Muslim Taxi Drivers Refuse Passengers With Guide Dogs"If you can't actually serve the customers in greatest need - people with some form of disability - well, you shouldn't be in the job. I'm committed to doing something about this. It is an intolerable thing. I need to make the point very clear to the taxi industry and to taxi drivers. This is illegal, with a fine of up to $1100."
Sadly, more and more stories are emerging of cab drivers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the EU placing religious beliefs above the laws of these countries by refusing passage to people with guide dogs.
While anyone with a service animal certainly means no disrespect to anyone's religious beliefs, the law of the land is the law of the land and should be obeyed.
In most cases it is a misinterpretation of the Qu'ran and lack of knowledge of how well trained the dogs are.
|For Blind and Visually Impaired Persons||For Muslim Taxi Drivers|
John Matthies at AmericanThinker.com did some research on dogs and Islamic ritual purity:
"Cabdrivers have argued that dogs are "unclean," but there is little agreement on the subject. In our own time, clerics like the Iranian Hojatolislam Hassani have denounced the "moral depravity" of dog ownership, and demanded "the judiciary arrest of all dogs with long, medium or short legs—together with their long-legged owners." And last September, Saudi religious police banned dogs from the holy city of Mecca and neighboring Jeddah. But these are exceptional cases.
Early chroniclers of the Prophet's life and mission report that dogs, while "unclean," are not entirely off limits. Dogs may be kept for hunting, shepherding, and protection, for example. And legal scholars disagree among themselves as to whether the dog is (1) entirely pure, (2) entirely impure, or (3) pure as to fur and impure of saliva.
Ritual purity is the rub. According to the "impure" tradition, contact with dog saliva will invalidate ritual purity and nullify ablutions ("breaks" wudu') required for prayer or handling the Muslim holy book. This applies to the saliva of every canine, mongrel and "certified guide dog" alike.
But what is the worst that can happen if car and driver become contaminated with dog saliva? The answer is that the soiled spot of the clothes or car must be cleansed in ritual fashion (seven times in all, and once with dirt), and the person must apply partial ablutions (wudu') to the face and extremities."
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."
In the case of one settlement reached in Vancouver, British Columbia, an Iman from the local Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre, Javed Jaffri, researched the dog topic and served as an expert witness for a blind man refused passage by an Muslim taxi driver. Jaffri spent long hours on this, and 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."
He also said that "there can be exceptions to blanket refusals to deal with dogs, especially if it means helping someone in need. All that would be required in most circumstances would be for a Muslim person to wash their hands before eating if they have been in contact with a dog. That's not a terrible task to go through," he said.
|For Blind and Visually Impaired Persons||For Muslim Taxi Drivers|
The Evolution of The Story:Compiled from DanielPipes.org
Dec. 23, 2007
Dec. 4, 2007
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."
Sep. 12, 2007
"Cabbies see guide dogs and drive away, blind riders say" comes the news from Milwaukee, reports 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:
When calling for a cab, passengers with guide dogs must notify American United that the animal is along for the ride. This helps drivers identify blind passengers in a crowd, and also allows drivers allergic to dogs to decline the job. Once a driver accepts an order, however, the driver must service it or wait an hour before picking up another ride.
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.
Aug. 16, 2007
When Behzad Saidy, a taxi driver in Vancouver, British Columbia, refused service to Bruce Gilmour, 49, and his seeing-eye dog, he did so on the grounds that he drove a no-pet cab. Saidy later explained that being a Muslim means he must not associate with dogs, on the basis that they are "unclean." He subsequently found an imam who stated on his behalf that "Islam holds some restrictions toward certain animals, including dogs."
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."
June 14, 2007
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.
"The married couple was stranded as they tried to make their way to Addenbrooke's Hospital for an appointment on August 15 last year. Abdullah told Cambridge Magistrates' Court: "Sorry, I sneeze; my religion" before taking another passenger from the queue and driving away. The court was told this was to imply he was allergic to dogs. The stunned couple, from North Walsham in Norfolk, are both registered blind, and Mrs Monaghan is also deaf. The next taxi driver at the rank picked up the couple and took a note of Abdullah's cab number so they could make a complaint."
May 24, 2007
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 24, 2007 update: Australia's Transport Minister John Watkins has elaborated further on his decision to fine errant hacks:
"If you can't actually serve the customers in greatest need those - people with some form of disability - well, you shouldn't be in the job. I'm committed to doing something about this. It is an intolerable thing. I need to make the point very clear to the taxi industry and to taxi drivers. This is illegal, with a fine of up to $1100."
