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Muslim prayer in front of Ontario Legislature. Photo: CIJnews

Questions raised over ruling on religious discrimination

An adjudicator with the Human Rights Tribunal awarded a Muslim couple $12,000 because of the couple’s claim that their Christian landlord discriminated against them based on their creed, failed to accommodate their religious practices and harassed them by creating a “poisoned housing environment”.

Over the course of two days, the Tribunal’s adjudicator, Jo-Anne Pickel, heard testimony from both sides, and on April 19, 2017, she ruled that the landlord, John Alabi, must pay $12,000 to Walid Madkour and Heba Ismail. In addition, the landlord must take the e-learning module on the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website called “Human Rights in Rental Housing”. The tenants had originally asked for $20,000. The landlord denied any discrimination.

Madkour and Ismail claimed Among other things that landlord entered wearing shoes the apartment and the room in which they used to pray and thus caused them inconvenience.

The couple, who immigrated from Egypt to Montreal and later to Toronto, and who identify as Arab Muslims, testified that they practice their religion by praying five times a day. According to the husband, the prayers take between 7-10 minutes if he prays alone and up to 15 minutes if he prays with his wife. The couple prayed in the bedroom of the apartment they rented from the landlord because the bedroom was the cleanest room in the apartment. According to the couple, it is important to pray in a clean area that is free of any contamination, including any discharge from humans or animals.

According to the wife, a person cannot be absolutely certain that he or she did not step on discharge from animals or humans while walking outside. For this reason, according to the couple, practicing Muslims must remove their footwear when they pray.

The couple also testified that if someone interrupts their prayers, they lose focus and their prayers are “damaged”. The wife also said that if she was not at home or near a mosque, she would pray in her car as she always carried her prayer mat with her.

The adjudicator ruled that the landlord made the couple feel “uncomfortable” and demonstrated religious discrimination when he failed to remove his shoes in the couple’s apartment after the couple explained to the adjudicator that “if someone wore outdoor shoes in their prayer space, they would have to wash the space several times to cleanse it”. She took into consideration the wife’s claim that she was intimidated by the landlord’s “general demeanor”, such as failing to take off his outdoor shoes in their apartment.

Excerpts from the ruling

Applicants’ religious practices

Practices re. Prayers

[5] The applicants testified that, among other things, they practice their religion by praying five times per day. Mr. Madkour testified that there are obligatory prayers as well as voluntary ones. The five prayers the applicants do per day are obligatory and they must occur within specific windows of time. The times change depending on the time of year. Normally, there is one prayer at sunrise, two between sunrise and sunset, one at sunset, and one after sunset. The prayer times during the period that is relevant to this Application were approximately 6:15 a.m., 12:33 p.m., 3:07 p.m., 5:29 p.m. and 6:51 p.m. There is a window of time between each of these prayer times within which Muslims can pray. Mr. Madkour testified that his prayers take between 7-10 minutes if he is praying alone. The prayers may take up to 15 minutes if Mr. Madkour is praying with his wife. The applicants prayed in the bedroom of the apartment they rented from the respondent because it was the cleanest room, the room with the least traffic, and one of the few rooms with a door.

[6] The applicants testified that Muslims must pray in a quiet environment with no interruptions, even in terms of their own thoughts. Ms. Ismail testified that it is important to have a clear mind and to be concentrating during prayer. Ms. Ismail testified that, for her, praying is not just saying things; it is about communicating with God. Both applicants testified that, if someone interrupts their prayers, they lose focus and their prayers are damaged. Mr. Madkour testified that Muslims receive rewards for how perfectly or seriously they carry out certain practices such as prayer. These rewards are referred to in the Quran.

[7] Both applicants testified that it is important to pray in a clean area because their prayer space is a holy space. Mr. Madkour testified that he does specific things to clean himself before prayer and to ensure that his prayer environment is clean. Ms. Ismail testified that Muslims must pray in a clean area that is free of any contamination, including any discharge from humans or animals. According to Ms. Ismail, a person cannot be absolutely certain that he or she did not step on discharge from animals or humans while walking outside. For this reason, the applicants testified that practicing Muslims must remove their footwear when they pray.

[8] Mr. Madkour normally wears slippers at home but takes them off to pray. He never wears the slippers outside his home. He treats his slippers like the house floors by cleaning the slippers whenever he cleans the house. Ms. Ismail testified that, if someone wears outdoor shoes in their prayer space, she has to wash the area entirely several times to make sure there is no remaining contamination in the space before the applicants can pray there comfortably.

[9] The applicants were asked what they would do if it is time to pray and they were not near a mosque or at home. They testified that there are exceptions for particular situations, for example if a Muslim is travelling. Mr. Madkour testified that, if he made an effort to find a place to pray and failed, then he could pray in a clean spot in another place. Ms. Ismail testified that she carries around a prayer mat with her whenever she leaves home. If she cannot find a clean quiet place to pray, she will pray in her car.

