Muslim Taxi Drivers vs. Seeing-Eye Dogs
by Daniel Pipes
Muslim lore has it that dogs are impure, so pious Muslims often try to avoid the animals. In most circumstances, this does not present a problem in the West, but it can when seeing-eye dogs are involved, for they have legal rights of entry. Interestingly, the Council on American-Islamic Relations often rushes to the defense of Muslims behaving illegally.
July 1997: A New Orleans taxi driver, Mahmoud Awad, got so incensed at his passenger, Sandi Dewdney, trying to bring a dog into the cab that he physically yanked her out of it by the arm while yelling "No dog, No dog, Get out, get out." He harmed her broken wrist. To this, CAIR replied by pointing out that "the saliva of dogs invalidates the ritual purity needed for prayer" and left it to the scholars of Islam to decide whether a guide dog should be allowed in a cab. The judge, after researching Islamic attitudes and finding no support for the driver's claims, called his behavior "a total disgrace." Awad pled guilty to battery and was sentenced to 120 days of community service at the Lighthouse for the Blind.
February 1999: Annie McEachrin, blind since birth, tried to get into Hassan Taher's cab in Cincinnati but he refused her dog entry. When McEachrin complained to the city, Taher noted that Islam holds dogs to be impure and CAIR came again to his defense, noting that "People from the Middle East especially, we have been indoctrinated with a kind of fear of dogs. The driver has a genuine fear and he acted in good faith. He's acted in accordance with his religious beliefs."
July 1999: Mary Otten, a blind American Muslim, published "Islam and the Rights of the Disabled" in The Minaret in which she gave several examples of Muslim cab drivers excluding service dogs:
Otten goes on to plead with her fellow Muslims to be more considerate:
October 2000: Another taxi issue arose in Edmonton, Canada, when Khalid Habib Ahmad refused to allow Kelly Fair to take his guide dog into his cab, then claimed, without the necessary proof from an allergist to back him up, an allergy to dog hair. Ahmad also added that as a Muslim, taking a dog in his car conflicted with his religion. The case against Ahmad was dismissed because improperly filed.
July 2001: Lisa Fernandez starts her column in the San Jose Mercury News with the experience of Claude Everett, a blind resident of Oakland, California.
"Is the problem growing? Are you kidding me? It's out of control," Fernandez quotes Thom Ainsworth of San Rafael's Guide Dogs for the Blind, who is now handling at least half a dozen similar complaints around the United States.
May 2003: Edmonton was also where Doris Owen tried to enter a convenience store belonging to Mohammad Rafiq, a Pakistani who lived in Saudi Arabia for 25 years. Even after being informed by the police that Alberta's Blind Persons' Rights Act mandates guide dogs be allowed into all public places, Rafiq demurred. "This store is also my church, because I pray, I eat ... there, and my religion will not allow dogs to come in my store, or any animal." Owen testified in a January 2004 court hearing against Rafiq that he shouted at her and refused to listen to her discussing her legal rights. Addressing him, she said: "You got mad and angry and you started yelling, 'Get that dog out of here, get that dog out of here.' You didn't give me a chance ... [to explain] what a guide dog means to me, and it means a lot." Found guilty, Rafiq was sentenced to a three-month conditional discharge, "bearing in mind the concerns that Mr. Rafiq has, his cultural background."
Dec. 11, 2006 update: Hanne Beate Misund, 43, born blind and living in Oslo, gets around with her Labrador called Hippie. She recounts a recent experience: "A couple of weeks ago, I needed a taxi from the Central Station. When I got to the taxi queue, drivers began to argue over who would take me. No one would. I have repeatedly heard that they have locked the door and run away when I tried to get a taxi ride. This is both annoying and desperate."
Sverre Fuglerud of the National Blind Association reports that similar problems have been heard of in other Norwegian towns, such as Fredrikstad, Drammen, Stavanger, and Bergen. The association has relied on seeing individuals to document over 20 cases in which taxi drivers have driven right by a blind person with a guide dog.
Mar. 1, 2007 update: The seeing-eye dog issue came up in the course of the Minneapolis controversy of Muslim taxi drivers having to take travelers carrying liquor.
