Should a man be forced to shave his beard for work if it violates his religious beliefs?
Abal Zaidi, who is Muslim, refused to shave and now alleges that's why he lost his job as a Kane County correctional officer in Geneva. Last week, he sued the Kane County Sheriff's Department, where he worked from July to December 2006.
Zaidi contends that as soon as the new sheriff, Pat Perez, came on board in December 2006, he mandated that all employees must be clean-shaven. Zaidi refused, explaining that his beard is "an expression of his Muslim practice and belief."
A supervisor asked Zaidi for proof he was Muslim, he claims, but before he could do so he was told to quit or be fired.
These are only Zaidi's allegations. A court will decide where the truth lies.
But we know this even now: Wearing a beard for religious reasons should be allowed on the job, just as the law requires that employers allow hijabs, headscarfs, turbans and yarmulkes. This is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
"It's a very common practice for Muslim men to try and emulate the prophet by wearing the beard," said Christina Abraham of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago.
Besides, facial hair is so common today. A baseball player without a bit of a beard or mustache almost looks a little weird. Maybe it's time for police departments to bend.
Every lawsuit such as this one by Zaidi is really a test of our nation's cultural and religious understanding and tolerance. We pride ourselves on our respect for the religious traditions of others, even when those traditions seem unusual.
What do Muslims in America see as the biggest problems they face here? According to a Pew Research Center report, they are: prejudice, being viewed as terrorists and negative stereotypes. At the same time, two of every three Muslims said they don't see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
Almost half of the Muslims surveyed agreed that Muslims coming to the United States today should adopt American customs. Twenty-six percent said Muslims should try to remain distinct, and 16 percent said they should do both.
Remaining distinct might include wearing a beard for religious reasons. Nobody should lose a job over that.