“A man came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of God! Who Among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?”
I recently took a cab in New York. I said good morning to the driver, he said the same to me, and I told him I was going to Penn Station. He said, “I’m on the phone with my mother,” so I stopped talking.
Anyone who has taken a cab cross town in New York knows that it is faster than walking, but not by much. So, when the driver was done speaking with his mother, we had time to talk.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Pakistan,” he replied.
“Is your mother here in New York?
“No, she’s in Lahore,” he said. “It’s evening there.”
I then asked what language they were speaking, and he told me. “Punjabi.”
We talked for the rest of the ride, mostly about family. He has been in the United States for seventeen years, is a citizen, and loves this country. He has five grown children, all born in Pakistan. Some of them live there, some are here. They are well-educated, hold good jobs, and are married.
“Did you pick who they married?” I asked.
“Yes, I did,” he said, with a note of pride in his voice.
I wasn’t sure about my next question, but I asked it anyway. “Did your children have any say in the matter?”
“They sure did,” he told me, adding that they had rejected several of his choices before accepting one. “We all live together,” he added. “I bought a house.”
I told him that I know a little about Muslim family life from a book called The Bookseller of Kabul. “You’re the boss, right?”
The driver agreed that he is, but added that under Islam the mother gets “three times the respect.” As for the book I mentioned, he quickly pointed out that “they’re tribal,” referring to Afghanistan, “we are not.”
He’s been a New York cab driver for twelve years. When I asked whether he found the work stressful, he raised four fingers and told me that he has had quadruple bypass heart surgery, takes insulin daily for diabetes, and suffers other health problems. Some of them, he thinks, are job-related. Fortunately, two of the spouses he picked for his children are doctors, and “they do everything for me.”
When we arrived at the curb outside Penn Station, I tapped the screen to pay by credit card, managed to complete the transaction, including tip, and thanked the driver. I told him how much I had enjoyed our conversation,
“So have I,” he said.
We shook hands and then, to my own surprise, I said, “I’m Jewish.”
He was looking at me over his right shoulders and, to my even greater surprise, said, “We’re brothers.”
“The Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ The man said, ‘Then who?
The Prophet said, ‘Then your mother.’ The man further asked, ‘Then who?’
The Prophet said, ‘Then your mother.’ The man asked, ‘Then who?’
The Prophet said, ‘Then your father.’”