Driving Halal in America [Archives:2008/1201/Reportage]

October 23 2008
Abdulilah Alshaief, Fouads brother-in-law who works part time with him, stood up to leave the gathering and go wait for one of Fouads dispatch.
Abdulilah Alshaief, Fouads brother-in-law who works part time with him, stood up to leave the gathering and go wait for one of Fouads dispatch.
Shaker Lashuel
For the Yemen Times

The phone rang and Fouad Alghaithi quickly picked it up to answer; “United Cab Service,” he said with confidence. With one hand holding the phone and the other reaching for the pen, Fouad listened to the request of the caller and began to write the address on the piece of paper in front of him. He told the caller that the car would be in front of the caller's house in five to ten minutes. As the dispatcher of this work shift, Fouad then picked up his other cell phone and called one of the drivers working for his company. Fouad's company owns four cars and makes good money for him and the drivers. He hopes to expand it in order to take a bigger share of the car transportation business in the San Francisco area. Like a smart businessman, Fouad is conservative with his estimates and very careful with his numbers. He talks about expanding his company to ten cars for now but he also talked admiringly about another Palestinian-American car owner who has almost 40 cars working for him.

Liquor Salary

Fouad's first job in U.S. was working in shops. He was not used to this kind of job in Yemen, but after arriving in the U.S. he realized how limiting and confining the stores were. More than that, Fouad loathed working at the counter in front of shelves of liquor bottles. He did not consider his money halal; it was a liquor salary. Halal money is that which comes from doing honest work and has nothing to do with selling beer or pork which is forbidden to consume or sell in Islam. In 1998, one of Fouad's Arab friends who was driving a cab led him through the process of getting a license. Before long, Fouad was driving part time, and working in a grocery store part time. He was still learning the ropes and the roads. Fouad, a fast learner, began to pick up the language and navigation skills and soon driving became a full time work for him.

Halal Money

He is proud of his move, “it was good money, free hours and the best thing it was halal,” he said with a smile. Fouad's pride is well deserved. He was one of the first Yemenis to drive cabs in the San Francisco area and never hesitated to share what he had learned with other Yemenis who saw his success and joined him. He made it his job to help the ones who wanted to leave the stores for the halal money, the flexibility and freedom driving a cab provided them. Fouad began to describe how he used to help others when his phone rang again. He ended the phone call and Abdulilah Alshaief, Fouad's brother-in-law who works part time with him, stood up to leave the gathering and go wait for one of Fouad's dispatch. The phone kept ringing which meant the streets were busy and Abdulilah was going to get a piece of the action. We wished him luck as he left.

Lake Misa'd or Lake Merced

Fouad continued, “We had a hard time with the older drivers because they did not know the language, we had to use names of places they know from back home, and symbols for letters.” We used codes like mathallah (umbrella) for “J” and gave areas names that sounded familiar to them so Lake Merced became “Lake Misa'd.” Mohamed Albadany added, he”had to learn the Yemeni names because all the Yemeni drivers used them.” Mohamed, a college student, took a semester off from school to make extra money to pursue a pharmaceutical degree. For Mohamed too, driving a cab in the San Francisco area and making halal money away from the confinement of stores is worth the risk and difficulties involved with driving in a busy city like San Franscisco.

Finding a New Way

Fouad had crossed the line that kept many Yemenis working in the grocery and liquor stores and because of his move many others followed. Along with Fouad's brothers and relatives, friends whom he grew up with in Yemen like Ahmed Abdulrab, and Abdullah Alfageeh also joined his company. Some of them work with him part time, some rent cars from him while others use their own cars.

Content with Halal

Ahmed and Abdullah are content and happy working as cab drivers for now. They are content with the fact that the money is halal and that they have full control over their working days. They decide when to begin their working day, when to end it, when to go pray and when to go nap. For many young Yemenis who do not have their businesses the choice is between the “store or the cab” according to Abdullah. For Abdullah, Fouad, Ahmed the choice is obvious. Fouad is excited about building his new business and finding a niche in the bay area, while Abdullah, Ahmed and Mohamed are simply happy having freed themselves from standing in stores and surrounded by shelves filled with liquor bottles. They navigate the streets and freeways of San Francisco making the right turns living guilt free knowing that they are driving halal.

Shaker Lashuel is a freelance writer based in the United States of America. His writings have focused on Yemeni, and Yemeni-American issues. He can be reached by e-mail [email protected]