Apr. 20, 2007
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.
Apr. 2, 2007
Blind woman Gry Berg, accompanied by her guide dog, was denied entry into four taxis in the center of the city of Oslo, Norway, this March. Three of the drivers claimed that their unwillingness to accept her dog was due to allergy, while the fourth one simply locked the car doors and refused to give an explanation for why he wouldn't let Ms. Berg into his cab.
Andreas Strand, leader of the youth organization of The Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted, reacts strongly to this treatment. "It makes it difficult for blind people to live a social life," he says. Strand claims that it has become an increasingly common problem that blind people accompanied by guide dogs are denied access to taxis, and has written a letter of complaint to the three companies whose drivers were involved in this particular incident.
Now, the police and the local transportation authorities will cooperate on punishing drivers who refuse to accept dogs into their cars. Director Odd Bratteberg of the Transportation Authority in Oslo warns that they will conduct random tests at taxi stands, and that drivers who refuse to accept passengers with dogs risk having their license revoked.
Mar. 30, 2007
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 (Council on American-Islamic Relations) 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."
Nov. 15, 2006
Bruce Gilmour, a blind man from the North Shore of Vancouver, British Columbia, has filed a case with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal after a driver, Behzad Saidy, refused to let his guide dog into his North Shore taxi in January 2006. Gilmour complains that North Shore taxi discriminated against him on the basis of his physical disability. Saidy responds that his Muslim beliefs do not permit him to take dogs in his taxi. North Shore Taxi filed a document with the Human Rights Tribunal stating that about half of its drivers are "unable to take animals in their taxis due to medical or religious reasons."
"Gilmour and the taxi driver disagree on what was said about the dog at the time. Saidy has told the Human Rights Tribunal he told Gilmour at the time that he was refusing because of religious beliefs. But Gilmour's lawyer Nazeer Mitha said all the driver said to Gilmour was, "No dogs, no dogs," before driving away. The first Gilmour heard about religious objections was after he filed a formal complaint, said Mitha.
Since then, the taxi driver has filed a statement from a Muslim cleric stating that Islam has some restrictions towards certain animals, including dogs. But Mitha says Gilmour has also filed a statement from a different Muslim cleric, stating that there can be exceptions to blanket refusals to deal with dogs, especially if it means helping someone in need. Mitha said all that would be required in most circumstances would be for a Muslim person to wash their hands before eating if they have been in contact with a dog. "That's not a terrible task to go through," he said."
Oct. 8, 2006
From Melbourne, Australia, where about 20 percent of the city's 10,000 taxis are driven by Muslims, comes a report of more problems. According to the Herald Sun Sunday:
"Muslim taxi drivers are refusing to carry blind passengers with their guide dogs or anyone carrying alcohol. At least 20 dog-aided blind people have lodged discrimination complaints with the Victorian Taxi Directorate. Dozens more have voiced their anger. And there have been several complaints that drivers refuse to allow passengers to carry sealed bottles of alcohol.
Victorian Taxi Association spokesman Neil Sach said the association had appealed to the mufti of Melbourne to give religious approval for Muslim cabbies to carry guide dogs. One Muslim driver, Imran, said yesterday the guide dog issue was difficult for him. "I don't refuse to take people, but it's hard for me because my religion tells me I should not go near dogs," he said."
Oct. 6, 2006
A report from the United Kingdom tells of two recent instances of Muslim cab drivers refusing seeing-eye dogs into their cars and being fined.
- Jane Vernon, 39, a legal officer for the Royal National Institute for the Blind, appeared on the BBC's News 24 program and the BBC-contracted car was to take her home. But minicab driver Abdul Rasheed Majekodumni said she could not get into his car with the dog because his religion considers dogs "unclean." Majekodumni's actions landed him in Marylebone court, where he was fined £200 and ordered to pay another £1,200 for failing to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act. Even after the verdict, Majekodumni, in the words of the Daily Mail, "remained defiant and insisted that he would continue refusing passengers accompanied by guide dogs."
- Bernie Reddington, 37, tried to get a ride home from a hospital appointment at Great Ormond Street but driver Basir Miah refused, calling her dog "dirty." The magistrates court at Horseferry found him guilty of breaching the terms of his license, fining him £150 plus £250 compensation.
