Prayer rooms become trendy
The provision of prayer rooms seems to be becoming an increasing occurrence in certain areas. In North Texas USA, companies are increasingly making space for quiet rooms as Muslim employees play a larger role in the U.S Workplace and in the United Kingdom, a football team in the English Premiership has provided a multi-faith prayer room to cater for the spiritual needs of their supporters. In South Africa, prayer rooms have been a feature of certain corporates for some time.
Manzur Mahmud used to hide when he prayed. He'd duck down in his cubicle at Dallas' Texas Instruments or scramble to a friend's office to conduct two of his five daily Muslim prayers. Now the Bangladeshi engineer walks down the corridor and enters a small prayer room.
Islamic prayer, which involves a specified cleansing and prayer routine, also causes confusion for those unfamiliar with the practice. Islam mandates five daily prayers in the direction of Mecca. Two of these prayers, early and late afternoon, often fall during work hours.
North Texas has up to 180,000 Muslims, the second largest population in Texas next to Houston and the seventh largest Muslim community in the United States. Many work in information technology and engineering jobs in Dallas and are now assuming management positions.
"Today you even have leadership and management training workshops associated with Muslims," said Mohamed Elibiary, president of the Freedom and Justice Foundation, based in Plano. "They are trying to climb the corporation into management whereas in the 1990s they were just happy to have a stable job."
Muslim backlash after 9/11 had a profound impact on the community, Mr. Elibiary said, and only now are Muslims becoming comfortable enough to showcase their faith again. He attributes it to American disenchantment with the Iraq war and the war on terror. "As Americans started losing confidence, they stopped fearing their Muslim neighbor," he said.
Beyond a rising comfort level, more companies are taking a global approach to how they do business, said Dr. Khurshid Qureshi, president of the Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers. "They want Muslims to work for their companies," he said. "The prayer rooms aren't mandatory, but they are fringe benefits."
Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, estimates that less than half of the region's companies have prayer rooms. He said it's often something that doesn't occur to an employer until a Muslim employee mentions it.
Brian Mershon, a spokesman for Fluor Corp., said that is the case with the Irving-based construction company. "If we had requests from Muslim employees or nursing mothers as well as any prayer room for employees, we would accommodate their requests," Mr. Mershon said.
Meanwhile, businesses nationwide are seeing a rise in the number of religious discrimination charges. The changing nature of the workplace is forcing organizations to navigate the nuances of religious acceptance and office productivity. To aid companies, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidelines last week for handling religious diversity issues.
Some of the diversity guidelines provided by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: •Employers should make efforts to accommodate an employee's desire to wear a yarmulke, hijab or other religious garb. If the employee is required to wear a uniform, consider allowing modifications to include religious garb.
· Managers and employees should be trained not to stereotype based on religious dress and grooming practices.
· Employers should be sensitive to the risk of unintentionally pressuring or coercing employees to attend social gatherings after the employees have indicated a religious objection to attending.
In a similar move, a prayer room has been created at Ewood Park in Blackburn, England to allow fans of Blackburn Rovers, a club in the English Premiership to worship on matchdays. It is hoped the move will help to attract new supporters from all faiths and backgrounds.
The new multi-faith prayer room has been opened in the Blackburn End for the new season. It is one of the first such facilities to open at a Premier League football stadium.
The move has been praised as “commendable” by the Lancashire Council of Mosques and The Dean of Blackburn Cathedral.
Rovers’ managing director Tom Finn said the specially sound-proofed facility was designed to provide existing staff and supporters with a quiet space for prayer and reflection, as well as encouraging fans from all faiths and backgrounds to attend more games.
Bolton Wanderers already have a quiet room in one of the stands at the Reebok Stadium and last season every team in the Scottish Premier League made facilities available to allow Muslim players to pray before and after games.
Mr Finn said: “We welcome all fans to Ewood Park, whatever their backgrounds. We acknowledge that we live in a diverse society and therefore need to accommodate the needs of people from all walks of life.”
Salim Mulla, the senior vice chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said the creation of the facility was “commendable”.
Mr Mulla, who is also the vice chairman of the Blackburn with Darwen inter-faith council, said: “This is a fantastic gesture by Blackburn Rovers and shows that the club has got a very good understanding of the needs of the Muslim community.
“There is a large Muslim community in East Lancashire and I am sure that this move will encourage more Muslim people to go to matches.
“What they have done is very positive and should be commended.”
“The club is to be congratulated on its open-mindedness and recognising the spirituality of all of its fans. It is crucial that inter-faith projects like this are allowed to succeed.”
Multi-faith prayer rooms are already in place in the Royal Blackburn Hospital, all local town halls and even most motorway service stations.
‘North Texas employers answer prayer room’ by Jessica Meyers/The Dallas Morning News (2 August 2008)
‘Prayer room opened at Ewood Park’ by David Watkinson/ This is Lancashire (12 August 2008)
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