Many U.S. companies are trying to accommodate the religious beliefs of Muslim employees by setting aside rooms for prayer and meditation, supporting the wearing of traditional head coverings, adjusting work hours and honoring leave requests for major Islamic holidays.

These companies see a link between a culture of inclusion and business success, say diversity experts. Respecting religious differences is one way to attract and retain talented employees and appeal to a larger customer base.

“You see more and more Muslims entering the work force, bringing valuable skills and talents,” says diversity consultant Myrna Marofsky, “and those employees want to bring their entire self to the workplace. Part of that is their religion, traditions and beliefs.”

Marofsky, a former co-owner and president of ProGroup, a Minneapolis-based diversity training and consulting firm, said that “as companies move to be more global and more multicultural — because they see that as a business advantage — they are going to have a diverse work force.”

DiversityInc, a monthly business magazine, says that among the Top 50 Companies for Diversity — a list it issues annually — 70 percent allow employees to take holiday leave in accordance with their religious beliefs “and 16 percent make special religious accommodations, such as prayer rooms.” The Top 50 “set the trends as national diversity leaders,” according a DiversityInc article.

In a separate article, DiversityInc said that Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that ended in 2007 on October 13, “used to pass unacknowledged by most U.S. employers. But the $580 million Muslim market and increasing religious diversity in the workplace have convinced progressive companies to pay attention.”

Some managers refrain from scheduling “working lunches” that would interfere with the Ramadan fast, and it is becoming more common for businesses to host iftar dinners to celebrate the breaking of the fast. Ford Motor Company, for instance, has hosted iftars for the past seven years.

In a 2006 article titled “Honoring Your Muslim Colleagues,” Marofsky gave advice to clients “asking if they should do something special for Ramadan.” She said it was “the first year in 20 years of diversity consulting that I have seen this level of interest.” (MORE)


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