[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Jerusalem hails Muslim woman cabbie
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Jerusalem

As Majda al-Bahr, 38, sat in her white taxi at a busy Jerusalem junction a woman in a chocolate-coloured Beetle wound down her window and motioned to speak to her.

"Are you a taxi driver?" the woman exclaimed above the growl of car engines waiting for the traffic lights.

Majda at the wheel of her taxi
Majda says she is often mistaken for a Jewish woman
The blare of horns as the lights changed to green drowned out the short exchange.

But this is a daily occurence from Mrs Bahr.

As Jerusalem's only female Muslim taxi driver, Mrs Bahr, wearing a white headscarf, cuts a distinctive figure in the city's taxi-driving community.

"People always think I'm Jewish at first," says Mrs Bahr, who speaks conversational Hebrew.

"But then I tell them that I'm Muslim and they are even more surprised. They say it's brilliant, it's fantastic."

Champions

Mrs Bahr is an unlikely heroine breaking down the gender and religious barriers in the holy city.

Born and educated in Kuwait, Mrs Bahr, whose parents are both Palestinian, has worked as a taxi driver in the city for five years.

She is something different in our culture, to see a female Muslim taxi driver
Jewish taxi driver
Previously, she worked as a cleaner in hotels and retirement homes.

Now, the mother-of-five shares the taxi with her husband and works six days a week. She normally takes Saturday off - the Jewish Sabbath - when there is very little business.

"It's very expensive in Jerusalem," she says, explaining why she first became a taxi driver, "and we needed more money."

Mrs Bahr constantly juggles the challenges of motherhood with her job.

Working the morning shift, she sometimes cuts it short to make lunch for her children.

Jerusalem taxis (Picture courtesy of IgKh/Flickr)
Jerusalem cab drivers come from both Jewish and Arab sectors
In her conservative Muslim community, Mrs Bahr says that it is her female Muslim friends that have been her biggest champions.

"My friends think it is daring and brave to be a taxi driver," she says.

Mrs Bahr is even trying to persuade another Muslim female friend to get behind the wheel.

She also says that her male Muslim and Jewish colleagues at the local taxi office are completely supportive.

Big plans

One of her Jewish colleagues praised Majda as "the best woman in the Middle East".

"She is something different in our culture, to see a female Muslim taxi driver, she really broke all the rules."

But the same colleague says that some of the male Palestinian drivers that work at the firm do not approve of Mrs Bahr and give her the cold shoulder.

Mrs Bahr shrugs at the notion that anyone would disapprove of her work.

She constantly criss-crosses the city, driving from the Jewish side to the Arab side, picking up passengers.

Mrs Bahr, who also sits on the board of a local transport union, says that occasionally Jewish passengers are unhappy when they realise she is Palestinian.

"But most of the Jewish passengers are kind and show me directions," says Mrs Bahr.

For now, Mrs Bahr says that she is happy driving the taxi.

But she has set her sights on something bigger. She is taking bus driving lessons.



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific