Friday, January 19, 2007

You Couldn't Make It Up No 94

From tonight's Cambridge Evening News...

A SMOKER was refused cigarettes at a Cambridge store because the Muslim
shop assistant said it was against her religion to sell tobacco. A 31-year-old
woman, who asked not to be identified, was shocked when she attempted to buy a
pack of 20 cigarettes at the WH Smith store in Market Street and was turned
down. She said: "I asked for a pack of 20 Lambert & Butler and the woman
behind the desk asked me if they were cigarettes. "When I said they were she
told me that it was against her religion to sell them - I couldn't believe my

"I rang up the manager to complain and he said the shop assistant has
to ask someone else to serve them for her if a customer wants tobacco. "If she
had just said, I can't serve you, then that would have been fair enough, but the
thing that really annoyed me was the way she gave me a lecture as well. "She
started saying she doesn't agree with smoking, that it kills you - I was really

When contacted by the News, the store's assistant manager, who refused
to give her name, said: "It is true that Muslims can't sell cigarettes - I used
to be Jehovah's Witness and I wouldn't on religious grounds either."She said the
customer should have realised the shop assistant was a Muslim, and would not
sell her tobacco, because she was "sitting there in her full robes".

Asked why the store had someone who would not sell tobacco working behind
the till, she said: "It is against the law to discriminate against people on
religious grounds". However, a leading Muslim denied the claim it was against
Islam to sell tobacco, and said he had Muslim friends who smoke. Asim Mumtaz,
president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Cambridge, said: "I don't think
there is any basis for refusing to sell cigarettes. "Islam, like most religions,
is against anything that injures health or the body, but there is no ban on
cigarettes or on smoking. "The holy Koran is quite specific about
intoxicants, alcohol and other drugs which cause a person to lose control are
forbidden, but cigarettes are not forbidden so I am surprised by this."


Anonymous said...

Altogether now:


Anonymous said...

Heaven help us!

It's called make it up as you go along sharia law.

Right up there with the old "Muslims can't use alcohol wipes to clean their hands at the MRSA hospital" fatwa.

As it appears that any old muppet can call himself an Islamic scholar these days, I look forward to someone sensible, a kind of Mohammad Luther King if you will, combining the several and various Islamic schools of thought that is compatable with life in the West.

The Leadership Blogger said...

I bet she's also been told that wearing the veil is a religeous obligation.

By a man.

Anonymous said...

This is the worst example of tabloid style blogging that I have ever seen Mr Dale. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Dib, dib, dib.

Anonymous said...


muslims against fags is acceptable but--- Christians against homosexuals is unacceptable.--ref sexual orientations bill.

Anonymous said...

Now this Shop assistant could work in the North Lanarkshire Council Town Hall at Motherwell. The Labour Group Leader, one Cllr. McCabe who being interviewed by a jounralist asked her did she mind if he smoked and lit up three times despite this being an offence in Scotland.
A Council spokesman presumably said, "we do not prosecute on first offence or if your name's McCabe.
Mind you what some of dumbwit Councillor would deliberately flout the law in front of a journalist- even by by the standards of stupidity in the Lanarkshire Labour Party, this would have qualified in the Darwin awards

Anonymous said...

I wonder if she is married because doesn't the Koran ban married women from working?

Yak40 said...

Seem to remember the Koran does not specifically forbid alcohol.

Anonymous said...

My local Tesco had to move all of the alcohol so that the Muslim girls on the tills couldn't see the alcohol while they were working.

Anonymous said...

This is a very odd one. I see Muslims smoking every day. In fact, I remember interviewing some up in South Shields years ago and one of them was pulling on a cigar in the Malcolm Allison class. What interests me is why the paper felt the urge to make this tale "a story." I doubt I'd find their reasons very endearing. I share Kris's yearning for that "someone sensible". This sort of conduct by newspapers does nothing to help bring that about.

P.S. Did you see me on the telly on Wednesday night? How was the shirt?

Anonymous said...

I don't shop in WH Smiths not on any religious ground but for economical reasons, their prices are too high.

Anonymous said...

What the hell? Most of my Muslim friends smoke!

If she refuses to do her job she should be fired. No special treatment for religion!

Anonymous said...

So sad to see you stooping to this, Iain. You could have chosen one of a thousand things to blog about - why chose this? As someone said, very tabloid.

I am sure at least one English person, one Chinese person, one Italian person etc. did something "newsworthy" today that you could have written about - why go with the Muslim story? Muslim-bashing? Not really a good idea and I am surprised YOU are doing it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Iain, but my sympathies are with the shop assistant. One should always have the ability to have a 'conscience clause' in one's terms of employment.

