IL: Many Say They Can't Separate Job, Religion


IL: MANY SAY THEY CAN'T SEPARATE JOB, RELIGION

At least once while she's at work, Dr. Saima Naeem pulls a green rug out of a closet, washes her face and hands, and kneels to pray toward the northeast corner of her office, the direction of Mecca.

Financial adviser Tom Muldowney keeps a picture of Jesus on the wall opposite his desk to remind him that God watches over his work. Another investment company leaves Bibles in its waiting room and holds Bible studies for employees.

Car dealer Jim Hawks incorporated a cross into his logo, a move he said sometimes spurs conversations about spiritual matters with customers.

Many employers are accommodating the faith of their workers, allowing employees to hold voluntary Bible studies on company property, even providing chaplains at some corporations. Some management gurus even encourage religion at work, both as an antidote to the corruption problems of the Enron era and to foster employee satisfaction and productivity.

Still, the "faith-at-work" movement is not without its conflicts. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports 2,541 charges of religious discrimination during fiscal 2006, which ended Sept. 30 - a nearly 49 percent increase since 1997.

But many of the faithful who don't mind speaking in spiritual terms at work say they can't compartmentalize their religion to weekly worship services.

For Naeem, a Pakistani hospitalist at Swedish American Hospital, faith is a overarching presence in her life. To try to separate it from her job or any other part of her life would be unthinkable. Like most devout Muslims, she prays five times a day. She even uses a program on her PalmPilot that determines the exact times because the salat schedule is based on sunrises and sunsets that vary throughout the year.

"Our religion is not just in the mosque," Naeem said. "The way I walk, way I talk, way I eat, way I bathe, it tells me everything. It's a way of life."

She also wears her faith. To follow Islamic dictates about modesty and worship, she wears a hijab, or head scarf, whenever she is outside her home. It's often the first thing her patients notice about her when she makes rounds and many ask her about it. Only once in her nine years as a doctor in the U.S. has anyone refused to be treated by her.

 


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