Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Muslims and US culture

Sabria S. Jawhar
The Saui Gazette
A religious battle – nothing to do with terrorism or the invasion of American troops in a Muslim country – is going on in the heartland of the United States. Central Nebraska to be specific. The land of corn, pickup trucks and evangelical Christians.
The issue is whether Muslim workers at a food processing plant can be allowed to pray during working hours and to break fast at sunset during Ramadan. It hardly seems to be a burning issue among Muslims worldwide, but in the city of Grand Island there have been protests, firing workers and allegations of religious discrimination by Christians and Muslims alike.
The workers at the plant are primarily Somali refugees who have long struggled to assimilate into the American society. There has been a huge influx of Somali immigrants into America’s Midwest because of its low cost of living, modest housing prices and a generally tolerant view of Midwesterners toward immigrants.These immigrants have been at the center of controversy before.
Somali taxi drivers have refused to take passengers possessing or being under the influence of alcohol or have a dog with them. With the exception of rather loud opinions of American conservative extremists, these small cultural and religious eruptions settled down quietly.The incidents at the food processing plants are somewhat different because unlike business offices and retail outlets, there are significant safety and production issues.
Plant managers are concerned that workers walking off the processing line once or twice during their working hours can affect productivity. It’s illegal in the United States to ask potential employees during the hiring process about their religion. Federal law demands that employers “reasonably accommodate” workers’ religious obligations.
The exception to this accommodation is if making changes in workers’ schedule causes a hardship to the business, such as reducing efficiency or affecting safety guidelines.While one can appreciate the Americans’ desire to keep religion a private matter and not hire workers based on their religious affiliation, an employer must be woefully ignorant not to recognize that a large number of his workers are Muslim.
So it is quite reasonable that a compromise can be met if a company hires a significant number of Muslims. Reasonable accommodation can be arranged with a work schedule to fit in prayer times and allow a brief iftar at sunset.The problem in the United States is two-fold: Islam has become so politicized that many people can no longer view the duties of a Muslim as a religious issue, but one of Muslims attempting to change the landscape of a Christian nation through force.
Many conservatives have gone so far as to label the wants and needs of Muslims as some sort of silent jihad.The other problem is the refusal of some Muslim immigrants to assimilate into Western society. We in Saudi Arabia ask our expatriate workers to respect our customs, traditions and religion while they are guests here. The same could be said for Muslims choosing to live in the United States.
That doesn’t mean they are not entitled to praying five times a day. Of course they have that right. And every employer who respects freedom of religion should find a compromise to accommodate Muslims during work hours. But some Muslims take their beliefs to the extreme. What works in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Somalia doesn’t necessarily work in the West, and special considerations must be addressed.
If you choose to be a taxi driver, then you have to take passengers under the influence of alcohol safely home.There also have been controversies surrounding Muslims working at the JBS Swift & Co. meat packing plant in which pork is processed. Muslim workers have refused to handle pork and have been fired for refusing to handle it.
Any person in the US with a television set, an Internet connection or has gone grocery shopping knows that JBS Swift is a leader in pork products. You don’t want to handle pork? Don’t work at Swift. Don’t like drunk passengers? Don’t be a taxi driver.The point is simple. Accommodation comes from both sides. Compromises have saved the world from many crises in the past.
If you shut out the noise from the religious bigots and take time to understand US history, this whole “us versus them” issue between Muslims and Westerners is a result of new immigrants arriving at American shores.The Irish in the 19th century faced severe discrimination because they were Catholics who adhered to the edicts of a single man in the Vatican and engaged in what was then deemed strange religious ceremonies.
Orthodox Jews, or Shomrei Shabbos, do not operate machinery or drive cars or use electric appliances after sundown on Friday till Saturday night. To this day there are some Jewish American baseball players who refuse to play the sport on Saturday so they can observe the Sabbath.Historically, Christian Americans have accepted them over time and the same will eventually occur with Muslims as Muslim communities assimilate into their new environment. Give it time. Ramadan, like any other American holiday, whether religious or secular, will become common in the US workplace.


Foxxi said...

When it comes to work, you have to be able to do the job.
If this is not possible because of any personal restrictions caused e.g. by gender, age, sexual identity or religion, than you're not able to do the job, it's that easy.

BTW, a taxi driver in Germany is not obliged to transport drunken people or dogs.

Anthrogeek10 said...


I am new to your blog and I am a future anthropologist with a minor in Middle Eastern studies. Anyhow, I love your post. You have taken a really democratic pov about the whole situation. I agree with your view of "when in Rome...". I lived in Bahrain for a year. I was super modest, avoided a man's gaze, the whole thing. I was better off for it and did not resent it.


Anonymous said...

I live close to the processing plant where this takes place. The workers that quit came and worked for my uncle for a short time. This has been the most balanced article i have seen about this issue. (trust me, it is still and issue even after ramadan, because now all those mulims workers are ALL asking for the next Eid off and the company cant do that.)
The company had accomidated them, but it had then been unfair to the non-muslims and the atheists. that caused mroe problems and so the company just had to tell them to work, or quit, it was their choice.

Here in Kansas and Nebraska, Christianity is unusually strong compared to most parts of the states, most likely due to the fact that materialism hasnt replaced religion as much as it has on our coasts. Living here, i can tell you, you have 2 differnt types of people, Muslim communities who refuse to assimilate in some way, even though doing so would not be against the religion, and you have christians who are refusing to assilate and accept some major diffences too.

We, as the children of these two groups need to learn to work things out and grow up understanding eachother. In this part of the states, no one wants to change, and it is likely only the younger generations who will be able to help adjust the attitudes in this region.

Anonymous said...

I was born n raised in jeddah, wasted 25yrs of my youth living under suppression and basically no human rights to any aspect of life.I am sorry to say but you view to this issue and others i have read is very conservative.I would have post a brief reply to your article but you wouldn't have approved it, why because if not some but most of the Saudi's cannot confront the issue globally, On one hand you people talk about suppression of Muslims in west on the other hand what rights have you people given to other religions/foreigners. Well you wouldn't bother to care why because you don't deal with it. Stop this hypocrisy in the name of Islam fear Allah and get a life.