I personally found it scandalous that people couldn't opt out of Sunday working under threat of dismissal.

Of course, if the selling of, say, alcohol, is central to the role - e.g. working in an off licence, then I'm sure that the person concerned wouldn't want to work there.

But you seem to be saying that staff shouldn't have a mind of their own - that they should be obliged to follow orders. As Ken Livingstone so rightly pointed out to that eejit from the Daily Mail - that argument belongs to concentration camp guards and that is where it should stay.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I bet you are the same person who would be criticising staff who worked in banks if they sell credit cards or loans to people who cannot afford them, despite the policy being mandated by the managers at their Head Office.

You are just wanting to have the penny and the bun here, I'm afraid. You can't ask for BA to allow people to 'follow their faith' by wearing a cross on the one hand, and ask the moslems to 'check their faith' at the door on the other.

And there was me thinking it was just Jade Goody that couldn't be bothered to see how other cultures should be considered & respected.

Anonymous said...

it's not illegal though to discriminate against something in not offering them a job because they're not competent to do it as this woman clearly is

Anonymous said...

A quiet news day obviously!

Anonymous said...

While religious freedom is important, so is freedom from religion. Other people's and their crackpot views. People can believe what they like. But they may not manifest their views where they interfre with the rights of others.

Could this be unlawful under the Equality Act 2006?

Would someone from WH Smith care to comment?

Anonymous said...

This woman is employed to serve customers, ultimately in the interests of her employers who wish to sell products. If she refuses to do so then she has broken her contract of employment and must be sacked. Religion does not come into it.

Anonymous said...

Iain, would you sell marijuana to kids ? Would you sell cocaine to your friends ? Or sell ecstasy to a bunch of students.

Of course not. Not simply because it is against the law, but because your ethical standards are higher than that. But you slate this person for having the same ethical standards !

It is an accident of history that tobacco is legal. If it were being introduced today, it certainly would be a 'classified substance'. So why should this young lady receive all this vituperation ? The customer's comment that she was given a lecture is disingenuous - if the situation had been different, and the lady had said nothing, the customer would then have criticised her 'for not offering any explanation'.

So the moslem lady cannot win - does that remind you of anything we have seen in the media this week, Iain ?

Anonymous said...

So it's against their religion to set fire to a cigarette, but it's not against their religion to set fire to a skyscraper . . .

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:50pm:

"Of course, if the selling of, say, alcohol, is central to the role - e.g. working in an off licence, then I'm sure that the person concerned wouldn't want to work there."

The last but one time I went into WHS was pre-Christmas and in Paddington station (dare I say that festive word?) and, seeing the lack of queues, I think that mags and books were a gonner (no one looking). They had a big fag display though and a quick checkout throughput.

What is WHS's key selling output these days? Especially in the railway stations. Books, mags or fags?

When you have your answer to that question, you might know where to begin when it comes to your racism assertion.

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of an Employment Tribunal case I saw, many years ago. The employee worked in a sandwich bar in the West End of London and argued that she was entitled to a lunch hour between 1.00 and 2.00.

Anonymous said...

I know Muslim girls who smoke and very much enjoy it, and I know Muslim girls who play with hotter things and enjoy it even more

Guido 2.0 said...

Manic always knew that you would turn 'Littlejohn' on us someday.

Anonymous said...

It is being assumed that WHS aren't happy with this situation - I don't think this is the case. If WHS were operating separate 'ConTob' outlets [Confectionery/Tobacconists] then it would be unarguable that the lady shouldn't have applied to work there.

She could hardly claim ignorance that the work involved doing something which was against her principles.

The comments here seem to assume that WHS would be happier without these employees - again I don't believe this is the case, because even if they were allowed to filter out moslems, that would result in a smaller pool of employees, and that would mean paying higher wages.

So I am sure that WHS are happy with the balance they have of polite and helpful employees who in some cases will require the assistance of one colleague to sell cigarettes. This is no different to selling alcohol in supermarkets, where a cashier under the age of 18 requires some confirmation by an 'over-age' colleague.

Having a go at moslems in this way is a cheap shot - it really should not be necessary to point that out.

Anonymous said...

anon 9.50: It is an accident of history that tobacco is legal.

Nonsense. Tobacco is legal today, full stop. The shop assistant's job is to sell it, not to impose her ethical standards, personal morality or religious beliefs upon complete strangers who enter the shop as customers. And who are not interested in any of this discussion, they just wish to buy a legal product which the shop has on display with the intention of selling.