Mar. 30, 2007 update: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, scene of much disputation concerning Muslim taxi drivers, has also had a problem with seeing-eye dogs being refused into taxis. Airport spokesman Pat Hogan indicates three formal complaints have been made to the airport concerning guide dogs being refused rides. CAIR has figured out that there's no benefit in this particular fight and has jumped on the other side of this issue. Under its guidance, some 300 cabbies have volunteered to provide free rides to blind people and their guide dogs during a meeting of the National Federation of the Blind's Minnesota chapter on April 21, hoping thereby to improve their reputation. But Joyce Scanlan, president of the chapter, responded coolly to the offer, saying she would prefer the cabdrivers simply do their jobs. "We really are uncomfortable with that, with the offer of getting free rides. We don't think that solves anything. We believe the cabdrivers need to realize that the law says they will not turn down a blind person."
Apr. 20, 2007 update: Victor C. Harris, who is legally blind, writes me from Everett, Washington, about his experience with a seeing-eye dog. Harris has peripheral vision of 4 degrees and anyone with less than 20 degrees peripheral vision is blind; but he sees with 20/40 central acuity.
On December 1, 2004, Harris called a taxi to go home from the Everett CenterEvents. When he tried to get into a Yellow Cab, the driver refused to open the doors, only lowering his window to say he would get Harris another cab, as he did not carry dogs. Harris told him that he had a service animal and therefore could not legally be refused transportation. The driver nonetheless again would not let him in. When Harris asked for the driver's name and a card, the cabbie warned him to step away from the car and took off. Harris wrote down his For Hire number and contacted the police. After much toing-and-froing, nothing came of his complaint, except that Yellow Cab of Everett apologized and gave him two vouchers for local trips. The company specifically refused to dismiss the driver, saying that it preferred to train him rather than hire someone new.
May 24, 2007 update: In what appears to be a first in the Western world, Australia's New South Wales government has imposed a fine of up to A$1,100 should taxi drivers refuse service to passengers with seeing-eye dogs because of "religious" reasons, fear of dogs, or supposed allergies. In addition, Transport Minister John Watkins announced that all taxi drivers will "receive a session with a disability service advocate as part of their training."
Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, himself blind and reliant on a guide dog, said he is refused service on average once a month, including twice in two days recently. "He has been told on a number of occasions that it would be against a driver's religion to allow a dog in the cab," writes Heath Aston in Australia's Daily Telegraph. "He has also been refused by drivers claiming to be allergic to dogs and even scared of dogs. He has also been left clutching at air on busy Market St by one belligerent driver who told him he had to take the non-existent cab in front."
Vision Australia's head of policy and advocacy Michael Simpson concurred, saying that taxi drivers refuse to take guide dogs with "too much regularity," noting that the problem is worse in the Sydney area: "It is fair to say that the [Islamic] religion has made the problem worse in the metropolitan areas than regional areas, where I've found taxi drivers are generally excellent." Simpson, who is blind, told an anecdote of his and two blind companions being refused service at the airport. "We asked the driver for his accreditation number and he gave us the wrong one. It was only because an airline staff member had accompanied us that we got the right number and could properly complain about being refused." May 16, 2010 update: The New South Wales District Court fined this cabbie A$750 in March 2010.
May 24, 2007 update: Australia's Transport Minister John Watkins has elaborated further on his decision to fine errant hacks:
June 14, 2007 update: Sallahaddin Abdullah, 40, was fined £200 and ordered to pay £1,000 court costs in Cambridge, England, for abandoning Paul and Kerry Monaghan, plus their guide dogs, on the pavement outside Cambridge Railway Station. Abdullah may also lose his taxi license.
Bruce Gilmour won a settlement from a Vancouver taxi company and got the regulations changed.
Bruce Gilmour won a settlement from a Vancouver taxi company and got the regulations changed.
Gilmour, blind for 30 years, responded with a human rights complaint alleging discrimination. Three days before the provincial human rights tribunal hearing was to take place, however, Gilmour and Saidy's employer, North Shore Taxi, reached a C$2,500 settlement, which the tribunal then issued as an order.
The settlement says it balances "the rights of persons with seeing-eye dogs to obtain taxi service with the rights of Muslims to follow their religion" by establishing a policy that forbids any driver to refuse a fare from a blind person accompanied by a certified guide dog unless drivers (1) are allergic to dogs or (2) can establish that they have an "honest religious belief (Muslim) which precludes them from transporting certified guide dogs." In such cases, drivers must to give their name to the blind person, call the dispatcher, ask for "the next available cab," and stay with the blind person until that cab arrives. Not following these regulations one time means suspension for two shifts; a second violation could lead to termination of employment.
Comments: (1) "It's a landmark in my life," a happy Gilmour responded to the change in rules, but it is hard to see what he has achieved. Yes, blind passengers will not have to inform the dispatcher of their disability and he will wait with the reluctant driver by his side, but practically speaking, anyone wanting to make an appointment or a flight on time will have to inform the dispatcher that he's got a guide dog so as to avoid standing on the sidewalk for a half hour. The Shari'a would seem to rule in this instance.
