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A Coin Toss with Juan the Super Shuttle Driver


Due to unexpected family matters, I found myself on a midnight cruise leaving George Bush International (oxymoron) Airport with Juan (not his real name), a Nicaraguan Super Shuttle Driver who was, in his own way, informed about national politics, and an active participant during presidential elections.

“Did you know that Bill Richardson is part Nicaraguan?” he asked me.  “I thought he was more experienced and better than both Hillary and Obama.”

I acknowledged that I didn’t know his ethnic heritage in detail and was only aware of his domestic and foreign policy credentials and experience.  Since Richardson hadn’t made it, I asked him, who would he be voting for this election.

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“You know, I voted in the last three elections Democrat – Clinton, Gore, and Kerry.  But this election, I don’t like any of those guys, they’re both crooks, they’re both the same.  When I go into the voting booth, I’m just going to flip a coin, that’s it.  Seriously.”

He was pretty serious.  I prodded a little more, asking why he didn’t like McCain.

“He’s just George Bush all over again.”

Score one for Obama’s political team for making that talking point / sound bite stick.  But what about Obama, I asked him, since he had voted consistently the past three elections for a Democrat.

“He needs to stop lying man.  He’s lying, and I don’t like it.”

Lying?  Don’t all politicians lie?  Wasn’t Bill Clinton one of the biggest liars?  Lying about what?

“That he’s Muslim.  You know, he went to school in Malaysia, he went to a Muslim school in Malaysia, so he’s Muslim, he ought to come out and tell the truth, that he’s Muslim.”

Was there something wrong with being a Muslim I asked, wondering if he realized that I was a Muslim.

“Ain’t nothing wrong with it.  You can be anything you want, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever, no problem, but you have to tell the truth about it, and he’s not telling the truth.  So this year, in the voting booth, I’m flipping a coin.”

The conversation soon shifted in other directions, but it reminded me of a quote from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich:

“The job of the candidate is to raise the money to hire the consultants to do the focus groups to figure out the 30-second answers to be memorized by the candidate. This is stunningly dangerous.”

As the old saying goes, heads, I win, tails, you lose.

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Siraaj is the Executive Director of MuslimMatters. He's spent over two decades working in dawah organizations, starting with his university MSA and going on to lead efforts with AlMaghrib Institute, MuslimMatters, and AlJumuah magazine. He's very married with wonderful children



  1. aarij

    November 2, 2008 at 12:27 AM

    With all due respect Siraaj, I don’t really understand the point of this post. Can you please elaborate a little bit more on why you posted this? Really seems very out-of-place.

    Also a side note, MM is turning into a politics blog…nothing wrong with that, but I’m just sick of the Obama/Palin/McCain talk on this blog. Can’t we talk about something else, like the Earthquake in Balochistan or Alaska’s first masjid ?? My $0.02.

  2. Osman

    November 2, 2008 at 12:45 AM

    I dont mind the extra emphasis on politics right now since it is important in the news.

  3. ibnabeeomar

    November 2, 2008 at 1:07 AM

    aarij – point taken. inshallah once the election is over, we can take a break from politics :P

    inshallah we have some good things planned coming up, so dont worry.

    btw, i thought this article was interesting. you really do learn the psychological effect that some of this propaganda can have on people

  4. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    November 2, 2008 at 2:25 AM

    bismillah. i think the article is great, mashaAllah. yes, we are a bit overexposed to the campaign — but that’s not the fault of MM. it’s the fault of the campaigns. here at MM, there have been plenty of non-politics articles in the past month, alhamdolillah. quite amazing when you consider that Muslims need rational discourse prior to deciding whether to cast a vote and for whom, and that few sites offer the diversity of opinions as the staff and associate writers of MM, not to mention all the MM comment-submitters.

    in that context the campaign burnout some may be feeling — don’t you think Siraaj’s article captures the effect of it on the populace, “they’re both crooks” — the driver’s heard so many sound bites and pseudo-factual-spin that he might as well be pulling a lever on a slot machine as in a polling booth.

    how much joy for the Muslim that we have istikhara and tawakkol in Allah. Siraaj, did your conversation ever turn to the contrast between coin tosses and istikhara?

  5. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    November 2, 2008 at 2:30 AM

    bismillah. some day the electronic voting machines may feature the following options:
    1) straight party Republican
    2) straight party Democrat
    3) random voting.

    and if we get that stupid as an electorate, we will have plenty of people who are sure that the vote in 3 would be as wise (and more random) than 1 or 2.

  6. fatima

    November 2, 2008 at 7:58 AM

    Did you set him straight, and tell him that Obama is not Muslim?

  7. Dawud Israel

    November 2, 2008 at 11:35 AM

    I liked this post, good on you Siraaj for putting it up. Although, I agree with Aarij about the politicking…you could’ve also mentioned how Muslims attend Catholic schools and remain very religious still.