Should a Jewish supermarket worker have the right to refuse to sell a pork chop to a customer? Should a medical consultant who happens to be a Jehovah's Witness have the right to deny a blood transfusion to a patient who needs one?

Personal religious affiliations are just that: personal. They must not be allowed to be enforced upon others.

Scipio said...

The assistant should be allowed to refuse to sell ciggarettes if that is against her conscience (whether on religious grounds or not). I agree, a lecture about the evils of fags might be pushing it - but in principle, people should be able to say "I don't like booze/fags/porn (delete as applicable), and I don't wish to sell them - please ask someone else to serve you".

I was once sacked from a job for refusing to sell subscriptions to a porn TV channel as it was against my convictions. I never mads an issue of it as I realised that I was the unusual one - I just simply asked a colleague to do the signing up (and claim the commission). But I was sacked none the less!

Scipio said...

.....however, I know loads of Muslims, and most of them chuff away like choo choo trains. One in particular has one of the best wine cellars I know - and always breaks his Ramadam fast with a good Gran Reserva Rioja!

The trouble is, most Islamic scholars seem to make it up as they go along, and there is very little agreement about what the Koran actually says.

At least the Church of England has clearly codified positions and doctrines for its clerics to ignore!

Anonymous said...

It's funny that the privileges afforded to Muslims are not afforded to Christians.

If everybody had the right to refuse to do things at work because of their conscience there would be absolute chaos. There are many things I don't agree with in my work but I have to do them because that's what I'm being paid for. I always have the choice to leave. It may not be an easy choice but whoever said life was easy?

And Iain Dale is not a racist.

Anonymous said...

I think Anonymous has made a fair point. Probably the best so far. I think the customer is a bigot. She should have gone somewhere else to buy cigarettes.

Anonymous said...

Well intriguing. As for the comparison with the "BA-cross" incident, you really can't compare. A cross doesn't interfere directly with the running of her job, refusing to sell alcohol does. And to be honest (directed at jeremy jacobs) if she was really caring that much about her religion, why on earth was she working in a place that sold it - surely if her faith was that great she would try and avoid it. The customer is not a bigot for wanting to be sold cigarettes from a place that clearly advertises cigarettes.

Anonymous said...

This Muslim lady has clearly discriminated against the customer by refusing to sell cigarettes on RELIGIOUS grounds. Why doesn't she just get another job where she can keep her religious beliefs to herself?

Incidentally, I supply pre-packed best back bacon and pork sausage, at most favourable prices, to a number of Muslim-owned shops and have yet to have one of these customers complain.

Oy vey, business is business my boy.

Anonymous said...

Oh, who ARE all these anonymous wankers? Leave Iain alone, this is a perfectly sensible story to blog about.

If you’re going to make special exceptions, or try to suppress stories just because there are muslims involved, you don’t do anyone any favours – least of all sensible, mainstream muslims themselves.

Anonymous said...

And another thing…

For all you ’’pity-at-the-poor-shopgirl-
what-injustices-are-heaped-upon-her” crowd.

People who work in shops aren’t some mindless drones who have no idea what they are going to be asked to do.

Anyone with half a brain does a little bit of research to determine what a company actually does, and what products it sells, before they apply for a job there.

If you don’t even bother to look at the job description before you apply for it, you can hardly complain if there’s something in it you don’t like!

Anonymous said...

If the woman were self-employed she could do what the hell she wanted, but she's losing her employer business by refusing to sell fags. Why does the manager crawl on his or her hands and knees in the face of political correctness?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: You really are an idiot. If I had moral qualms about selling cocaine, I wouldn't go and work for a shop that sold cocaine.

If our muslim woman wants to invent a prohibition on selling cigarettes, she can - that's absolutely fine. As a result, I wouldn't employ her as a shop assistant, because she wouldn't be able to do the job.

If WH Smith is happy to have shop assistants standing around the shop looking decorative, but refusing to actually sell anything, they are free to do so. If that is their attitude to business, I would be selling any shares in the owners of WH Smith that I had.

Anonymous said...

Should a Jewish supermarket worker have the right to refuse to sell a pork chop to a customer?

Of course, but the supermarket has the right to fire him because of it.

Tobacco is legal today, full stop. The shop assistant's job is to sell it, not to impose her ethical standards, personal morality or religious beliefs upon complete strangers who enter the shop as customers.

What the shop assistant's job is or isn't has nothing to do with the customer. The shop assistant's obligation is to perform her duties in a manner that satisfies her employer. If her employer is happy with her lectuing customers on the ills of smoking, she doesn't have a problem.

