Landlord penalized for failing to accommodate tenants’ religious practices – What does the Shariah say?

On April 19, 2017 the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that landlord John Alabi discriminated against the his tenants, the Muslim couple Walid and Heba Madkour, and harassed them because of their religious beliefs. The ruling imposed on John Alabi a penalty of $12,000 in total.

On August 8, 2017 Tribunal denied Alabi’s request to reconsider its April 19, 2017 decision.

On November 22, 2018 Ontario Superior Court Of Justice dismissed Alabi’s application for a Judicial Review in the form of an order quashing or setting aside two decisions of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and ordered Alabi to pay Walid and Heba Madkour $5,000 to cover their costs.

The case is detailed in the court decision:

Mr. Madkour and Ms. Ismail are practicing Muslims. Their expression of their faith manifests in many ways. It requires them to pray several times a day. Those times vary according to season. They must pray in a clean area. To that end, they do not wear outside shoes in their apartment, especially in the room in which they pray, to keep that room as clean as possible. Ms. Ismail is required to dress very modestly, and believes that a woman should not be seen with her body or hair uncovered in the presence of a man who is not her husband or blood relavive.

Mr. Madkour and Ms. Ismail were also Mr. Alabi’s tenants. The landlord-tenant relationship did not go smoothly. Mr. Madkour and Ms. Ismail entered into the tenancy in December 1, 2014, but by January 20, 2015, the parties agreed that the tenancy would end and Mr. Madkour and Ms. Ismail would vacate the unit by February 28.

Mr. Alabi said he would give the tenants 24 hours’ notice before bringing prospective tenants to see the apartment, and would define the blocks of time required for the viewings. The tenants asked for another notice one hour before the actual inspection. They made this request so that they could arrange their prayers to be complete by the time of the inspection, the apartment could be made presentable, and so Ms. Ismail could be appropriately dressed. They also asked that those entering the apartment remove their shoes when in the apartment or, at minimum, when in the bedroom, where the couple prayed.

The tenants say that Mr. Alabi did not remove his shoes when he was in the apartment and the bedroom. There were difficulties surrounding the notice Mr. Alabi gave, and with Mr. Alabi’s conduct before and during some inspections.

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.

The Muslim 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”.

Islamic edicts by leading Muslim scholars rule that is it permissible to pray wearing shoes when necessary.

The website Islamqa.info republished the following fatwa (Islamic ruling) Shaykh ‘Abd-Allaah Ibn Humayd:

Yes, that is permissible, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) prayed wearing his shoes. In al-Saheeh it is narrated that Abu Sa’eed said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) lead us in prayer whilst he was wearing his shoes, then he took them off [whilst still praying] , and the people took their shoes off too. When the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said the Tasleem [at the end of the prayer], they said: “O Messenger of Allaah, you took off your shoes, so we took off our shoes too.” He said: “Jibreel came to me and told me that there was some dirt on them, so I took them off. When any one of you comes to the mosque, let him look at his shoes, and if he sees any dirt on them, let him wipe them. And they can be purified with dust.”

(Narrated by Abu Dawood, no. 650). The point here is that praying in shoes is permissible. It says in the hadeeth: “Be different from the Jews, pray wearing your slippers or shoes.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood, no. 652). But the condition is that the shoes must be taahir (pure, clean). If there is any najaasah (impurity) or dirt on the shoes, then one should not pray wearing them or enter the mosque in shoes, unless he is sure that they are free of impurity or dirt. And Allaah knows best.

Prayer on a clean mat in a unclean room or in a public space is permissible in Islam and the prayer will be considered valid.

Muslim Friday prayer at Mississauga’s Square One led by Imam Hamid Slimi (MuslimFest, August 30, 2019)

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