Abu Dhabi — Out of the blue, my taxi driver said to me the other day, “There are no Muslims in America, right?”

Dammika asks me a lot about America. Where I live, what my house looks like, how many days a week people work, why my children don’t live at home while they’re in college, whether it’s hot or cold, how far it is from New York to Los Angeles, if the streets look the same as in Abu Dhabi … he’s a sincere and caring and curious guy.

He’s from Sri Lanka, and a Buddhist, which I could have guessed by the way he panics whenever a butterfly flits into the path of the cab. We’re going to die one of these days because he’s afraid of killing a wayward moth.

He seems pretty smart about the ways of the world. But he was astounded when I told him that, yes, there are Muslims in America.

“But there are no mosques, right?” he asked. “Where do they worship?”

I thought this was all coming from the Ground Zero mosque controversy, but when I asked about that, he didn’t seem to know what i was talking about. He said he just assumed that after 9/11, mosques and Muslims were banned from America.

So he was perplexed when I told him there are millions of Muslims in America, and thousands of mosques, and plenty of Buddhists, too, and that while there are extermists who cause problems, people are, for the most, free to do as they please when it comes to religion. And then I started telling him about America being founded on, among other things, freedom of religion.

He shook his head in wonderment.

“America …” he said. “It sounds like a very good place.”

Robert Mashburn

Robert Mashburn

Robert Mashburn is an American expatriate living in Abu Dhabi, a native Floridian and long-time Atlantan out to discover a new land of sun and sand. He may be 7,500 miles from home, but his heart is where it has always been – in the South. He blogs regularly on his experiences at: http://www.abudhabido.blogspot.com