Decency drives cabbie to do right thing


Published February 15, 2007
John Kass

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-0702150112feb15,1,129822.column

Dave and Marge--they asked that I not use their last
names in this column--are usually suspicious of
strangers, with good reason.

They live out in the sticks, in the country, just on
the far edge of suburban sprawl. And, though they
visit Chicago often, Marge always keeps an eye on her
purse and Dave taps his wallet to make sure it's
there.

Dave's brothers had been victims of pickpockets in the
past. And Dave's sisters were victimized by identity
thieves and had their credit ruined. All this has
naturally made Dave and Marge wary of strangers.

But they weren't wary in the cab driven by Ziarat
Khan, who recently drove Dave and Marge to the train
station after a wine tasting at the Drake Hotel.

After the cab ride, Marge's wallet was missing, with
more than $200 in cash. And later, Dave contacted me.

"The fare was only $8," Dave said. "I gave him a $10
and told him to keep it. My wife pulled her wallet out
of her purse and took some singles out, and I said, `I
don't need it, Marge.'"

They were running late, Marge stuffed the singles back
into her coat pocket, and they rushed out of Khan's
cab, hurrying to buy train tickets. At the ticket
counter, Marge reached for her wallet.

"But she didn't have her wallet. `Check your coat
pockets!' I said. It wasn't there. So we ran out in
front of the train station. We thought maybe it fell
out on the curb."

There was no wallet at the curb, and Khan was gone.
They had enough for train tickets, and on the ride
home they must have thought about the cabbie counting
Marge's cash, smiling at the find.

Just then Dave's cell phone rang. It was the credit
card company.

"They said, `We just got a call from a taxi driver,
saying they found your wallet in the cab." I said,
`Ahhh, good.'"

The company forwarded Khan's telephone number and Dave
called, and they arranged a meeting at the station.
Khan had Marge's wallet. Another fare, a woman, found
it in the back seat and handed it to Khan untouched.

"He recognized me. But he still wanted to check my
address," Dave said. "He was being very careful. We
compared the address on my driver's license to that of
my wife's, and they were identical."

But Khan wasn't through. He insisted that Dave comb
through his wife's wallet. The money was all there,
too.

"And all the credit cards?" asked Khan.

Yes, Dave said.

Overwhelmed, Dave tried to give him a $100 reward. But
Khan refused. Dave insisted. Khan refused again and
again. It became awkward.

"He just wouldn't take anything," Dave said. "And the
last thing he said before he left is, `Allah be
praised.'"

We caught up with Ziarat Khan, who didn't want to talk
about what he'd done, but we pressed him. He said he
had no choice in the matter. "Allah has punished me in
the past," he said. "And my religion says don't cheat
with them. If I cheat with them, somebody is going to
cheat with me. Allah, he is still Allah, for every
person."

But why not take the reward?

 "I told him, `We'll get a reward.' But he wanted to
give me money. If you help somebody, if you do good
things, the day after judgment you will get rewarded,"
Khan said.

Khan understood the reward was offered as a kindness.
But it embarrassed him nevertheless. It also
embarrasses him to speak of it, because to speak of
such things is considered boastful.

"I don't want to show up anyone," he said. "I work 18
hours. I do good things. We don't do this kind of
stuff to take that kind of reward, money, because we
believe we don't take anything that doesn't belong to
us. Because we are Muslims and we are honest people,
and we believe you cannot do anything wrong and follow
your religion."

When it comes to right and wrong, there are no shades
of gray, are there? Still, in America, the shades of
gray have been elevated, celebrated, held triumphant
above black and white. We're taught "situational
ethics" in our schools. We glorify Donald Trump. We're
encouraged to admire those who thrive in the gray
areas, as befits the subjects of a modern, secular
society.

But Khan is not modern in this sense. Shame and honor
are not abstract constructions.

And they weren't abstract constructions for another
cabdriver I wrote about years ago, either, an honest
man named Tillmon Lindsey, a Christian, who smashed a
stranger's car and tracked the man down to pay for the
damage.

And they weren't abstractions for the unknown woman of
unknown faith--or perhaps of no faith--who found the
wallet and gave it, intact, to Khan.

"It shocked me three times. She was honest," Dave
said. "He was honest. And he absolutely refused to
take a reward."

This is a small story compared with what's going on in
the rest of the world. But these four people had
something in common that should be celebrated too.
Decency.

Decency shared from the unknown woman, from Khan, to
Dave and Marge.

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jskass@tribune.com








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