Last week, the Muslim civil rights organization CAIR urged Amazon to take down doormats and bath mats on the site featuring Islamic religious text, arguing that the products “would be stopped-on or otherwise disrespected by customers.” Soon after, Amazon told CAIR it was removing all of the flagged items, which included 20 products from a third-party seller.
The rugs and bath mats featured Islamic calligraphy, references to the Prophet Muhammad, and verses from the Quran, CAIR noted in its statement. The advocacy group said that it had received complaints about the products—sold by Emvency—characterizing them as offensive. But Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesperson for CAIR, told Gizmodo that he doesn’t believe these products were designed and sold with malicious intent.
“I think what happened was you have a Chinese company probably that produces a product and then they slap hundreds of different images on that product hoping that people will like those images and buy them without really thinking of the implications of those images,” Hooper said, adding that if you look at Emvency’s other products, there’s a number of varying images and designs aside from those related to Muslims or Islam.
Hooper said that CAIR has been working with Amazon, and will notify the company when the “inevitable new email” about an offensive product comes in. “I don’t think there’s a real solution other than vigilance,” Hooper said, adding that it’s also important to educate people on why these products are offensive.
In an email, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed the products identified by CAIR were being removed, telling Gizmodo, “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account.” (Last month, Amazon reportedly pulled items offensive to Sikhs after a similar complaint by Sikh advocates.)
As of Tuesday morning, none of the products listed by CAIR were available for purchase on Amazon, but it only took me a few minutes to find similarly designed products from other retailers on the site. There is a two-piece bathroom set—a bath mat and a toilet cover—with the design of a woman in a hijab. It has one star and one review: “So SHAME! Very provocative to people’s feelings.” There is another bathmat from a separate retailer with a woman’s face in a hijab, also with one star and one review: “Please take this product down. It is offensive to Muslims. Putting a Muslim’s face on a floormat....there is some kind of hateful propaganda going on. Amazon must do something about this!”
The original retailer called out in CAIR’s statement, Emvency, hardly only sells products with Islamic religious text, as Hooper mentioned. I found mousepads with an anime woman in a bikini and a zombie apocalypse, moisturizing cream, a tapestry of a man lifting up a woman’s skirt, and—in what most resembles a product designed by a machine—a tapestry of refined sunflower oil logos.
It’s hard to imagine that a retailer selling hundreds of random products with disjointed images is carefully considering the design match-ups of each one. But that lack of consideration is how you get a toilet seat cover with holy religious text imprinted on it.
“I hope given this experience that there will be some awareness out there with manufacturers and retailers that they have to pay attention to the kinds of images they are slapping on these products,” Hooper said, adding that it could lead to loss of profits due to recalls, among other things. “It should be obvious, but given how things work in the world I think people just do things without really thinking about them.”