(2) Gilmour indicated his intent to donate about a quarter of his monetary settlement to the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre to thank its imam, Javed Jaffri, for researching the dog topic and offering to serve as his expert witness. According to Gilmour, Jaffri "spent long hours on this. He provided an unbiased interpretation of the Koran that indicated there is nothing saying that one must refuse service to another person because of the fear of contamination by a dog."
Aug. 21, 2007 update: Bill Jurek of Chicago remembers how the problem and his engagement with it started in about 1996:
Sep. 8, 2007 update: John Matthies, my colleague at Islamist Watch, comments on the Gilmour affair and did some research on dogs and Islamic ritual purity:
Matthies concludes that "No one is bound to chauffeur the public for a living, and scrupulously observant drivers should not require a settlement or ruling to perform the function for which they were hired."
Sep. 12, 2007 update: "Cabbies see guide dogs and drive away, blind riders say" comes the news from Milwaukee, reported by Ellen Gabler. Blind people sometimes wait more than an hour or have to call the cab company repeatedly after taxis arrived, then sped off on seeing the guide dog. "I've had so many bad experiences," says one blind person, Steve Heesen.
In response, the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin has complained to Milwaukee County that some drivers of American United Taxi are avoiding blind passengers with guide dogs. It's particularly an issue because American United Taxi has a $1.25 million contract with the county's Transit Plus program to provide about 500 rides each day for people with disabilities. Gabler explains the company's policy:
The only drivers allowed not to pick up passengers with dogs are those with a doctor's note stating they are allergic to dogs. Of American United Taxi's 300 cab drivers, it turns out, only four have a medical excuse. As for Muslim drivers concerned about carrying dogs because their saliva is unclean, "Some of the drivers feel that if they touch a dog it is unholy," Red Christensen, general manager of American United Taxi notes.
Dec. 4, 2007 update: Remote Fort McMurray, Alberta (population: 65,000) has the same problem, Chuck Chiang reports in "Refused: Airport cabbies wouldn't take blind woman with guide dog, despite laws on her side." Diane Bergeron, a blind woman with a seeing-eye dog, landed at the airport two days ago and despite "a whole line of ten, 15 taxis waiting outside," she said, "not one would take me because of my dog." Eventually, a bystander took her to her hotel in town.
Nor was her plight unusual: Provincial and municipal laws to the contrary, blind Albertans with guide dogs face difficulties getting cabs. "It happens frequently, everywhere," said Ellie Shuster, spokeswoman for a national non-profit agency providing services to blind Canadians. She works for blind cab riders their rights, cab drivers to learn their obligations, and police officers the laws they must enforce.
Indeed, despite laws strictly forbidding the refusal of seeing-eye dogs, local cab companies take a relaxed attitude on the topic. "We can't make the drivers do it," said Ron MacNeill, owner of Sun Taxi, who advises passengers with guide dogs to call ahead. "You have to tell our dispatch and inform us what's going on." Mustapha Hemeid, the manager at Access Taxi, agrees: "Not every driver will [permit guide dogs]. But we do have optional drivers who can, and if you call ahead, we'll do it." Fort McMurray Airport's public relations manager, Sally Beaven, responds that the taxi companies' agreement with the airport requires that "they'll not refuse any fares. This shouldn't happen."
Asked about this situation, the Muslim Association of Canada notes that many Muslims regard dog saliva as unclean, which could cause some drivers to reject dogs in their cars. In addition, "Some people just don't feel comfortable around dogs."
Dec. 23, 2007 update: On a related note, the Al Falah mosque in Leicester, England, just became the first mosque in Britain to permit a seeing-eye dog enter. It is a retriever, chosen because it salivates less than other dogs. A kennel is being build for it outside the prayer hall of the mosque where it will wait for its owner, Mahomed Khatri, 17.
Feb. 6, 2008 update: The U.S. headquarters of CAIR realized a year ago (see the Mar. 30, 2007 update, above) that its anti-seeing-eye-dog efforts were doomed, so it switched sides on the issue. Today, its Canadian office came to the same conclusion. "CAIR-CAN Urges Accommodation for Blind Taxi Passengers" reads the press release. It quotes Jamal Badawi, CAIR-CAN Board Member and a "Canadian Islamic scholar," saying:
Feb. 7, 2008 update: Reporting from Ottawa on this issue turns up some contradictory evidence: On the one hand, just a week ago, a Muslim restaurant owner refused to serve a blind woman who entered the restaurant with her guide dog, telling her, "I'm not allowed." On the other hand, Yusef Al Mezel, for seven years president of the local taxi union, said that he has not once heard of a Muslim cab driver refusing a guide dog.
