In Which I Accidentally Start a Religious War on a Rush Hour Bus

The following is an abridged account of true events that occurred just yesterday. Enjoy a laugh or two at humanity’s expense.

Yesterday, Aug. 28, 2013, I took a crowded bus from East Lake Street in Minneapolis to Black Dog Cafe in downtown St. Paul to meet a friend for coffee. I had over an hour to kill on the bus. I read an abandoned sports and weather section from the Star Tribune. I watched the urban scenery fly by.

Then the ultimate time killer got on the bus: A big dude in a black t-shirt reading “Ask me about Islam” in giant slashing white letters. He sat down near me in the back.

So I asked him.

“Hey man, are you serious? Your shirt? Tell me about Islam.”

He stared straight forward, ignoring me. I’ve seen that move plenty of times. Black man doesn’t trust white man, understandably, and so brushes him off. But I wasn’t to be brushed off so easily. I wanted to know this man’s thoughts. I wanted to know if Islam brought him feelings of peace, and if so, I wanted to celebrate it as brothers in the brotherhood of man. I wanted to know if he was experiencing the same peace I was experiencing in the Christ figure.

“Sincerely,” I pressed, “I want to know about Islam.”

“You already know,” he snapped, keeping his eyes off me.

“No. I don’t.” I knew what Islam was, basically, and I’ve known a few patient and gracious Muslims who have shared with me their thoughts about religion, but I wanted to hear what this man’s heart held.

“You already know.” Ask Me About Islam was starting to get pissed.


“Dude, don’t start s*** with me. I’m in no mood.”

“Dude, it’s all good. Your shirt says to ask you about Islam, and I am genuinely curious. I’m not challenging you, it ain’t like that. I just want to know what you think. But if you don’t wanna talk, that’s all good, I’ll leave you alone, all good.” I was going to shut up, but apparently my letting him go made him want to play ball.

“What. What do you wanna know. You already know. Look at you. Look at what your lifestyle choices did to you. All you wanna do is drink and fornicate.”

Game on. “Nah man. That ain’t me. You asked me what I wanna know. Here’s what I wanna know. I wanna know how it makes you feel, Islam. How does it make you feel, what kind of feelings?” I figured that was as good a place to start as any.

Heads started turning. The bus was silent except for the dulcet sounds of a nascent religious war emanating from the back of the bus where my new best friend and I sat.

“Don’t f*** with me, man. Feelings. What kind of feelings. You’re stupid, man. F*** you. Get off my back.”

Another guy, an older Native American dude, had heard enough, and chimed in:

“Man,” the new guy said, “your shirt says to ask you about Islam! Why won’t you answer the man?”

“Nah, f*** you both. Look at you people. Pathetic. Fornicators.”

“Read Deuteronomy, man,” the Native dude said. The two got into it and started interrupting each other. More heads started turning.

“You keep asking me about Islam, but how can I tell you about Islam if you keep interrupting me?” He pronounced the name of his religion with a long “a”, so that it rhymed with “lamb” or “ham”.

“Islahm,” Read Deuteronomy said, rolling his eyes.

“IsLAHM, IsLAHM,” came the mocking reply. “IsLAHM.”

A fourth man, a young Black man, removed the earbuds from his ears, rolled his eyes at all three of us a few times, rolled his whole head at us a few times, and loudly rebuked us: “Are y’all seriously arguing about religion? Y’all are grown-ass men, arguing about religion on a bus.”

Ask Me About Islam said something back, Read Deuteronomy said something back, Grown-Ass Man said something back, White Fool in a Pinstripe Fedora (me) said something back, and now there were four grown-ass men arguing about religion, and arguing about arguing about religion, at the back of an otherwise silent, crowded bus rumbling towards downtown St. Paul at the height of rush hour. All around us, people held their faces in their hands, slowly shaking their heads. This was not what I was looking for when I took Ask Me About Islam’s t-shirt up on its (apparently merely rhetorical) offer to have a wonderful dialogue about the wonders and mystery of the peace and love and kindness and goodwill that religion can spread among the variously hued peoples of God’s blessed, abundant earth.

“F*** this,” Ask Me About Islam said, “I’m moving. I’m not keeping company with sinful, wicked men.” He huffed off to the front of the bus. I stifled a laugh. My heart was racing. The argument died down a bit as Read Deuteronomy and Grown-Ass Man and I discussed the African origins of humanity, how religion makes us feel, and which books and authors each should read in order to get a clue (Colors and Templeton, respectively). Fist bumps of respect were exchanged.

Grown-Ass Man got off the bus, still fired up. “Read Colors!”

Read Deuteronomy and I spent the rest of the ride discussing Ask Me About Islam, Read Deuteronomy’s PTSD from Viet Nam, computer software, our fathers, and the changing landscape of St. Paul since the 1960s. The conversation turned more manageable. Only two other people, a lady who hadn’t witnessed the earlier sideshow and the driver, remained on the bus by the time it reached the depot, the end of the line. The lady asked us all for some walking directions. The driver and Read Deuteronomy graciously gave them to her.