[10] Both applicants testified that the obligation to pray comes from the Quran. Prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam. According to the applicants, all the rules relating to the practice of praying come from the practices of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet Muhammad is the leader of Muslims who received verses of the Quran. His teachings have been passed down from generation to generation…

[69] There is no doubt that Islam, as a religion, falls within the definition of creed under the Code. In addition, I find that the practices discussed above relating to prayer times, the cleanliness of a person’s prayer space, and modest attire for women are covered by the Code’s protections against discrimination on the basis of creed

[73] Based on the applicants’ testimony at the hearing, I find that their requests for accommodation were sincerely made. It was evident at the hearing that the applicants are sincere in their belief in, and practice of, the Islamic faith. I find that, as practicing Muslims, the applicants have a sincere belief, rooted in their religion, that they must pray five times per day and that they must keep their prayer space clean. They also have a sincere belief that women must wear modest attire around men who are not blood relatives or their husbands. Based on the applicants’ evidence at the hearing, I find that their accommodation requests were sincere and they were linked to these religiously-based beliefs…

[76] As I have noted above, due to the inconsistencies in the respondent’s evidence generally, where his evidence conflicts with that of the applicants, I prefer the applicants’ evidence. Therefore, I do not find credible the respondent’s claim that he had worn the same shoes in the apartment on at least three previous occasions. However, even if this were true, I am not persuaded that it undermines the sincerity of the applicants’ request that he remove his shoes during the viewings. At the hearing, the applicants testified that, if someone wore outdoor shoes in their prayer space, they would have to wash the space several times to cleanse it. Even if I were to accept that the respondent had worn outdoor shoes in the apartment on three isolated occasions, then the applicants would have had to cleanse their space after these three visits. Even if it were true that the applicants did not raise the issue during three previous visits, I am still persuaded that their requests relating to the removal of shoes during multiple apartment viewings were sincere and consistent with their own practice and the teachings of their religion.

[77] Finally, I cannot accept the respondent’s point about Mr. Madkour not removing his shoes when he visited the apartment before renting it. As admitted by the respondent, Mr. Madkour was not asked to remove his shoes for any religious or other reason when he visited the apartment. Therefore, the fact that Mr. Madkour did not remove his shoes in the apartment when he visited it is neither here nor there. He was not living in the apartment at the time. It was not his prayer space at the time and therefore there was no religious requirement for him to keep the space clean at the time…

[79] For all the reasons set out above, I find that the applicants’ practices relating to prayer times, the cleanliness of prayer space and the wearing of modest attire by women were all sincerely held beliefs rooted in their Islamic faith

[112] At the hearing, the applicants testified that they felt humiliated, disrespected and insulted by the respondent’s actions. Mr. Madkour also testified that he had trouble concentrating on his prayers out of a concern that the respondent might walk in with prospective tenants. As well, the tenants would have had to cleanse their prayer space after each of the times that the respondent walked through with his shoes on

[117] In Qureshi, the applicant was only denied accommodation once but he also lost the opportunity for summer employment. He was also depressed, angry and disappointed. Like the applicant in Qureshi, the applicants in this case suffered the indignity of having their request for accommodation disregarded. They were also subject to distress due to the respondent’s harassment. In addition, the applicants testified that they were unable to fully concentrate on their prayers and had to cleanse the floors to their apartment after the respondent walked on them in his shoes. The breach of the Code in this case took place over a longer period of time than in Qureshi. However, in my view, an applicant’s loss of an employment opportunity as in Qureshi is a very significant incident. On balance, I find that the injuries to dignity, feelings and self-respect in the two cases are comparable.

To read the ruling in its entirety click HERE.

The Prophet Mohammad and his companions used to pray in their shoes”

Foundation of Dar al-Ifta al Masrriyah “is considered among the pioneering foundations for fatwa [En. Religious verdicts] in the Islamic world. It was established in 1895 by the high command of Khedive Abbas Hilmi, and affiliated to the ministry of Justice on 21st November, 1895.” Its “fatwa council answers all the incoming questions and works under the supervision of the Grand Mufti of Egypt.”

On its official site, Foundation of Dar al-Ifta posted the following ruling on the question “Praying in shoes inside mosques – I saw some Muslims praying inside mosques in their shoes. Is this allowed?”

…As for the issue in question, generally speaking, Praying in shoes is something that is permitted. The Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions used to pray in their shoes due to the nature of mosques back then. Praying in shoes inside the mosque was acceptable at that time because the floors were nothing but sand and pebbles, which may harm whoever pray barefooted. In this context, the Prophet commanded his Companions to examine their shoes before entering the mosque least they have some dirt on them…

Nowadays, mosques are furnished with carpets and entering them with shoes may lead to introducing dirt into the them. If every Muslim was allowed to pray in the mosque wearing their shoes, we would need dozens of workers to clean the mosque after every prayer, not just every day. We do not think that anyone who accepts this would like to pray on a carpet that is full of dust and dirt, let alone other unclean and impure substances, if people are negligent.

Ruling

Based on this, it is better not to pray in the mosque wearing shoes nowadays, except for one for whom it is difficult to take off his shoes. In this case, one may pray in them after making sure that they are clean and that he will not annoy those who are next to him provided he met the above conditions. However, If this will lead to some kind of argument and resentment, or will put others off, then it is better for him to take his shoes off, in the interests of harmony among Muslims and not causing enmity and hatred. The Muslim can observe the Sunnah and obey the Prophet (peace be upon him) by praying in his shoes when that will not lead to any trouble, such as when praying in his house, street, praying on uncarpeted ground and so on.

Ruling: Praying on a clean mat on unclean surface is permissible

Dr. Muhammad Salah, who lead the Islamic Center of Victoria, Texas, explained in video that prayer on a clean mat in a unclean room is permissible in Islam and the prayer will be considered valid.

Muslims pray in public in streets and parks

Muslims in Canada and around the world pray in public also in the streets and in parks. They pray on clean mats that serve as a shield from the uncleanness of the open area.






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About Jonathan D. Halevi

Jonathan D. Halevi
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is co-founder and editor of CIJnews and a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is also a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd.

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