Feb. 9, 2008 update: Kaye Leslie, a Toronto-based manager of workplace diversity for Scotiabank, told a journalist how she and her dog Kirk
May 12, 2008 update: Tyler Hurd, a 23-year-old junior at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, left the school in late April because he says he feared for the safety of his service dog, a black Labrador named Emmitt trained to protect Hurd when he has seizures. The threat came from a Muslim student of Somali origins.
May 13, 2008 update: CAIR, newly wise to the service-dog problem (see Feb. 6, 2008 update, above), came out with a press release, "Muslim Group Supports Minn. Student's Right to Service Dog" that quotes the Minnesota office's communications director, Valerie Shirley: ""The moral and legal need to accommodate individuals using service dogs far outweighs the discomfort an individual Muslim might feel about coming into contact with a dog, which is one of God's creatures."
June 27, 2008 update: "Sniffer Dogs Offend Muslims" reports Tom Whitehead of Britain'sDaily Mirror. Complaints from Muslims contact with police sniffer dogs trained to spot terrorists at railway stations means, according to a Transport Department report, that in keeping with "cultural sensitivities," the animals will only touch passengers' bags, which is "more acceptable." To this, Tory MP Philip Davies responded negatively: "everyone should be treated equally in the face of the law and we cannot have people of different religious groups laying the law down. I hope the police will go about their business as they would do normally."
Also today, the Daily Mail reported quoted a British Transport Police spokesman indicating that nothing will change: "The legislation applies to everyone. It's not a case for exemptions. Officers will be sensitive where appropriate but obviously there are practical implications. These dogs do not have to be clawing and barking up at people. These are highly trained dogs that can pick up scents from distance. There doesn't always have to be physical contact." July 6, 2008 update: Britain's Association of Chief Police Officers has drawn up guidelines that police sniffer dogs wear bootees with rubber soles when searching the homes of Muslims. Originally intended just for mosques, they now are being applied to private homes. The association explains: "We are trying to ensure that police forces are aware of sensitivities that people can have with the dogs to make sure they are not going against any religious or cultural element within people's homes. It is being addressed and forces are working towards doing it."
July 1, 2008 update: "Muslims outraged at police advert featuring cute puppy sitting in policeman's hat" reads the headline and the text just gets more ridiculous:
The chief constable, John Vine, assured everyone that the graphic was not intended to cause any offence.
July 17, 2008 update: Because some Muslim taxi drivers are refusing to carry passengers with guide dogs, Yellow Cab Company in Brisbane,
Toni Forrest and William.
Toni Forrest and William.
Nov. 11, 2008 update: A case from the United Kingdom, described in "Fine for taxi driver who told blind man: 'I can't take your guide dog, it's against my religion'," Ali Raza Roshanmoniri picked up Christopher Odell from a school where Odell volunteers, then refused to allow his dog into the car on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Cable Cars, the taxi company, sent another cab for Odell.
Because taxi drivers must carry guide dogs, unless they win an exemption on health grounds, Roshanmoniri handed the taxi licensing department a letter the next day from his doctor claiming that he has an allergy to animal hair. But a colleague of Odell's lodged a complaint with Broxtowe Borough Council, Notts. Roshanmoniri eventually pleaded guilty to transgressing the Disability Discrimination Act in Nottingham Magistrates Court which fined him £300, ordered him to pay £150 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge. Cable Cars suspended him.
Dec. 8, 2008 update: Emma Donnelly, 20 and almost totally blind since birth, tells what happened when she took her two-year-old Labrador retriever Yasmin to the Tandoori Nights Restaurant in Exeter, Devon.
Dec. 15, 2008 update: What is it about Indian restaurants in England? Alun Elder-Brown, 51, a recruitment executive who is blind, last week took his girlfriend and her five year-old daughter to the fashionable Kirthon Resturant in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, but never got in. Owner Amenur Abdussamad or his staff told Elder-Brown he could not bring his seeing-eye dog, Finn, inside. Elder-Brown showed his Institute of Environmental Health Officers card certifying that his dog should be allowed into any premises.
