A bus driver, a prayer mat, and seven minutes of cultural tolerance
As the driver unrolled his prayer mat on the floor, the waiting passengers outside chatted among themselves.
It's 3:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon. My daughter Alicia has just finished with her musical – she had a solo to sing – and hurries to catch the bus to her gymnastics class.
The bus pulls up and about six people line up to get on. But, somehow, the door doesn't open. It remains shut. What's going on?
Curious, Alicia peeps inside. The driver unrolls a little rug on the dirty floor of the bus and gets down on his hands and knees.
Oh, he is going to pray? OK.
Some of the would-be-passengers talk to one another while they wait for him to finish. It takes about seven minutes. Then the driver rolls up the rug and invites the passengers in. They climb aboard.
No one says anything, really. It is no big deal. The only problem is that Alicia, a sixth-grader in German public school, is going to be late by 10 minutes or so getting to her gymnastics class. She gets nervous thinking about her trainer scolding her: She has a competition coming up.
Alicia has forgotten her keys, so I have come to meet her at Frankfurt's Turnhalle building – only to realize she is not there.
"Where have you been?" I say, trying hard to hide my discontent, when she finally shows up.
She, of course, can't read my mind. She can't see I've been worried to death, knowing full well how reliable public transportation is in Germany. Has she missed her stop, ending up in a creepy, seedy downtown neighborhood? Worse, has she been kidnapped?
When Alicia tells me about the bus driver, I say, "And no one minded?
"Didn't anybody say, 'We don't have time for you to do this? We have places to go and need to be on our way?' "
The truth is, she can't remember anyone saying that kind of thing. "Mom," she tells me, "the man had to pray. Don't Muslims pray five times a day?"
At least, she says, this is what she learned in religion class at school.
* * *
A few months ago in London, a Muslim bus driver stopped his bus and, without telling his passengers, removed his shoes, placed a fluorescent jacket on the floor as a prayer mat, and began to chant in Arabic. Passengers were stranded for roughly five minutes.
The story is similar to Alicia's. But with one huge, meaningful difference. Passengers in London complained, and the bus company apologized. A young mother later reported she had been scared that the Muslim driver was planning to blow up the bus.
But that a driver would stop his bus and pray doesn't bother my 11-year-old. Let's hear it for this unconscious statement of cultural tolerance.