Working with Muslims

An employers guide to islamic religious practices (adapted from CAIR)

Demographers say that Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States. American Muslims are now found in all sectors of society. This growing Muslim population adds a new dimension to be considered by employers when dealing with issues of multiculturalism and diversity. The information contained in this booklet is designed to assist employers in formulating and implementing policies that will help create a culturally-sensitive workplace environment. It will also serve as a guide to religiously-mandated practices of Muslim employees.

Muslim practices are, in legal terminology, bona fide religious beliefs, and those who practice them regard them as compulsory religious duties. Observances such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and religious celebrations are long held practices of members of the Muslim faith. Such expressions are protected by the following provisions in the Bill of Rights and federal law:

  • The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which protects the free exercise of religion.
  • Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which provides that an employer may not discriminate against a person because helshe adheres to a particular faith, and that employers must acco modate an employee's religious pra tices unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer.

Moreover, there are many state laws that contain similar provisions protecting religious rights. In the private sector, a growing number of corporations are modifying their rules and procedures to show sensitivity to the increasing number of Muslim employees and customers.

Across faith communities, religious practices have many similarities, although the details of time and procedure defining what is a proper religious practice may differ from one religion to another. The goal of this booklet is to identify scheduling and procedural requirements to ensure the free practice of religion by members of the American Muslim community. The information contained in this guide outlines general Islamic beliefs and practices. Individual application of these observances may vary.

Muslim Holidays

Islamic holy days and festivals follow the lunar calendar. Like the solar calendar, the lunar calendar has twelve months. However, a lunar month, which is marked by the appearance of a new crescent in the horizon, may last only 29 days. A lunar year is about eleven days shorter than the solar year. This means that Islamic festivals occur about eleven days earlier each year.

There are several days on the Islamic calendar with special religious significance. Eid (Day of Festivity) is celebrated by Muslims twice a year. The first Eid is celebrated after the end of the month of Ramadan. The second Eid is celebrated beginning on the tenth day of the twelfth Islamic month. The festivals include congregational prayers, family visitations and the exchange of gifts.

Celebrating Eid requires that Muslims take one day off twice every year. There should be no undue penalty for this religious obligation.

Ramadan & Fasting

The month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is the period in which Muslims are required to fast. Observing Ramadan means refraining from eating, drinking and smoking from break-of-dawn to sunset.

Ramadan is a period of personal restraint and renewed focus on moral conduct. It is also a time to empathize with those who are less fortunate and to appreciate what one has. Fasting does not mean that Muslims cease to work.

An employee observing the fast will not be able to eat during typical lunch times.However, he or she will need to eat after sundown,andlor, for those working night shifts,before dawn. Mutually convenient adjustmentsshould be made. For example, a work shiftcould be shortened by the length of the lunchbreak if the break is not taken.

Islam provides relief for many of the burdens of travelers. A traveler is exempt from fasting

Daily Prayers

Islam urges God consciousness in an individual's life. To that end, Islam mandates that believers perform prayer five times each day.

  1. Morning prayer may be offered from break-of-dawn until just before sunrise.
  2. Noon prayer may be offered from just after midday until afternoon.
  3. Afternoon prayer may be offered from late afternoon until just before sunset.
  4. Sunset prayer may be offered from sunset until darkness.
  5. Night prayer may be offered throughout the night hours.

Before prayer, Muslims are required to wash their faces, hands and feet with clean water. This washing is normally performed in a restroom sink.

During the act of worship, Muslims stand, bow and touch the forehead to the ground. Worship may be performed in any quiet, dry, clean place. During the prayers, the worshiper will face toward Mecca (generally northeast in America). Other workers should not walk in front of or interrupt the worshiper during the prayer.

During prayer, the Muslim is fully engaged. He or she may not respond to a ringing telephone or conversation. Fellow employees should not take offense if the worshipper does not answer their call during the prayer. However, in case of an emergency, the Muslim will respond to an announcement by stopping the prayer immediately.

