Cultural Arts Review: Muslims in the American Workplace

Posted on October 22, 2012 by


I recently watched “Salt in the Wounds,” an episode on the popular TV series Bones.  The episode shows the situation of being Muslim and practicing Muslim religion in an American work environment.  One of the characters and workers was a Muslim man. Throughout the episode, it showed him practicing some of his 5 daily prayers in the open area of the work building, in front of everyone, because he did not have a secluded place he could go to pray.  He did not seem bothered by this at all, however some of his coworkers were.  There was one lady in particular who seemed especially irked by him taking breaks to pray, sometimes at inconvenient times, which is not conducive to the American work culture.  The woman later questioned the appropriateness of praying in the workplace.  Another coworker responded that it should not matter what the Muslim man uses his break time to do, and that it should not matter to others.  She said that some people take coffee or smoke breaks, and others, like the Muslim man, take spirituality breaks.

This episode showed that even though America is quite progressive with accepting all ethnicities and religions into the workplace without discrimination, there is still a level of people being uncomfortable in the workplace with seeing ethnicities or religious practices that most are not used to seeing.  Because ethnicities and religions are becoming much more accepted and supported, some work places are designating areas called “quite rooms” for people to be able to practice their religions if they must during the workday.  This is a great idea: not only would the person practicing their religion probably feel much more comfortable and focused in a secluded environment, but the other workers would not feel uncomfortable or distracted either.  Quiet rooms are multifunctional as well; they can be a place for people to pray, or just to relax and reflect.  At Workforce Safety and Insurance in Bismarck, ND, there is a quiet room set aside for employees to use as they want.  For example, some workers use it as a resting place when they are recovering from an injury, some women workers use it as a secluded place to breast feed their babies, and some can even use the room as a place to practice their religions.

This episode also raised the thought of how the Muslim religious practices, in particular, are not very conducive to the American work culture.  The American work ethic is work, work, work at all times.  Some Muslims need to pray at certain times during the day, so they may have to leave in the middle of a meeting or conference call.  This poses a problem for many companies and fellow employees, as was demonstrated in the episode.  Yes, companies allow breaks, but in this particular episode, because the Muslim man was taking a break that seemed abnormal, a coworker questioned if it was okay to take a prayer break.  Somehow it seemed that since the Muslim man wasn’t taking a snack or coffee break that it wasn’t a “break” anymore, though, he was taking the same amount of time for this break as everyone else.  His prayer break was not what American people were taught to be normal and acceptable, so people had a hard time getting their heads around the idea that his prayer break is acceptable; he is just using his break time to do different things.

The Muslim population is growing in America, so it is important for companies and employees to become accustomed to seeing other religious practices in the work environment.  Many American work places are already encouraging and showing acceptance to all religions.  Like I said earlier, some work places are adapting to this new need their workers have.  Work places are creating environments where workers can practice the religion of their choice on their own break time.  For those work places that do not have an assigned space for Muslims to pray, the Muslim workers simply check out a conference room or pray in their own cubicle.  Muslims will regulate their prayer on their own.  The workplace environment, including coworkers, spaces, and rules, need simply to support and allow various religious practices.

The Bones episode was a good portrayal of how it might feel to be both a Muslim in the workplace and how many coworkers of Muslims may feel.  It is good to be aware of both sides to understand how to better handle religions in the workplace.

Posted in: Islam, Uncategorized