Meha Ahmad, a 31-year-old radio producer in Chicago, Illinois, said she and her family were refused an Uber ride Sunday on the basis of her religion.
The WBEZ Chicago shared detailed accounts of the incident on Twitter, including updates from the rideshare company, which suspended the driver’s account during an internal investigation.
According to Ahmad, she and her family — including two 5-year-olds and a 2-year-old — were waiting in the cold for their Uber ride to pick them up from the Navy Pier.
When her ride pulled up, she said the driver wouldn’t unlock the doors and instead lowered the passenger seat window to say something.
He refused to let them in and said, “I’m Jewish. Jerusalem belongs to the Jews. I can’t drive you.”
“For most people of color or religious minorities, it’s not a rare thing to face some kind of discrimination on a daily basis,” Ahmad told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You don’t normally tweet about it. You kind of just bear it and move on.”
But because the driver’s comments were so targeted, Ahmad said she felt compelled to say something.
“He could’ve said it was a cat emergency and that he had to go and I would’ve understood,” she said. “But he didn’t.”
The driver eventually canceled the ride and Uber automatically matched Ahmad and her family to a different driver. Unfortunately, when a driver cancels a ride, the rider’s Uber app doesn’t record their information. But Ahmad remembered the driver’s name and rating and was able to get in touch with an Uber associate to help investigate.
Ahmad said the Uber associate refunded the ride charge and said the company “will be taking action immediately.”
Her tweets about the encounter took off on social media, but Ahmad said she didn’t expect it to catch on. “I just didn’t expect people to be so surprised,” she said.
Ahmad’s sister and sister-in-law, both of whom were with her with their young children on Sunday, messaged Ahmad later that day and asked, “Is this the kind of thing we need to have conversations with our kids about?”
Ahmad said she uses rideshare services every day and though she doesn’t face this kind of discrimination “99.9 percent” of the time, “this is not the first time a driver has canceled after he has seen I wore hijab.”
She filed a complaint to Uber once before, when she was hit with a fee after a driver looked at her and drove away.
The rideshare company’s non-discrimination policy prohibits discrimination against riders or drivers “based on race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, gender identity, age or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law.”
If a rider or driver is in violation of the policy, which includes refusing to provide or accept services based on the characteristics listed, Uber’s policy states the rider or driver “will lose access to the Uber platform.”
Ahmad’s Dec. 10 incident also came days after President Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a city both Israelis and Palestinians claim as a sacred religious site.
Jerusalem’s status has been of official concern since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War during which Israel seized the city’s western half and later, the eastern half.
According to the New York Times, Jerusalem was declared Israel’s “undivided” capital under a 1980 law, “which was widely understood as a de facto annexation of the city’s eastern half.” The U.S. has long left the city’s status up to Israelis and Palestinians to decide, but Trump “is breaking with that traditional neutrality.”
Trump’s decision to endorse Jerusalem as Israel’s capital implies the U.S. is more supportive of Israel’s full annexation of the city, the Times reported. And political scientists believe this could complicate the politics of the region and lead to “a future in which peace is less likely.”