Islam & the Workplace

For some in the West, work is the first place they encounter Muslims.
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The workplace is often a place where various cultures, religions and backgrounds converge. This can serve as a growing experience for many but can also result in misunderstandings and hurt feelings for some. In Western societies especially, encountering someone of Islamic faith while on the job could be unfamiliar territory. In such cases, it is important to understand certain cultural needs and perspectives so as to maintain a healthy environment in the workplace while fostering a sense of unity among employees.

1 Conversion

While Islam is a presence in the West, it is still a religious minority. The Holy Quran, however, states that "the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam" (Surat 'Ali 'Imran 3:19.) Consequently, many Muslims set out to encourage others to follow Islam as well. This is not necessarily the case in workplaces within the West, though. In the U.S., for instance, Muslim proselytizing is usually not an issue because of cultural differences as well as a lower population of those who follow Islam. Generally, Muslims in Western work environments focus their energies on being accepted rather than on converting others.

2 Non-Muslim Etiquette

For some non-Muslims, the workplace may be the first place they encounter someone who follows Islam. As with any meeting between distinct cultures, observing certain etiquette can go a long way in promoting mutual respect and avoiding any unintentional offensive behavior. Women are encouraged to dress modestly and not wear sleeveless shirts at work. Too much physical contact should also be avoided since in the Islamic culture, only close relatives should be embraced. To prevent any misunderstandings, women should not take business trips or lunch breaks alone with a devout Muslim man since he may misinterpret this as a sign of romantic interest.

3 Accomodating Prayer

Work can sometimes inhibit the Muslim requirement to pray five times daily.
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By divine decree, all Muslims are required to pray five times a day while facing Mecca. These prayers, known as salah, take place at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and in the evening. In non-Islamic settings, Muslims may find this obligation difficult to fulfill. As a result, many have combined their noon and afternoon salat in situations that are not conducive to prayer. As Muslim presence has spread in the West, more non-Islamic workplaces have begun accommodating their Muslim employees. Beginning in 1999, for instance, Muslims in the U.S. Capitol have conducted prayers on Friday.

4 Discrimination in the Workplace

Despite increased awareness of Islam in the West, misconceptions and stereotypes can still lead to the unequal treatment of Muslims. Canadian and American Muslims, for example, have gone through mistreatment in the workplace due to anti-Islamic feelings. There have also been cases in Britain of Muslims losing their jobs for wanting to offer Islamic prayers during work hours; others have simply been refused a position because of their traditional dress. As reported by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 23 percent of workplace and public discrimination stems from Muslim women wearing headscarves.

Jose Maldonado teaches literature at several colleges. He has contributed to various online publications and holds a master's degree in creative writing.