The customer's recourse is simple. Don't shop there - take your money elsewhere. Just don't try and invent ficticious illiberal compulsions for people to behave in a certain way. Much as Messrs. Blair and Brown dislike the fact, it is still the case that there is very little that people "have" to do in this country.

Anonymous said...

Could a Roman Catholic employed in a chemists' shop refuse to sell condoms - and not get the sack?

The muslim should not have been employed by WH Smith in the first place because 1) muslims smoke. 2) islam doesn't forbid smoking, so she is delusional and therefore shouldn't be employed anywhere as she is clearly bonkers (it's the weight of those hijabs on their heads; they cut off the blood supply) and 3) Employees are not owners of the company, unless the company is one which offers shares to employees, and therefore have absolutely no say in who they sell to. The muslim bint was breaking the law by discriminating against smokers who have a legal right to buy tobacco products.

Anonymous said...

My local pub here in Gibraltar is run by a Muslim family. The bacon sandwiches are excellent, and because we are tax efficient across here the cigarettes are £1.20 for a packet of 20 across the bar.

What do you guys pay in the UK now?

indigo said...

Come on, pissed off tory et al - you know as well as I do that a shop doesn't have to sell you anything. A shopkeeper or assistant can refuse to sell you something if they don't like your face, never mind on religious grounds.

Iain - this is beneath you. It makes me worry about what sort of MP (unstable behind the scenes, never missing a Muslim-bashing opportunity) you would turn out to be. There may be more to this - you were not present - perhaps the shop assistant was being intimidated, and this was a desperate attempt to get the customer to leave the shop.

Anonymous said...

Where is Verity when we need her?!!

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of PC big jobbies on here about how the assistant being right most of it posted by anons. Question to you lot - would the assistant been within her "rights" to refuse to sell a copy of Gay News on religious grounds?

Anonymous said...

A qualified dispensing chemist that I know, was a serious Catholic, employed at a large dispensary here in Vienna. He was also a bit over the top and was forced to leave his job after refusing to serve people wanting to buy condoms or other contraception aids. Trying to convince him to the contrary was nigh on impossible and he eventually took a religious studies degree and ended up as a teacher trying unsuccessfully to impart his enthusiasm on 14 year olds at a local secondary school. His depression and frustration with life led him to sickness and an early death.

It always reminds me that to live in such a fanatical way is totally wrong and that we have to learn to accept another's life as long as it doesn't intrude in our own!

Anonymous said...

Is encouraging the employment of Muslim shop assistants a cunning ploy by the Government to curb smoking?

Anonymous said...

Well put Druid. No reply to your killer question yet, I notice.

neil craig said...

I very much doubt if the Koran has anything to say about tabacco since it didn't cross the Atlantic for another 8 centuries.

Thr real killer is that Smiths think that they can't legally fire somebody for not doing their job because it would be discrimination. Prersumably this is going on elsewhere also.

Anonymous said...

If you work as a shop assistant in a shop which sells things, it is your job to sell those items. If you don't like what they sell, don't take a job there. WH Smith is struggling as a business, I believe - if the staff start lecturing people on what they will and will not allow them to buy, can't think this is going to help.

By the way, what is that lady's view on selling the type of soft-porn mags WH Smith stock?

Can't understand all these pompous postings accusing Iain of all sorts, when his point is perfectly reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in Lebanon, Egypt and Indonesia, not only do Moslems there like a ciggy, they're quite partial to a drink as well. During Ramadan in Lebanon you could forget getting any work out of them, not because they were fasting but because they were up all night partying.

Anonymous said...

I remember when a woman was told to remove her collection of porcelain pigs from the front window on ths basis that it might offend Muslims. This was while ago when we were in the grip of self flagellation and the Union looked a realistic long term prospect.
In Iz our new (ish) war memorial looks like a stupid twisty doughnut. A cross would be out of the question here .Its so goddam soul shrivellingly ugly as well.

I don`t get over excited but it is irritating .You have to remember that to the Left patrtiotism is an actual evil and they want to dismantle such loyalites. All the more irritating to see the Lying Scotsman claim to have been inspired by Winston Churchill. He did not appear in his equally meretricious book as a hero.Nor , and you will be amazed, did "The Lady"

I see Indigo , who I like , feels such "tabloid stuff" is beneath you. For the same reasons the elite in power consider most of the concerns of ordinary people beneath them. We have to claim the right to our country and seperate that from racism. It isn`t easy given the highly tuned ears of the established Liberal order .

