Pop Goes The News — A Nordstrom manager in Ottawa is being criticized for allegedly asking four Muslim women to leave after they prayed in a lounge.
The retailer, though, says it is not aware of the incident.
Rowda Ismail, a student at the University of Ottawa, claims she and three friends were shopping at the downtown Rideau Centre when they ducked into the fourth floor women’s lounge at Nordstrom for Asr — the midday Muslim prayer.
The luxury retailer’s women’s lounge has a sitting area separate from the washroom as well as a spot where mothers can comfortably nurse their babies.
After praying, the four young women remained in the lounge to relax before heading to Winterlude festivities nearby.
“After we were seated for approximately five minutes, a woman walked into the lounge and addressed us,” Ismail wrote in Muslim Link.
“She said, ‘Hi Ladies, I’ve spoken to you all before and I’ve told you that you cannot sit in this area, it is not a place to hang out. This lounge is meant for women with children.’
“At first, we were unsure about whether she was addressing us because we had never seen her before. We thought maybe she was talking to the white woman seated across from us reading a newspaper.”
Ismail says they were surprised but gathered their belongings and left. Once downstairs, they asked a store employee if they could speak to a manager — and were introduced to the same woman who had asked them to vacate the lounge.
“We decided to explain to her that we did not appreciate the manner in which she spoke to us and that she should have a signage change done immediately to prevent any future confusion for other women,” recalls Ismail. “Finally, we asked her why the woman reading the newspaper was not asked to leave too.”
Ismail claims the manager was dismissive and told them the other woman “was not bothering anyone.”
The student says the experience left her with “many unanswered and unsettling questions.”
Nordstrom spokesperson Tara Darrow said in a statement: “We would never ask a customer to leave that area if they were praying and we are not aware of any instance where we have done so.”
Darrow said the lounge is a quiet place for customers and nursing mothers “to take a short break while they are shopping.”
She said the store expects customers to be “respectful of each other and make their time in the area brief, if possible.”
Darrow said Nordstrom management is hoping to talk to Ismail. “This is not the experience we would have wanted any customer to have while visiting our store and we’re sorry she was disappointed,” she said.
Not everyone is backing Ismail and her friends, though.
“You practice your religion privately,” commented Nouzha De. “It is not a place for prayer and yes it may bother some.”
Sten Nides wrote: “Businesses exclude people all the time if other patrons complain … No store will allow their patrons to be driven away by a group of women who sets up a public prayer space in the middle of a women’s bathroom, an act of sheer stupidity or provocation or both.
“You were targeted because you made a prayer room for yourselves at the expense of a public space that is intended for use by everyone.”
This story has been updated since first posted.