November 14, 2005
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.Muslim taxi drivers refusing to allow the guide dogs into their cars is a recurring theme. In July 1997, for example, 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.
Another instance arose in Cincinnati in February 1999, when Annie McEachrin, blind since birth, tried to get into Hassan Taher's cab 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."
A third taxi issue arose in Edmonton, Canada in October 2000, 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.
Edmonton was also where, in May 2003, 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."
Then there was the more recent case in Brooksville, Florida, on Nov. 5, when a legally blind man, David Bearden, tried to enter a convenience store with his dog to buy a cold soda, but was thrown out by the clerk, Mike Hamed. As Hamed explains, he looked up from the counter "saw this big dog." Bearden picks up the tale: "As soon as we got inside the door, the clerk yelled at us to stop." Bearden says he tried three times to explain that state law not only requires access for seeing-eye dogs but treats denial of access as a criminal misdemeanor. Bearden quotes Hamed telling him nonetheless "Get that dog out of here; it's going to eat my food." Bearden says he plans to file a claim against Hamed. No word yet of CAIR defending Hamed's actions.
In this connection, it is worth noting a brief letter to the editor from a Muslim woman, Zuraimah Mohammed, and published on June 14, 2005 by Singapore's Straits Times:
For more information on this issue, check out other posts on this topic:
St. Paul-Minneapolis Muslim Taxi Cab Drivers Refuse Service to People with Service Dogs and Alcohol
Minnesota Airport Authority Cracks Down on Muslim Cab Drivers Refusing To Carry Dogs
Australian Taxis Refusing Service to Service Dogs
London Taxi Refuses To Carry Blind Woman and Service Dog — Against His Beliefs
BBC Radio 4 In Touch
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TX Day and Date Tuesday 200606
TX Time 20:40 - 21:00
Line Identity 0800 044 044
Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Cheryl Gabriel
Sunil Peck (reporter)
Tom Pey (Director of Policy & Development - Guide Dogs for the Blind Association)
Ibrahim Mogra (Muslim Council of Britain )
Pervez Hussein (Muslim Guide dog Owner)
Guide Dog Discrimination
In Touch recently reported the case of Bernie Reddington, a blind woman who was refused the use of a taxi because the Asian driver who responded to her call objected to her guide dog. This is a common enough story amongst the visually impaired community, despite the fact that it is illegal to refuse service to a guide dog owner, unless you can provide proof of a medical condition which is aggravated by close proximity to dogs. Therefore having a religious or cultural objection to dogs, or indeed a genuine fear of them, is not covered. So what happens if you are an Asian taxi driver or retailer with a genuine aversion to dogs, faced with a blind customer and their guide dog? On tonight's In Touch, Peter White and reporter Sunil Peck attempt to address these issues facing visually impaired people.
Disability Rights Commission
Telephone number: Telephone: 08457 622 633
Muslim Council of Britain
Tel:+(44/0) 20 8432 0585/6
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TX: 20.06.06 2040-2100
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: CHERYL GABRIEL
Good evening. We recently reported on the case of Bernie Reddington, a blind woman who was refused the use of a taxi because the Asian driver who responded to her call objected to her guide dog. Well this of course has been a common enough story in Britain over the past few years but the fact is that it's now illegal to refuse taxi services to a guide dog owner unless you can provide proof of a medical condition which is aggravated by close proximity to dogs. So that having a religious or a cultural objection to dogs or indeed a genuine fear of them isn't covered. So what happens if you are an Asian taxi driver or a retailer, for example, with a genuine aversion to dogs faced with a blind customer and their guide dog who want to use your taxi and/or your restaurant? Now obviously something perhaps a little unresolvable. Well to help me answer some of these questions I'm joined, by amongst others, Ibrahim Mogra, who's chair of the Mosque and Community Affairs Committee of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Ibrahim, could you first of all perhaps just explain the situation and may be put it in terms of its religious cultural and geographical background?
Sure. Well Islam teaches that all animals and all of God's creatures need to be cared for and looked after. However, there are certain things which are part and parcel of an animal's body or go through the animal's system that are regarded as impure. So, for example, blood, human and animal waste and dog saliva is regarded as ritually impure. So that if it were to touch my body or my clothes I'd have to wash that part or change my clothes before I could say my prayers. So religion comes into play to that extent only. The rest of the body of the dog - if it brushes past you or if you want to pat the dog on the head - that does not make you impure ritually, although it would be advisable to wash your hands before you use it to eat anything, just for hygiene reasons. But following from that what has happened over the centuries is that because Muslims do try to pray five times a day they have tried to stay away from the possibility of being made ritually impure by the lapping of a dog or the saliva of a dog. And so we are discouraged from keeping dogs as pets but certainly allowed to keep dogs for other reasons, such as security and indeed blind Muslims or visually impaired Muslims would be most definitely allowed to have a guide dog to help them move around and to go wherever they need to go.
