As American Muslims, we at the American Islamic Forum for Democracy are particularly grateful for our country’s commitment to protect the inalienable right of each of us to freedom of expression and religion. We are grateful for the opportunity to secure the protection of our most basic rights in workplaces and in the public arena.
It is true that there is a vocal and troublesome minority who wish to see the religious rights of Muslims restricted or even eliminated altogether – but these individuals do not represent the broader American public and cannot find their position supported by the Constitution or Bill or Rights. Thus, we continue to see our existence as patriotic Americans and faithful Muslims as a blessed one, one in synergy and not in conflict.
Unfortunately, some of our fellow faithful not only disagree with us, but are doing their very best to amplify tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims at what is already a trying time for our country and the world. Further, these individuals seem to be actively encouraging Muslims – particularly those in especially marginalized communities – to perceive the United States as anti-Muslim.
Cargill Meat Solutions, a meat processing plant in Colorado, is located in an area with a large Somalian population. The plant employs a significant number of Somali Muslims, who have, according to reports, been able to take breaks for prayer in the company’s two “reflection” rooms. Details of the story are a bit vague, but sources say that a group of 11 employees wanted to take a prayer break together last month. A supervisor wanted to ensure that production would not be impacted, so asked the employees to break up into smaller groups to take their prayer breaks. The employees complied, but later resigned. Later, nearly 200 Cargill employees refused to come to work. They were terminated, per Cargill’s policy of terminating any employee who does not show up for work for three days without legitimate reason.
So, what is going on here? Naturally, CAIR is capitalizing on this story, asserting that Cargill is denying their Muslim employees their right to adequate space and time for prayer. That claim, however, is suspect: the supervisor reportedly agreed to let employees pray. They were simply asked to break up into smaller groups. What many unfamiliar with Islam may not know is that this is actually perfectly legitimate: while it is indeed considered a good thing to pray in congregation, it is not actually a requirement for all five daily prayers all week long. Further, a “congregation” can be a very small group of two or three. It is also acceptable to stagger the prayer time a bit – Muslims will not “miss” the entire prayer time by delaying by a few minutes (though Islam does have a way for Muslims to offer and/or address the issue of missed prayers). Further, Islamic prayers don’t actually take very long – thus employees don’t need a very long break to complete them, and employers can be fair without infringing on productivity. An employer allowing for short breaks for small groups, and offering a space in which prayers can be offered, is being reasonable. While all details of the case are yet to be clarified, we at AIFD suggest that well-intentioned individuals pause before assuming CAIR’s position is valid or well-meaning.
Why are we suspicious of CAIR’s position? If the employer did indeed allow for employees to pray together in smaller groups, CAIR would necessarily be demanding something unreasonable by asking for more. For example, if CAIR demands that the Cargill plant allow all 200 or so Muslim employees to be able to hold prayers at the same time, they are insisting that the plant halt productivity and even secure bigger prayer spaces. (The plant currently has two small rooms for prayer and reflection.) An additional point to consider is that two to five Muslims can do ritual ablutions (washing) in a standard bathroom in just a few minutes. Two hundred Muslims? This would take a very long time. That is, unless, the next demand is for large specialized rooms for this purpose. This would simply be asking too much.
CAIR also has a tendency to prey on those Muslims it can make into national stories regardless of the consequences to them. Here, CAIR is using Cargill’s Somali Muslim community – a group with multiple marginalized identities – to push a broader agenda nationwide. The Somali Muslim community is already vulnerable in many ways. Now some two hundred people who had stable work are potentially left without a way to provide for their families. Will CAIR ensure their security – whether by making up for lost wages or making sure they secure new employment if a deal cannot be reached? CAIR’s message is not one of constructive paths forward – but seeks instead to prove that America is hostile to Muslims and that Muslims. Through this, CAIR is stoking tensions between immigrant communities and the broader population, between people of color and their employers, and between Muslims and non-Muslims. If the civil rights of Muslims are truly infringed upon, they must certainly be defended, and boldly. However, CAIR is notorious for its opportunistic use of matters of faith and minority rights to carry out its nefarious goal of advancing an interpretation of Islam and Muslim existence which rejects pluralism, rejects diversity, and promotes hostility against dissidents, reformers, and those who truly support civil and universal human rights. We ask both Muslims and non-Muslims to not be fooled.