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A BUSINESS course will teach bosses how to be sensitive to their Muslim employees, with advice on providing prayer rooms at work, what to do when headscarves clash with uniforms, and whether to serve alcohol at the Christmas party.
The course, run by the anti-terrorism think tank the Australian Homeland Research Centre and taught by the Muslim lawyer Irfan Yusuf, is designed to help employers develop “harmonious workplace arrangements” for Muslim workers.
It will sketch out the differences between various Muslim sects and cultures, and explain confusing points, such as why certain religious holidays might be very important to some Muslims but ignored by others.
“Employers want to be seen to be making reasonable adjustments for their Muslim employees,” Mr Yusuf said. “It’s a risk-management issue.”
It is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the grounds of religion, or to fire them because of it, but many are confused about what constitutes discrimination, he said.
“I can help people try to define where that line is.”
One of the main problems facing employers of Muslims is whether to let their workers go to their mosque for prayers, or to set up a prayer room at work. An in-house prayer room can cause problems of its own because very observant Muslims need to wash thoroughly before they pray.
“That can be a real pain in the butt,” Mr Yusuf said. “If you’re not used to seeing someone wash their feet in the sink at work, that can be very disturbing. So employers might want to provide some place for them to do it.”
Another issue is scarves and veils, which may be incompatible with some uniforms. “Sometimes an indirect form of discrimination may be necessary for the operational requirements of the business. But many women with headscarves find it hard to get jobs in particular professions anyway.”
He will also explain that different brands of Islam may observe Ramadan on slightly different dates, and while some sects celebrate the birthday of the prophet Muhammad, others frown upon it. This can be confusing if Muslim workers asking for different days off for the same religious holidays. “People might ask, ‘Is this employee really serious when he says this is a religious requirement or is it just cultural requirement?’ “
The centre’s director, Athol Yates, said 11 employers had signed up to tomorrow’s course. “In times of heightened tension, you can either understand the cultural differences and deal with them, or watch your workers walk away,” he said.
(Posted on May 22, 2007)