But if you were a devout Muslim this would be a very serious issue, something which you would be quite justified to have anxieties about?
Yes that is true but it is up to the ulama, the scholars, to educate such people to say Islam does have certain rules and regulations but it always make exceptions for individuals when it looks and examines their individual cases. So a partially sighted or a blind Muslim should have no worry, no anxiety, whatsoever in utilising a guide dog because Sharea and Muslim law does allow such individuals to utilise the guide dogs.
So put bluntly therefore should there be so much of a problem with taxi drivers who clearly feel that they have some aversion to guide dogs, should it be as common for them to refuse to take the dogs?
I think we need to make a bigger effort of trying to educate them as well, to say that there are different facets to this whole situation - we have the religious dimension, we have the cultural dimension and perhaps we have just an individual's personal dislike for hairy creatures for example.
Which of course you could have if you were white or a Christian or Caribbean or whatever part of the world you came from.
Precisely and this is something that is - I have seen very often with Asian children and in particular Muslim children, whenever I take my family to the park or something if there are other families with their dog you can see the Muslim children actually making a big effort to stay out of the way of the dog and if the dog were to run up to them, just to play with them, some of them would actually scream and run. And one such incident actually resulted in the loss of a young life when a dog chased after this young man and he fell off the cliffs in Lancashire. So these are the difficulties that can come about if we do not educate our communities correctly to say what is allowed and what is not allowed.
Okay, we'll come back to you on some of these points. We're also going to be joined by Pervez Hussein, who's a Muslim and who has been a guide dog owner since 1997. But first Sunil Peck is with us, he's been looking at the situation and Sunil until recently you lived in an area of London where a lot of shops and taxis are run by Muslims, as a blind guide dog owner how does that affect you?
Yeah I lived in Walthamstow and as you said there are a tremendous amount of Muslims living there and there are a lot of Muslim run shops, restaurants and minicabs and there are some fantastic places selling all variety of food, it's a great place. But while I was living there I felt really like an alien.
That's a very strong word to use - why?
Well it was things like when I'd be walking down the street and women and children would scream when they saw me and my guide dog Bosley coming towards them. And my family were always amazed to see sometimes huge hulking blokes leap back in terror as I walked towards them with Bosley too. And you know I'd be on a bus or I'd walk into a shop and I'd hear people saying - No dogs, no dogs.
So how did this mean you modifying your behaviour while you lived there?
Well I tended to do all my shopping online, rather than nipping to the shop round the corner to buy a carton of milk or nip out to buy a kebab, I'd just buy everything online. Which was a huge shame, as I say it was a great place.
So presumably there were a lot of places you would have liked to have gone to but you obviously thought you couldn't really.
Yeah and also minicabs are a problem, I could never find a minicab company who were prepared to take Bosley and myself.
So we have here a problem really of two what look like quite rather unresolvable problems because you've got a Muslim's genuine perhaps fear of dogs, in spite of what Ibrahim has said and we've also got a blind person's right to go, which has been hard fought for over the years, to go where they want to go. Ibrahim, how do you react to what Sunil has said?
Yeah I'm extremely disappointed in the way the Muslims have behaved themselves. I think I and along with me I'm sure all the Muslim scholars ought to share responsibility that we have not educated our communities well enough because clearly here we have Sunil who is in need of a guide dog, he cannot go about his day to day life without the support and the use of his guide dog and these guide dogs are clearly visible - they have the fluorescent collars and it's obvious that this is not a dog that is going to harm you or come up to you and dirty you or anything like that, this dog is very well trained and is in charge of the person who is using it. And we should be prepared actually to go out of our way to accommodate such users.
Now I guess we should make it clear. Now Sharea law has said, hasn't it, as you mentioned, that is okay to carry guide dogs in your taxi and allow them into your shop, so the key issue is the saliva is it really?
Absolutely, if that can be cleaned up then there is no problem whatsoever.
But isn't somebody entitled to say - a big dog comes into my - they might lick my hand or something like - you know I can understand why if I was of that faith and it was part of that teaching I might feel that way. We've got generations of tradition here haven't we?
