minority of Muslim taxi drivers who cannot control their whims and desires.
Owner of a Derby taxi firm, Wahid Iqbal said to me: “Islam or Asian culture can’t be blamed for these isolated incidents. Its a well known fact that women in Islam are treated with honour and dignity.
“The blame lies in the individuals themselves, also fueled by the way western society markets women and sex.”
What I also recall from my time as a taxi controller was the consistent questioning of Islam and Muslims by usually drunk non-Muslim customers.
Not all the queries and comments were bad, some were genuine and others even commendable in regards to fasting whilst cabbing, prayer breaks during shifts and not charging customers extra on Eid.
However, most of the time, I have witnessed rants rather than queries regarding Muslims, terrorism, questioning why Muslims support Afghanis and Iraqis against British troops when they reside, work and live in this country.
I have witnessed attacks, hales of Islamophobic abuse and pure words of ignorance every weekend from drunk customers. Now many may argue that intoxication was the reason for their utterances, but I have always believed alcohol usually brings out the true colour of people.
The usual victims of Islamophobic attacks have been cab drivers with beards, wearing mosque caps and thobes, or who had Islamic symbols hanging on their car mirrors.
Muhammed Hussain from Preston had been in the taxi trade for 10 years. He was punched, spat at on his face and his car damaged last year when he asked for his fare of £4.50 from a group of two white males and a female. His attackers threatened to kill him, called him a “Paki” and said they’d “chop his beard off”. The perpetrators were charged with racially aggravated assault and criminal damage, and imprisoned for two years.
He said to me: “I was attacked for being visibly Muslim. I have been a taxi driver for over 10 years, and attacks like this have increased.
“If a Muslim can’t wear a mosque hat or keep a beard out of fear of being attacked whilst working, what kind of life is this?”
I personally wouldn’t advise Muslim men, especially those born here, to get into taxis. The money might be good but it really does require patience that may not last when you understand English and the nature of certain comments.
Patience with customers over fares, the way customers behave and treat you in your own car and most importantly, patience to refrain from vices and chit-chat with pretty clubbers which can easily develop into something worse.
You can follow Dilly Hussain on Twitter @DillyHussain88