For NYC Cabbies, Ramadan Fasting Means Hungry 12-Hour Shifts

Masjid Ar-Rhaman (Photo by Kathleen Horan)

Since the Islamic holy month of Ramadan started last month, many Muslims in New York City have fasted from sunrise to sunset, including a large portion of the city’s yellow cab drivers, who often work 12-hour shifts with no food, drink or caffeine, WNYC’s Transportation Nation reported.

Outside Masjid Ar-Rhaman, a mosque on West 29th Street, drivers discussed the challenges of working through Ramadan with reporter Kathleen Horan as they broke their fast after evening prayer.

Driver Lansana Keita was one of the first ones out. He smiled as he ate his first food of the day, a sweet rice concoction that resembled rice pudding. “You need something soft after fasting all day, to help your metabolism to digest,” he said.

Keita said his biggest obstacle during Ramadan is keeping up his stamina during a shift that typically features mind-numbing traffic, the threat of parking tickets and the never-ending drone of the TV in his backseat. He said driving on an empty stomach while dealing with the daily guff from passengers becomes a spiritual exercise.

“When someone cusses on you, you have to let it go,” he said. “When someone wants to have drama with you, you have to let it go–those are the principles of Ramadan.”

(Photo by Kathleen Horan)

Ramadan is also a time of prayer and reflection — which can be difficult to fit into a frenetic New York City cabbie’s day. Some drivers kneel on small rugs or squares of cardboard to pray in the direction of Mecca, and the taxi lot at John F. Kennedy Airport has a designated area for praying.

Tely Diallo, a tall driver in a gingham shirt, was about to jump into his cab again. He paused to complain that it’s hard to make enough money when you’re pulling over to pray an extra two hours a day.

“You can’t really do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “You can’t pray on time. I was supposed to be praying a long time ago but I couldn’t because you’re always in a rush, you want to get the lease money.”

Cabbie Mohammed Waheed said it helps that so many other drivers are fasting with him during the holy month. “The fifteen of my friends who are cab drivers—they all fast,” he said.

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