Introducing a new guest series on Muslims in the workplace, called Muslims at Work. This is the first in the series.
By Sarah M.
Working in a U.S. Corporate environment, you will meet all kinds of people. People of different races, cultures, religions, and yet you may still be just one of few Muslims in the office. It can be daunting, especially if you are the only Muslim there. Praying, fasting, not being able to eat pork or drink alcohol, all on their own these may not be the biggest challenges, but being around those who are so unfamiliar with it can you make a little insecure. How do you explain it all to your bosses and coworkers without the fear of sounding like a lunatic? Saying No sorry I cannot eat right now, the sun is still in the sky, may get you a few weird looks. How do you find a place to pray or take time off for Jummaa or Eid?
You simply just ask.
When I started working 2 years ago, I had this deep insecurity about asking for accommodations related to religion. I didn’t want my bosses to think I was asking too much or making ridiculous requests. It was stupid to think that way, but it kept me from speaking up. But it also kept me from fully embracing my religion. I felt like I needed to hide my religious duties or even the fact that I was Muslim. I didn’t want my boss to think I was any less capable of working while I was fasting or that I was working less by taking time out during the day to pray. And so my whole first year I kept my mouth shut.
I would pray quickly in my office, hoping no one would catch me in the act. I’d agree to the business trips in the middle of Ramadan, wanting to show my dedication to my work.
It seemed fine in the beginning, but after a while, it made me feel like I was ashamed of my religion.
I finally gathered the courage and spoke up. There is no harm in asking. You never know what the response may be. You may actually get the exact opposite reaction you were expecting. When I finally asked my boss if I could extend my lunch break on Fridays for Jummaa, he wasn’t mad. In fact, he admired the fact that I was so close to my religion. He wistfully realized that he too should go to church more often. And all I had to was: Just Ask.
When my desk got moved into the swarm of cubicles and I no longer had the space to pray by my desk, I decided to finally ask HR. I held my breath as a waited for a response to my request for a quiet place to pray. To my great relief, they were more than willing to help and told me the lactation room was available. They even gave me my own key for it and assured it was a quiet area that only a few others used. All I had to was: Just Ask.
When my boss asked me to go to our corporate offices out of state during the last nights of Ramadan, I first reluctantly agreed. I wondered though if he’d let me go a week or two later, and in the end he very easily agreed. All I had to was: Just Ask.
It may seem difficult and nerve-wracking trying to explain your reasons or requests. But many people will respect it and even admire your dedication to your religion.
Don’t let the fear of negative reactions stop you from asking.
Work twice as hard to show that you can still make it to the top and that these aren’t hindrances, but rather supports for your success.
I worked really hard through my first Ramadan since it was also my first month on the job. When the next year came around though, I didn’t want it to be like the last one. I felt like because I was so focused on my job, I didn’t get to spend as much time making the most of this holy month. So this time I decided to just ask. I asked my boss if I could shift my hours a bit, by coming in later in the morning and then making up those hours in the evening working from home. He gladly assented and thus I was able to stay late at the masjid and pray late into the night without the anxiety of needing to get up early the next day.
Don’t let this crippling fear of looking bad get to you.
Be proud of who you are and embrace it. You’ll often see that people will not only accommodate you, but respect you for your choices and admire your commitment. It’s also the easiest way to spread dawa: just be yourself.
Sarah M. is a Rutgers Business School graduate. She works as an analyst in New Jersey, USA, where she was born and raised.