When asked about the challenges of finding time at work to pray, Jamil Khourshad is dismissive of the difficulties created by the Muslim religion’s daily prayer times.
“If you have time to smoke a cigarette, if you have time to go the bathroom, you have time to pray,” said the downtown Chicago restaurateur. Praying takes only five minutes, he said, and although there are specific times for each of the five daily prayers — times that change throughout the year based on the position of the sun — being accurate to the minute is not essential.
“There is a window,” Kourshad said.
Mazen Asbahi admits he sometimes misses prayers. As a lawyer with Schiff Hardin LLP, sometimes he’s in negotiations and can’t break out.
“A more hard-core Muslim who’s more senior might say, ‘I need to make a five minute break,’ ” Asbahi said. “But at my point in my career, I can’t always do that.”
Muslims also face a challenge celebrating a holy day Friday.
There’s a mosque at 231 S. State St., so those who work in the Loop can slip off to the Friday group prayer on their lunch break, Asbahi says.
Non-Muslims are generally respectful of Islam and he feels lucky to be in Chicago, he says. “We’ve got a lot of cool things going on and it’s a pretty sophisticated, extensive Muslim community.”
There are about 400,000 Muslims in the Chicago area, the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations estimates, though there are no official numbers because the Census Bureau does not ask about religion.
Despite 9/11 and conflicts in the Middle East, most Muslims in Chicago with professional jobs fit smoothly into normal work routines and organizations here.
At the same time, there’s evidence of tensions people are reluctant to talk about, but this reluctance may underscore general satisfaction with working conditions. . .
The Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has fielded about 100 employment complaints since 2005. Problems reported include harassment by co-workers, the barring of head scarves and not being able to pray at work.
For the most part, “I think employers understand that legally they’re required to accommodate people’s religious practices,” said Christina Abraham, the civil rights coordinator for the chapter. (MORE)


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