That's correct. I mean a Muslim will always be concerned, especially if they pray regularly that they keep their body and their clothes clean. But how often do you come across a person with a guide dog, these are very few and rare occasions and I think we should be big hearted enough to ensure that they feel at home and they feel part and parcel of our communities and not feel alien.
Let me bring in Pervez. Now you are a guide dog owner, was this a difficult decision for you to make as a Muslim?
No it wasn't. I've been listening to Ibrahim and very interesting comment. I've been a guide dog owner since 1997 but I live in a predominantly white area, so - I live in Herefordshire which is very, very different. But years and years ago in 1998 I made a video of my guide dog - he actually guided me around the streets in Selforth and I took it back to my community which is in Birmingham, which is Alum Rock, Washwood Heath area and actually showed the video to my parents and my family. That actually showed them what the guide dog actually does. Now in relation to how I think Sunil was treated - it's probably the way he looks, just teasing you Sunil - a lot of the things which go on with guide dogs and the community are basically down to uneducation. I would like to see more from the Muslim Council of Britain and also possibly from the mosques because there's not a lot of teaching in relation to guide dogs. I mean I can go back still into the community in Birmingham and they still not have a clue about guide dogs and they don't know what they do.
Well I was going to say would it have been different if you'd been having your guide dog in Birmingham or Walthamstow, for example, would that have changed your decision?
I'm a very strong individual but I think it would have - it certainly wouldn't have stopped me but the education part of it there's not a lot of publicity on guide dogs really within the Muslim community, very few Muslim guide dog owners in the UK, I think I'm one of the few. When Ibrahim talks about in relation to hygiene is part of the problem with the guide dog and his religious belief as well and there's over two million service providers of - who are Muslim who are missing out on a lot of people in the country due to religious belief. Now education is very, very important and that's the message that the Muslim Council of Britain in my opinion should be getting to the scholars and the mosque leaders and the communities working alongside guide dogs and Muslim guide dog owners. The problem is youngsters that run away from dogs, it's something that's been taught to them when they're young, not because they're always afraid of the dog, it's that they always think the same of every single dog - there's no distinction between a guide dog and a normal dog.
Let me bring in Tom Pey, he's policy director of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and you've been listening to this. There's a suggestion maybe that the guide dogs just haven't got a big enough profile amongst the Muslim community anyway.
I think there's an awful lot to learn here. The first thing is that it's only recently become law that guide dogs should be carried in taxis and private hire vehicles. Of course there's always been access for guide dogs into places. We get quite a number of complaints every week from guide dog owners, it's fair to say that these complaints cross all sectors of the community and they're not restricted solely to the Muslim community. But to deal directly with your point - we have found ourselves that when we deal directly with the individual, against whom the complaint was made, that normally we resolve the matter and so it is very clearly a matter of education and we're forming the view that we need to have a higher profile. Now we've done that working with communities in Lewisham and communities in Burnley and these have proved very successful for guide dogs and it's something that we need to do more of and we want to do more of.
Let me bring back Ibrahim, I mean what do you think needs to happen because it sounds as if a project here and a project there is only going to scratch the surface of this problem isn't it?
I think the proposal of involving the Muslim Council of Britain with the mosques is an excellent one, I think we need to proactively bring this discussion to the forefront, to say here we have a situation in our country where people who would have been at a great disadvantage have the possibility of leading almost similar lives to ourselves who are sighted and this is what Islam says and this is what Islam allows and this is how we can go about accommodating such people and to also target our children to say dogs are nice cuddly beings and they will not necessarily harm you, of course when you come in touch with dogs' saliva or anything like that this is the teaching that you wash yourself, you change your clothes. And when you are in a situation where a dog wants to play with you, don't scream and run but under supervision try and give the dog a little pat and move away.
What's your view about the use of the law in this case because I mean clearly people like Bernie Reddington are saying however tolerant I might want to be the fact is this is stopping me getting from A to B. Do you think it's right that at this stage in proceedings, when as you said a lot of people perhaps have misunderstandings about guide dogs, is the law appropriate do you think?
I think every case will be looked upon its own merit, there might be individuals who feel that the law is the only path that is open to them and they might want to utilise that. But I think at the same time I'm sure when the lawmakers bring any legislation into being they will have looked at all the different angles to the debate and clearly if somebody is contradicting and contravening the law then they should be held accountable for that.
