Kamis, 03 September 2009

Islam in the Workplace

At the turn of the last century, 80% of the Arabs that immigrated to the United States were Christian. Today, more than 60% of Arab immigrants are Muslims. As more and more Muslims enter the American workforce, employers face culture-based challenges that they may not be equipped to handle, or may not even be aware of. Due to Islamic requirements, Muslims may need special workplace accommodations. It is important to remember that not all Muslims will have the same needs. Moderate Muslims will most likely present few workplace challenges to their employers. Very conservative Muslims, however, will likely require special accommodations.

A critical part of the Muslim faith is prayer. One of the Five Pillars of Muslim Faith states that the faithful are required to pray 5 times a day at relatively fixed times. While this may not present a challenge to some employers, others with space limitations may have difficulty giving Muslim employees a private place to pray. Another consideration surrounding prayer is the requirement of ablution. Ablution is the act of washing before prayer. Conservative Muslims will need to wash their face, neck, arms, hands and feet before prayer. This can present challenges if the workplace does not have the washroom facilities to accommodate a group of employees needing to perform ablution at the same time. Additionally, when conservative Muslims attempt to wash their feet in a standard sink basin, water splashed on the counters and floors can create a messy and hazardous situation. Some employers have installed footbaths to address this issue.

Another religious consideration surrounds the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan begins with the sighting of the crescent moon in Mecca. It begins in the ninth month of the lunar calendar, so the dates vary from year to year. Because of the requirement that the moon is physically sighted in the city of Mecca, a cloudy night could postpone the start of Ramadan. For this reason, Muslims may not be able to give accurate advance notice for holy days. During Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset. They then share a feast with friends and relatives as soon after sunset as possible. Muslim workers may not be able to take their meals at the designated meal times and may need to eat immediately after sundown, having not eaten all day.

Muslim religious requirements are unique and can present new challenges in a predominately Christian workplace. There are other challenges that can manifest in a workplace with Muslim employees. Conservative Muslims have some specific restrictions surrounding food and drink as well as many behavioral taboos. Without awareness and comprehension of these cultural differences, involuntary discrimination can occur. It is crucial that managers and co-workers of Muslim employees are aware of these differences and are prepared to address the challenges that may arise and then make the necessary accommodations.

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