German city of Essen fines taxi driver for Bible text on vehicle


Central Europe

Arieke Smits-Lucas, RD

Jalil Mashali, a German taxi driver risks a fine because of a Bible text on his taxi. Photo RD

The city of Essen has fined the German taxi driver Jalil Mashali because of a Bible text on his verhicle.

This was confirmed on Tuesday by Sofia Hoerder, spokeswoman for the legal human rights organisation ADF International, when asked by Reformatorisch Dagblad. The fine was 88.50 euro; much less than the expected 1,000 euros.

Mashali received a letter from the city of Essen in October 2023 threatening him with a fine if he did not remove the sticker reading "Jesus – I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" from his taxi. According to the city, this is religious advertising. It is considered inappropriate as taxis have a public function.

Both Mashali and ADF International believe the ban violates basic human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion, including the right to share deeply held beliefs with others. The Christian convert has so far refused to remove the text.

Mashali is appealing the fine to the city of Essen, supported by the human rights organisation. Until then, the taxi driver will not pay, Herder argues.

If the administrative body does not withdraw the fine, the case may be taken to court.


The Iranian Muslim Jalil Mashali (51) moved to Germany for a surgery in 2001. There he became a Christian, he tells during a visit by a reporter in Essen.

Passengers rush to their trains; taxis drive to and fro. Dark clouds hang over Essen West train station. At any moment, the rain could erupt.

At the stroke of half past nine, a yellow Volkswagen Caddy drives into the taxi rank. A cross hangs from the interior mirror; the Christian radio station ERF Plus sounds softly in the background. Mashali sits in front.


"I was born in 1972 in the Iranian metropolis of Ahvaz and grew up in a family of 10 children," Mashali begins his story. "My father died in 1980 during the Iraq-Iran war. I was eight years old at the time. Because our family had lost the breadwinner, I had to start selling cigarettes, water and falafel on the streets."

WhatsApp Image 2024-01-30 at 11.40.08.jpeg
The Bible text on the taxi. Photo Jalil Mashali

At the age of 13, Mashali is hit by a bus and has to undergo 17 operations on his leg. Yet he picks up his life in the years that follow. He marries, has two sons and earns a living as a civil servant at Ahvaz city hall.


Islam means a lot to Mashali during this period. "I was the most religious of all my family and prayed a lot. I hated Jews and Christians and preferred to kill them. That way, I thought I would enter paradise."

In 2001, Mashali moves to Essen for medical treatment. "I kept having a lot of problems walking and was in a lot of pain. On the advice of a cousin, I then went to Germany. Possibly, they could do something for me there."


In the hospital, the taxi driver is experiencing a tough time. "After surgery, the pain was so severe that morphine hardly helped. I wanted to drive my wheelchair to the fourth floor of the hospital and jump down."

At that time, he is visited by a friend of his ex-wife. "She had become a Christian and asked if she could pray with me. I didn't want to, as I was a faithful Muslim. Still, I allowed it. She asked if God would take away my suffering and called me His child. I didn't understand any of that. In Islam, people are only servants of Allah."

A miracle happens. "My pain was gone and, to my surprise, did not come back either. She said Jesus had done that and gave me a Bible in Persian, the language I had learnt in Iran."


For the taxi driver, this is when a long period of internal struggle begins. "I often read the Bible but also picked up the Quran again and again. Eventually, I came to the conclusion of how different Mohammed and Jesus were. God gave into my heart that I could no longer deny Him."

The decision to become a Christian changes his life dramatically. "I no longer have to try my best to find favour with Allah. After my surgery, I continued to live in Germany. I want to use my life here to show others the way to Him." With a wistful look, the ex-Muslim looks outside. "There are so many people who do not yet know Him."


Although he has it much better in Germany than in Iran, things are not going well for Mashali either. The taxi driver pulls up his trouser leg a little. A prosthesis becomes visible. "This does not always make my work easy, and climbing stairs is also difficult," he says. To make ends meet, Mashali has to work 10 to 12 hours daily. "It's tough, but God provides my bread every day. I don't deserve that. In my prayers, I am not always faithful. Yet He gives what I need. That is grace."

He tries to share something about the Christian faith with everyone, whoever gets into his taxi. "With Muslims, I am alert. Some of them react aggressively. That is why it is sometimes better to keep my mouth shut. As Zechariah wrote: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit."


Mashali does not have many passengers today. "Normally, it is busier," he says as he deftly steers his car through the busy streets of Essen. He has barely finished speaking when a message appears on the dashboard.

"A customer," Mashali calls out. At a drab flat, he stops his car. A man of about 70, wearing a blue coat and hat, gets in. He is barely seated when the taxi driver begins to narrate. "I risk a fine of up to 10,000 euros because I have Bible text on my taxi. The government says it is religious advertising, and that is forbidden." The man replies: "Whatever the city says will be fine, won't it?" Mashali shakes his head. "I don't agree with that." The elderly man hums something unintelligible. Then, more clearly, "This is where I have to get out". He presses a tenner into the taxi driver's hands and then bolts down a side street.

"That I risk such a high fine in Germany because of a Bible text is incomprehensible to me," says Mashali. "That this would happen to me in Iran is not surprising. But in Germany, a country where freedom is paramount? For me, the Bible verse is a way of witnessing."


A 1998 law is the reason for charging Mashali, according to the city of Essen. At the time, the Federal Court ruled that taxis have an important public function. Therefore, religious texts are considered inappropriate.

According to Mashali, the problem lies deeper. "Germany has lost its Christian roots. See that church over there?" Mashali points to a building spray-painted with graffiti. "Church services used to be held there, but now it is empty. That's because people don't need God anymore."

In the proceedings, Mashali is being assisted by a lawyer from Austria. The latter has taken on the case free of charge. It is not yet known when a verdict will be delivered. What if it is decided that the text is banned? "Then I will take it down. God also commands us to be obedient to the government. Until then, I hope it may be a blessing."

Main parts of this article were translated by CNE.news and published before by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on February 19, 2024



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.