So you're not objecting to that use of the law in cases where there seems to be no way of resolving it?
Yeah I mean these cases I feel that are all resolvable, I don't think there will be any single case that can't be worked out. For example if you have the cab drivers, most of the black cabs have two compartments - the rear one for the passenger and the front one for the driver - so there's no chance of contamination. Once the passenger has been dropped off all it needs is a little bit more effort in mopping up and cleaning up. So I think there are ways that we can work around these issues and we should not make religion an excuse to make life even more difficult for those who find themselves in this situation of being blind or partially sighted.
And what about the situation in restaurants? I mean we've had Sunil saying really there are a whole load of restaurants that he'd loved to have gone to but didn't really feel he could, not with the dog at any rate.
Yeah I think with that obviously there are the health and safety regulations and all that, provided that the establishment can ensure that there is a section where guide dog users can come and enjoy a meal there. If they can do it I think they should do it and it's not a question of if they can do it, I think we should encourage all these restaurants and takeaway places to actively make room for such individuals. I reflect back years ago when wheelchair users used to have so many difficulties and now we find, with God's grace, that wheelchair users are welcome almost everywhere and have access like anybody else. And I can see it's not long before guide dog users also will have similar access like sighted people.
Tom Pey, Ibrahim said at the beginning that he was keen that there should be more education, perhaps more working together, between himself and yourself and his faith and the Guide Dogs Association, as a result of tonight's programme might there be more of that do you think?
We really welcome the invitation and I can assure you we will take it up. I think everybody is agreed there needs to be understanding on both sides - guide dog owners need to be sensitive to the needs of the Muslim community, as much as the Muslim community need to be aware of the law and the needs of guide dog owners. And I think if we can achieve that balance, as was said previously, then I think a solution is in sight. So we will do everything we can.
Sunil Peck, you were the person who, in a way, apart from the Bernie Reddington case, brought this to our attention in its wider context - the fact that you could live in a community and feel really quite isolated in it - what do you feel needs to happen really as a blind person who's got a right to travel around, use transport, go to restaurants?
Yeah I think it's encouraging to hear what's been said but really from what I experience I think it's going to be a long haul before we get to a situation where someone like me could walk around Walthamstow and just nip into any restaurant as and when. But you know I hope I'm proved wrong.
Pervez Hussein, you went to the lengths of making a video, do you have ideas maybe about how this situation could be improved quickly enough really, otherwise it could take generations couldn't it?
Well I personally think that the Muslim community needs to take a good look at themselves and the education part of it. The difficulty is that as we mentioned before I made a DVD, I think something like that needs to be made in relation to a Muslim guide dog owner, the things that they do in the home. This hasn't got issues just for guide dog owners, taxis and restaurants, it's got issues in relation to Muslims, young Muslims of today, who want a guide dog and find it very difficult to even get on the ladder of getting a guide dog because of the religious issues that are placed on them to get their independence. Now although our culture's very geared upon family values the difficulty is youngsters who really, really want a guide dog can't due to religious beliefs because of the uneducation that their families may have in relation to guide dogs. I would like to see the Muslim Council of Britain working with the scholars. And also in relation to restaurants, when a guide dog owner goes to a restaurant, if you go to an English restaurant you're treated the same as anybody else so in relation - this shouldn't be a [indistinct word] idea because guide dogs are also environmentally healthy tested, all of them are, so if you go into a restaurant she should be treated exactly the same as anybody else going into any restaurant. I would like to see guide dogs along with the Muslim Council of Britain, along with guide dog owners who are Muslim working in conjunction with all those parties and getting the scholars and getting into the communities and working together because this issue is not just a small issue, it's a very wider issue in relation to Muslims having guide dogs, Muslim shopkeepers, owners, restaurants - it's such a rooted problem, it's not going to be resolved very, very easily.
Could I just get a very quick reaction from Ibrahim Mogra to that?
I think Pervez is quite right, we need to now to take a proactive approach, as I mentioned, and have to start this educating of our communities and I hope that all of us can join in partnership to bring this to the dining table of every Muslim home where they can discuss it as families.
Well let's hope that this programme perhaps has made some small contribution to that. Ibrahim Mogra, Pervez Hussein, Tom Pey, Sunil Peck - thank you all very much indeed. We welcome your comments on anything that you've heard tonight. You can call us on 0800 044 044. From me Peter White, my producer Cheryl Gabriel and the rest of the team, goodbye.