Read Deuteronomy and I shook hands, exchanged real names, and wished each other a nice evening.

I’m still laughing. Oops.

Anybody got a biblical passage to shed light on this? Or a passage from the Quran? Or anything? Bueler? Bueler?


13 thoughts on “In Which I Accidentally Start a Religious War on a Rush Hour Bus

  1. I laughed out loud like a fool reading this post. You’ve got balls– I’ll give you that much. It is interesting that he’d wear the shirt and not be willing to have a dialogue. Maybe his dog shit in his shoes that morning or something. Thanks for the laugh!

    • Thanks! It was hilarious to be a character in the story in real time. People can be so delightfully asinine. Oh, and the t-shirt idea I mentioned in my comment on your “green bean” post was inspired by the guy in this story.

      • I love that idea. Are you selling them? Or are you going to make me make my own? I wish I could have been there to see it unfold. Especially the “grown ass man”. He sounded liked favorite. :)

        • Woot! You made me extend nested comment threads from 3 to 6. I’ll boost it to 10 if I have to. Anyway, hmm, sell them, I didn’t consider that. Interesting idea. I suppose if I do sell them I’ll have to donate everything to charities and such. Or maybe I’ll just put the money towards the Will Conley Cigarette Fund, who knows. ;) Mostly I was just thinking of making them for myself, but hell, maybe others should be able to order them easily from Cafe Press or whatever.

  2. As to scripture that connects, I think of 1 Peter 3:15 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”

    One key thing about that verse is that it assumes people are walking down the street, look at you and think, “Damn, that dude has HOPE! What’s up with that?” And that thought burns in their minds until they can’t help but ask you about it.

    I also think of Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.”

    Basically saying that we need each other. We need to sharpen ourselves against each other. We need conversations about faith, politics, Miley Cyrus, and the death of the Oxford comma. We become better by engaging with others, not by retreating from them.

    I also thought of a book entitled “Faitheist” that I read a while back about an atheist finding common ground with religious people. I blogged about it here:

    • Mr. Wood, I completely agree! You know, a friend recently asked me why I was watching a debate about atheism and was told that I shouldn’t be watching it at all. I responded with something along the lines of ‘Learning about someone else’s beliefs and experiences allows us to grow as individuals and forces us to ask questions about the world around us. How are we even supposed to talk to them about our own traditions if we are not willing to understand theirs?” I think ignorance and fear are the biggest pitfalls to creating a truly vibrant and harmonious society. I’m really intrigued by the Faithiest book you mentioned and am going to check it out. Thanks, Friend!

  3. Hey, Friend! So. I’m trying to digest this incident. I for one love having religious discussions predicated on the simple notion that religion exists in order to bring us closer to the Divine and how the commonalities in each of our paths can bring us there.

    I could give you several verses from the Qur’an to shed light on this, as you asked, but in situations similar to this, I always remember stories of how the non-Muslims during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to throw trash at his doorstep, pelt him with stones and call him the most despicable names. His friends used to get very upset and angry for him, although he never once said an ill- word back to them. He even had a special area in the first mosque dedicated specifically for Jews and Christians, just so they could chill out there. As Muslims we are taught to follow his example and be kind, courteous and compassionate with everyone we meet, although obviously not everyone is able to follow that guidance. We are human after all. Perhaps this brother was having a bad day, maybe he was harassed by someone about his faith and assumed you were going to do the same, although I agree that if you’re going to wear a shirt that says “Ask Me About Islam” you have to be prepared for people to actually do so. It could very well be that he wasn’t well versed in how to give da’wah (sharing Islam with others) or even Islam in general.

    Honestly, I don’t see the point in arguing about religion. I very seriously doubt that any leader of any faith tradition, whether it is the Buddha, Jesus Christ (pbuh), Confucius, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would condone bickering and fighting about religion. In fact I think they would all agree that it is the antithesis of what they came to teach. At the end of the day, we should be working for love and peace, not working to divide ourselves further.

    Anyway, that was a long- winded response, but your writing is interesting. Hope to check back soon.

    Have a wonderful day! :)

    • I love the perspective you offer here, C. Thank you so much. God bless you, and peace be upon you.

      I tried to comment on your post “I Churn Butter” but could not find a comment form or a way to contact you. Am I not seeing something obvious, or is it that you might not have comments enabled on your blog?

      Anyway, I thought it was funny and insightful, so I shared it as a link to your post from my own blog.

      • Thanks, Will! That’s really nice to say!

        And sorry about that. It seems my settings were such that it stopped allowing comments after 14 days past the original post date. Fixed! Also, thanks so much for the share! We should do some co-authoring some time if you’re up for it.

        May God bless you and increase you in all your endeavors.

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