"They then said I could leave Finn tied up outside. I stayed calm but when they threatened to call police I left. … It was humiliating and degrading, especially as there were a lot of people around me," he later said. "I was made to feel like a piece of dirt. They told me I couldn't come in because it was against their religious beliefs to have a dog in the restaurant."
Of course, the restaurant's actions went against the law and Elder-Brown is considering a lawsuit against the it.
May 14, 2010 update: Another restaurant saga, this time at Napolis Italian Restaurant in Altavista, Virginia: Christine Calabrese, 47 and legally blind, went to the restaurant on May 8 with her husband John and her service dog, Koji.
This incident follows a "Guide Dogs NSW" awareness campaign targeting cabbies with advertisements on the taxis themselves with the slogan "Any dog can chase a car, ours can catch a cab." In addition, taxi driver training courses include instruction on guidelines for carrying vision-impaired passengers. Despite, 35 percent of the blind report their guide dogs have been refused entry to a taxi in the past 12 months.
June 8, 2010 update: Nader Rohbani-Eivazi, 49, informed Janice Powers, 49, that she could not take her seeing-eye dog Wayne into his taxi in Wales. "Four people but no dog," he said, referring to her and three human companions. When she protested, he replied, "Take me to court," which she did. Magistrates fined Rohbani-Eivazi £200 for breaking disability laws, plus £215 for costs.
June 22, 2010 update: If taxis, why not buses? Judith Woods writes in the first person for the Daily Telegraph (London) about Daisy, a Manchester terrier and how, on two occasions last week, the dog was barred from London buses on religious grounds. In one case, as a friend of Woods took Daisy to the bus, .
July 19, 2010 update: Britain's Daily Mail reports in "Muslim bus drivers refuse to let guide dogs on board" that bus and taxi drivers are ordering blind passengers off their vehicles "has become so widespread that the matter was raised in the House of Lords last week, prompting transport minister Norman Baker to warn that a religious objection was not a reason to eject a passenger with a well-behaved guide dog."
The article tells the story of George Herridge, 73, a retired hospital maintenance manager and cancer sufferer, who was "stunned" when twice told by bus drivers to get off because of his guide dog Andy, a black Labrador; in addition, he faced hostility at a hospital and in a supermarket.
Nov. 25, 2010 update: Doreen and Ernest Dix, an elderly blind couple living near Stafford, to the north of Birmingham, England, were turned away from a taxi in a commercial area because of Blake, their golden retriever-labrador. The driver, according to the Dixes, said he did not want the dog in his car.
Mrs. Dix, 71, recounted: "I can barely see, but saw the driver wave his hands and say 'no, no, no' as we approached his cab. We were both very upset and were made to feel really small, but just got the next taxi in the end." Mr. Dix, 82, was "appalled" by the driver's behavior: "I've been registered blind for 28 years and have never been discriminated against by a taxi driver before this. If he isn't willing to pick up certain people, then he shouldn't be in a queue of taxis earmarked for shoppers."
Apr. 1, 2011 update: A reader, Ed Leary, provides compelling personal testimony on taxi drivers in Washington, D.C. refusing blind riders with dogs. Please read his comment.
Apr. 19, 2011 update: As a sidebar, Time magazine reports that the authorities in Iran are preparing legislation to ban dogs as pets in that country on the grounds that they are "impure and dangerous animals."
Sean Dilley and Chipp.
Sean Dilley and Chipp.
Apr. 2, 2012 update: A report from Columbus, Ohio, by Rick Reitzel of NBC4, reporting on an incident in May 2011:
Apr. 14, 2012 update: A report from near Oldham, in the Greater Manchester area of England, by Martin Robinson in the Daily Mail:
Cartwright then complained to the driver's employer Borough Taxis and
Comment: This incident confirms my view that when it's the blind vs. the Islamists, Islamists lose.
July 16, 2012 update: Sue-Ann Levy, the Toronto Sun's City Hall columnist, who sees and has a pet dog, tells of an unpleasant experience at the city's Pearson airport:
Looking into the matter, she found that problems like this occur "quite often not only at the airport but in Toronto proper. … Gail Beck-Souter, general manager of Beck Taxi that operates about 900 cars in Toronto, confirms that if certain Muslims take a dog in their vehicle, they are required to go home and shower afterwards (before they pray)." She also found that the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) which licenses the cabs and limos at Pearson has "bent over backwards to accommodate the religious demands" of the drivers.
Jan. 3, 2013 update: Two Malaysian muftis condone the blind relying on help dogs.
Nov. 30, 2013 update: Mike Simmonds of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, three times had problems with Comfort Cabs taking him and his service dog.
He has filed a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
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