Fatuma Hassan has just enough rice in her near-empty cupboards to make it through the month. The anger she felt when she lost her job in May has given way to a dull, nagging hunger.
Yet this soft-spoken 22-year-old became an unlikely hero within the Somali community when she and five of her Muslim co-workers were dismissed last month from the Mission Foods tortilla factory in New Brighton for refusing to wear a new company uniform -- a shirt and pants -- they consider a violation of their Islamic beliefs.
"For me, wearing pants is the same as being naked," Hassan said, noting the prophet Mohammed taught that men and women should not dress alike. "My culture, my religious beliefs, are more important than a uniform.” . . .
Bias complaints rising The Somali experience is closest to that of Orthodox Jews at the turn of the century, said Donna Gabaccia, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. Jews also had distinctive food taboos ("kosher" only), clothing (women wore wigs to cover their hair) and their own schedule of religious holidays.
Religious discrimination complaints nationally have nearly doubled since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- a reflection, some argue, of the heightened state of anxiety and fear concerning Muslims. In Minnesota, Muslims filed 45 religious discrimination cases with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2007, up from just eight in 2004. The EEOC does not break down this data by ethnicity. . .
The Mission Foods clash has also led to a lawsuit. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group, filed a religious discrimination complaint on behalf of the women with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (MORE)