Time and Scheduling

Considerations The time it takes to perform the washing and the prayer is usually about 15 minutes. This enables the Muslim employee to pray during meal and/or other break times. Employees who have flexibility in taking breaks may schedule them to fit their prayer times. For example:

  • Employees working regular day hours may schedule their breaks to fit noon and afternoon prayer - depending on location - between noon and 5 p.m.
  • Retail employment shifts from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) imply that Muslim store employees may need to perform noon, afternoon and sunset prayers in the workplace in some states, especially during winter.
  • Night shift workers may need to pray night and morning prayers on site. In other more controlled work envi- ronments, employers must work out a reasonable arrangement for those employees to pray within the prescribed time period.

Friday Congregational Prayer

Friday is the day for congregational worship, called Jum'ah. The prayer generally takes place at a mosque during the noontime prayer and includes an address or sermon, and lasts a total of 45 to 90 minutes.

A Muslim employee should be able to complete Friday prayers during an extended lunch break. Any work missed may be made up by either staying later or coming in earlier, or through whatever arrangements are mutually satisfactory


Pilgrimage plays a significant role in many faiths. In Islam, it is one of the five "pillars," or basic obligations, of the religion. Muslim adults are required to go on a pilgrimage to the city of Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Performing the rituals of the pilgrimage may last five days during the second week of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. However, considerable variations exist in trip arrangements, and group travel may take 10-21 days. Muslim employees may choose to make pilgrimage using vacation time.

Dietary Requirements

The Qur'an, Islam's revealed text, prohibits the consumption of alcohol, pork, and pork byproducts. Practicing Muslims are careful about the food they consume and about how it is prepared. Many practicing Muslims follow certain standards - called halal (permissible) - of slaughter and preparation of meat and poultry.

Airline companies and other parties that serve food to Muslims may order these special items (mainly meats) from certified halal food providers. If this is not possible, employees should be given choices that meet Muslim dietary requirement (such as vegetables, eggs, milk and fish).


Islam prescribes that both men and women behave and dress modestly. Muslims believe men and women should be valued and judged by their intelligence, skills and contributions to the community, not by their physical attributes. There are a number of ways in which Muslim men and women express such teachings.


Many Muslim men wear beards for religious reasons. Cleanliness is required by Islamic teachings. Should there be safety and health considerations, employers may require employees with beards to use proper covering such as hair nets or masks.

Also, some Muslim men wear a small head covering, called a kufi.


When in public, Muslim women wear loose-fitting, non-revealing clothing. Many Muslim women wear attire known as hijab. This attire, which may vary in style, usually includes covering the hair, neck and body, except for the face and hands. Some Muslim women may wear a face veil.

Companies may ask that clothing be clean and neat. Businesses with designated uniforms may request that the Muslim worker's attire adhere to certain requirements of fabric, color and style that are consistent with corporate image.

Employers may wish to modify dress code policies so that religiously-mandated attire is addressed as a diversity issue. For example, many corporations have a policy forbidding the wearing of "hats." This rule may be amended to exempt items such as head scarves and skullcaps.

Other Considerations

Shaking Hands

Some Muslims will be reluctant to shake the hand of an unrelated person of the opposite sex. This should not be taken as an insult, but as a sign of personal modesty and respect.

Eye Contact

The Qur'an teaches Muslim men and women to "lower their gaze" when communicating with unrelated persons of the opposite sex. In observing this teaching, many Muslims avoid sustained eye contact. This should not be taken as an insult or as an indication of an unwillingness to communicate.

SociaI Events

Many Muslims are reluctant to take part in social gatherings celebrating religious holidays of other faiths or where alcohol is served. These employees should not be penalized for not participating in such functions. Such events should not be mixed with business.

A Muslim employee should not be asked to serve or sell religiously offensive products, such as alcoholic beverages.


Unlike other reilgions, Muslim funeral prayers are to be preformed as quickly as possible following a death. Due to this, Muslim employees may express a sense of urgency when responding to the death of a family member and making arrangements. Please work to accommodate them during this time, these employees should not be penalized for the suddenness of having to make arrangements.


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A day of festivity, major
religious holiday.


Permissible by Islamic law.


Clothing Muslim women wear in public.It is generally loosefitting and includes a head covering.


Friday congregational prayer, the Muslim weekly worship service.


A cap sometimes worn by muslim men.


Islam's scripture, sometimes spelled Koran.


The month of Fasting.