    I’ve had these odd encounters before as well, and always get a little kick out of them, because it feels like the beginning of a beautiful dawah as if it’s destined to be successful.

    just like the story of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam helping the old lady and as they walked she ridiculed the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam not knowing that he was there with her. And then when they got there, he told her, I am the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam and she came to Islam.

    May Allah guide this sincere man to Islam.

  8. Olivia

    November 2, 2008 at 12:23 PM

    I found it interesting, that there seems to be belief that if you go to an Islamic school, you must be a Muslim. People know this reality doesn’t exist in all faith-based schools, like were non-Catholics go to Catholics schools. If Obama attended a school of any other faith, people would not be saying “He must be a Jew/Catholic/Buddhist etc. because he went to that school.” People just find it infathomable that anyone would go to an Islamic school that isn’t truly a Muslim and destined to remain one. Interesting belief to analyze if anyone wants to….

  9. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    November 2, 2008 at 5:42 PM

    That is an interesting point in general Olivia, although in Obama’s case he actually attended a public school in Indonesia, not Malaysia as our friend Juan thought. At that public school in Indonesia, students indicated a religion when they enrolled and Obama at least for some of the time was registered as a Muslim because his stepfather was of Muslim background. Obama has said he was never a Muslim, but he wasn’t a Christian at that time either…Obama decided to become a Christian when he was already an adult. The reality in the United States is that there are very few non-Muslim students in Islamic or Muslim schools both because most Muslim schools are new and do not have a reputation which makes them highly in demand by non-Muslims and because usually there are not even enough spots for the Muslim students who do wish to attend successful Muslim schools. By the way, I know you know all this already Olivia but just adding to the discussion. The reality of non-Catholics attending Catholic schools is a phenomenon that happened later in their existence for a variety of reasons, but in this country they were originally designed as the Muslim schools are now, for Catholics who did not wish to go to the public schools because they faced discrimination and because they wanted to preserve their religious identity.

    Allaah knows best.

  10. Siraaj

    November 3, 2008 at 1:42 AM

    Firstly, correction on my part, I was talking about this with Shaykh Yasir tonight, I always seem to mix up Malaysia and Indonesia myself, and I believe he said Indonesia, not Malaysia, as the country. As for the comments:

    The election is about a day away – I thought I’d add this since this is probably the most relevant time to add it. There are always more important and pressing matters to write about than the articles we write about that often revolve around mundane phenomenon that we experience as Muslims – this is a blog, and as authors, we tend to write about what personally interests us in that we feel we can make a contribution to the discussion or cause a call to action. This is where I am, maybe other authors will take up some of your suggestions (I didn’t even know about the alaskan masjid, by the way).

    Abu Abdullaah, ibnabeeomar
    I think you guys have understood where I was moving with this article – during the discussion, I wasn’t really too interested in who he was choosing so much as I was the effect and reach of the “marketing” campaign had taken place on one example of an average “joe six pack” (or Plumber). I wanted to humanize the poll numbers without the spin of one campaign or another.

    Fatima and Dawud
    I did tell him Obama is not a Muslim and I used it to also explain Islam in general to him in an indirect way.


  11. ibnabeeomar

    November 3, 2008 at 1:49 AM

    i wonder if alaskan muslims sound like palin? can you imagine a khutbah with the fargo accent?

    –sorry i couldnt resist using aarij’s comment against him by using it as a segue to discuss palin :P

  12. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    November 3, 2008 at 8:42 AM

    bismillah. they can praise Allah in whatever accent they want, as long as they praise Him alone. besides that, i would prefer, too, that they not be as supremely obtuse, self-interested, and bigoted as Madame Parrot.

  13. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    November 3, 2008 at 8:59 AM

    innalhamdolillah. also, since there was no open thread this Sunday — was there an open thread that was closed or cut off? — khayr, not finding an open thread elsewhere i wanted to let you all know the following:

    1) mashaAllah, an excellent video to give/share with all the Juans and Juanitas of the world:

    part 1:
    part 2:
    part 3:
    part 4:
    part 5:
    part 6:

    2) the web/blog site of the speaker from that blog:

    3) whatever your philosophy on voting and the candidates, just remember that on November 5, the first words out of your mouth when you wake up should be “alhamdolillah.” after that you can add “alaa kulli haal” or you can be more satisfied with the Decree of Allah and focus on your blessings like “alladhee ahyaana baada ma amaatanaa wa ilayhin nushoor.” besides that, i am not going to advocate either voting or not voting, one candidate or another or a third — i am too concerned with whether i will please Allah with my decisions to those questions to want any more of the burden of advising any of you in them.

    so i pray that i only advise you to what i know is good, and those are submission to and reliance in Allah, and obedience to His Messenger, sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam, who advised the believers to make istikhara regularly and in all their affairs.

  14. Hassan

    November 3, 2008 at 10:01 AM

    Do they have two eids in Alaska as well? Or more?

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