5 Things You Should NEVER Say To Muslim Coworkers

With Ramadan right around the corner, and it being the Holiest month on the Islamic calendar, the issue of religious accommodation within the workplace becomes a burning social issue. Considring that Islam is the fastest-growing religion today, It is all the important to talk about issuses of the cohesiveness of Islam in non predominantly Muslim states. The first step is one of cultural understanding and in this spirit we have come up with common steroetypical questions often asked to Muslim co-workers that have an offensive tint about them.

#1. “Why can’t Muslims decide when Ramadan starts?”

The Islamic calendar is lunar, so as a result, the beginning of the Holy month (Ramadan) is determined by the sighting of the two moons. However, there’s not a specific time where these two moons appear simply because it varies from year to year. Like other religions, the way people interpret beliefs are quite different. According to Nadir Shirazi, writer of “The Ramadan Guide for the Workplace”, he states that “In America, there are two groups of Muslims: The first  group believes you can use scientific data to determine when a new moon can be sighted, and thus you can predetermine the month”. Elaborating on the second group, he says they “believe that you must sight the new crescent moon with the naked eye.”

In simple terms, he’s trying to say that the start/dates of Ramadan may vary, depending on the practices of Muslims in your workplace. Employees of Islamic and other faiths should be permitted to celebrate their holidays without exhausting their vacation time, provided they are given flexible hours prior to those holidays.

#2. “Why can’t you eat today?”

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset which means most of the fasting is done during the daytime, so any parties, festivals or lunch meetings should be consider this fact and understand that a Muslim fasting will not be eating. In Islam, manners dictate that when a person is fasting and you are not, it is a sign of respect not to eat in their presence in order to avoid them being tempted by the food. Howeve, this is obviously not incumbent amongst non muslims who may or may not choose to do so on their own accord. However fasting is never an excuse for incompetent work as Muslims are required to perform their duties and honor all agreements depite the fact that they are fasting.


#3. “But you don’t look/dress like a Muslim.”

The population of Muslims is estimated to be about 1.6 billion worldwide. And one of the biggest stereotypes spreading amongst non-Muslims is that they all dress the same. “All Muslims do not have long beards or wear white robes or hijabs,” . That’s just what people see on TV. As a matter of fact, Islam states that there’s no compulsion in faith. Asking a Muslim woman why she failed to cover her body parts in black or white niqab is regarded inappropriate.

#4. “I never knew you were Arab/Muslim.”

Saying this to a Muslim is also something that’s very inappropriate. Simply because: Only 20 percent of the Muslim populace is found in the Middle East. Some are black and others are white. They can be found everywhere. From presidents to senators and even in the White House. According to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, three senior leaders in the U.S. government are Muslim. They include Dalia Mogahed, who’s a senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Ebrahim “Eboo” Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

#5. “Why can’t you pray during a break?”

Muslims pray five times a day (Asr, Isha, Fajr Maghrib and Zuhr), so the second and third daily prayers are during business hours. As a result, Muslim workers are obliged to take short breaks and offer their prayers to Allah. Thus, questioning why they take those breaks is also inappropriate. Moreover, the manner in which a Muslim prays involves standing up and bowing on the floor, which others may find awkward in the workplace. Some companies have special rooms where Du’ah(prayers) can be done. On Fridays, Muslims are obligated to pray as a congregation at mosques instead of praying alone so lunch breaks should be extended to at least an extra 30 minutes which will be enough for them to perform their Islamic obligations.

The importance of religion cannot be stressed enough. It’s crucial for us to be considerate and open to other people’s beliefs regardless of their race or color in our respective workplaces.

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