On the Job with Saly Abd Alla

Saly-CAIRMNBy Laura French, Star Tribune, 6/4/13

Saly Abd Alla grew up in the Twin Cities suburbs. Because she had been born in Egypt, she said, "People asked about camels all the time. Camels are very rare in Egypt. They used horses. The camels in front of the pyramids are for tourists."

As the Civil Rights Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota (CAIR-MN), Abd Alla is still educating and overcoming stereotypes about Muslim-Americans. Now, her audience is employers, service providers and educators. Among the things CAIR-MN wants employers and others to know:

  • Muslim religious practices are protected by the First Amendment as well as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
  • Required practices for Muslims include celebrating Eid twice a year, fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan, praying five times a day, attending congregational worship at noontime on Friday and making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during their lifetime.
  • Islam values modesty in both dress and behavior. For men, this may include a beard and head covering. For women, it includes nonrevealing clothing that covers all of the body except face and hands.
  • The Muslim diet prohibits consumption of pork, pork byproducts and alcohol.

As Minnesota's only Muslim civil rights organization, CAIR-MN works with employers accommodate religious practices. Most often, Abd Alla said, the issues involve daily prayer and the hijab, or head covering. "Muslims can pray anywhere that is clean. Office employees who have their own cubicle don't need permission to step away. Factory workers need to step out of line and find a lead to take their place while they perform the ablution ritual, pray and return. It takes about 15 minutes," she said. The hijab can also be a safety issue for factory workers, police officers or health care workers. In that case, the dangling scarf can be replaced with a cap or tucked into a shirt.

While some employers are happy to provide accommodation once the issues are explained, others remain convinced that a secular workplace can bar religious practices. In those cases, CAIR-MN has to prove otherwise. "The Muslim community is struggling for equal pay. We're not even to the glass ceiling yet," Abd Alla said. (Read the full article)