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

Time and Scheduling

The time it takes to perform the washing and the prayer is usually about 15
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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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.