On the subject of nationalism I giggle like schoolgirl at the sudden realisation by Scots Nats of what free whithin the EU is likely to mean.

Tee hee Tee hee..still want them to win though.

For all you twerps that feel you can work in a shop and choose which products you sell I think you have missed the point.The employer equally has a right to sack people working against his interests whilst taking his money.
Muslim Police men are paid by the tax payer and I imagine this is the sort of issue Iain had in mind.

Aha I see the Mazola-yalland is back. He say wot like this
"I was once sacked from a job for refusing to sell subscriptions to a porn TV channel as it was against my convictions.""

There are surely few more dismal evenings than one spent with a male feminist . No men are except when they want something ,usually sex as in the "fauxmosexual" but in Yallands case what could it possibly be ? Does anyone know?Is there somethign Yalland might be wishing to obtain by such judicious image manufacturing ? I have no idea , help me Yallandologists

Anonymous said...

Well my mother worked in Saudi Arabia and she died of lung cancer, not incidentally accelerated by the fact that everyone smokes there, all the time. Now, sure there are different types of Islam and some of them forbid smoking, but not one of them forbids the selling of tobacco, and not one of them makes lecturing the customers part of getting into Paradise. Regardless how devout the girl may or may not have been, she was out of line and nothing in her religion compelled her to act the way she did. She should be fired for the lecture.

There are plenty of doctors in North America who won't perform abortions, but they are not allowed to refuse to refer you to someone who will. And there are plenty of Jews who won't work on the High Holidays, plenty of Christians who won't work on Sunday, but you pair up with someone who will and that fills in the service gaps. This is the big advantage of a diverse society. God, how boring it was in Ontario when everything closed on Sundays! Not that it's a thrill-a-minute now, but you know what I mean.

If she really couldn't bring herself to touch them, she should have gotten someone who could and she should have spared the customer the lecture. I mean, duh: the great satisfaction of being a nonsmoker is looking at smokers and silently thinking, "When you die, we get all your stuff."

Anonymous said...

Ah, Verity:

The muslim bint was breaking the law by discriminating against smokers who have a legal right to buy tobacco products.

No, she wasn't. Nobody has "a legal right" to buy tobacco products. No such right exists. This is fiction, invented by the small of brain.

It is legal to buy and sell tobacco products, of course, as long as one is of age, but you don't have the legal power to compel anyone else to sell you a cigarette if they don't want to.

It is, of course, illegal to discriminate in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of the sex, sexual orientation, race or religion of the customer (except in a few very narrowly defined exceptions). There's nothing in the law about smokers though - I am quite free to refuse to sell vegetables to a smoker, if I like (although I'd be pretty stupid if I did.)

WH Smith is entirely free to chose not to sell tobacco, if it likes. It could create a policy that it would only sell cigarettes after the customer watched a 10 minute video of the lungs of a cancer sufferer, if it liked. It would, of course, be economic suicide to do so.

Our muslim can't be legally compelled to sell cigarettes to the customer. Equally, she has no legal protection against being fired for refusing to do her job.

Anonymous said...

OK, Sam, some fine points finely made. And interesting.

However, WH Smith don't keep their cigarettes beneath the counter, only for sale with a special code of winks from the customer. They're openly displayed as goods for sale. No different from, say, chocolate oranges.

Can a servant, in the legal sense of one employed by, of WH Smith take it upon herself to refuse to sell merchandise that is on display as being for sale, given that this individual was aware, when she accepted her position on the till, was available for sale at checkout in WH Smith shops?

Didn't she accept the job under false pretences? Can WH Smith sue this woman?

Anonymous said...

I wonder what would have happened had it been a person of non - Muslim orientation that refused to sell a Muslim a packet of cigarrettes. Holy hell would have erupted I imagine. It seems to me, that as long as you are a minority, you can get away with almost anything.

To me, whether it be a preacher on a street corner or someone refusing to sell a product because of their religion, there is nothing more offensive than someone impose their religious beliefs upon me. Surely as an aethiest, I should enjoy the same right to live my life as I wish, within the confines of the law as any religious person. Yet now it appears my civil liberties are now restricted to what a few muslims say they are.

The joke used to be on the Ali G show "Is it because I is Black?." Now it appears to be "Is it because I is white?." And it's no longer a joke.

I don't want the oppression of anyone, I just want to be able to live and speak feely, and until all this PC rubbish is done away with, I'm afraid I'll probably be branded a bigot by apologists.

As far as business goes, I was talking with a business man recently, who told me he employed the FIFO principle. "Fit In or F**k Off." Perhaps W.H. Smiths should employthe same principle.