Cabbies ask for right to pray in airport queue

CLEVELAND -- A Muslim civil rights group is seeking a change in a new policy at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport that bans Muslim taxi drivers who leave their cabs to pray.

The Cleveland-based chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Standard Parking Co., which is contracted by the city to handle parking operations, enacted a new policy that prohibits cab drivers from leaving their vehicles while they wait in line to pick up arrivals at the airport.

The policy also bans prayer in the taxi queue and prohibits other cab drivers from advancing vehicles in the taxi line on the praying driver's behalf.

If seen praying, drivers will be in violation of the policy and could be banned from picking up fares.

A group of about 60 cab drivers, who are of Somali descent and Muslim, oppose the change because they said it limits their potential revenue and also prevents them from making Salaat, a five times-a-day prayer that Muslims must make at specific times.

The advocacy group said it will submit a letter to Mayor Frank Jackson signed by several mosque leaders and community activists who support them, said CAIR Executive Director Julia Shearson.

"We are not asking for them to give us special treatment ... we are asking under the Constitution, and under the law, to give us reasonable accommodations so our religious needs can be met," she said.

Jackson's office declined to comment.

Prior to the new policy, Muslim drivers would exit their taxis and pray, which takes up to five minutes. Other cabs in line would pass them and move up.

Taxi driver Abdisalan Abdi, who is Muslim, said he waits in line several hours to pick up one passenger. He said the new policy has hurt his earnings because when he leaves to pray, he has to start at the back of the line.

"So far, I've lost about 50 percent of my business."

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