Five Things to Never Say to a Muslim

I thank Zainab Baloch for her excellent assistance with this blog (see short bio at the end of the post.)

About four years ago, I read a blog called “5 Things to Never Say to a Black Person” and that inspired me to write “5 Things to Never Say to a Gay Person” which was my first blog to go viral. I thought – wow, how cool! So, I later followed with “5 Common Misconceptions about Gay People” and “5 Things to Never Say to Transgender People”.

Then two years later my Hispanic colleague Elsa Maria Jimenez Salgado wrote “5 Things to Never Say to an Hispanic Person” and “Five Misconceptions about Hispanic People.”

Now it is time to write this same series about a truly misunderstood and often demonized group in the USA – Muslims. So, for these next two blogs I have collaborated with Zainab Baloch, a young local Muslim woman here in Raleigh, NC who ran for Raleigh City Council and got close to winning, and one of her friends who I recently met, Desire Clemons. I thank both of them, and additional information about Zainab is at the end of this blog.

So, 5 Things to Never Say to a Muslim:

1) “Did you know Osama Bin Ladin?” With 2 billion Muslims in the world, there is little chance the Muslim you meet ever met Osama Bin Ladin or knows anyone near him. It would be like asking a Catholic if they personally know the Pope.

2) “Don’t you feel responsible for 9-11?” “Why can’t you stop them?” It is unfair to ask anyone in a group to take responsibility for and to stop the horrid behavior of an extremely small minority. It’s not like the 2 billion Muslims in the world have a “Whatsapp Group.” Can you make a group chat that big?

3) To a woman wearing a hijab or scarf: “Don’t you feel hot under that thing?” “Do you wear it in the shower?” “You would look so much prettier without that thing.” And the worst thing yet to say, “Could you take that off, I’d like to see what you look like without it.” The wearing of a scarf or hijab is a very personal and private decision made by a Muslim woman and should be treated with reverence and respect.

4) “Aren’t you hungry during Ramadan? OMG – you don’t eat for an entire month?” Actually, practicing Muslims only fast between sun-up and sun-down and can eat after dark. Plus, there are exemptions, i.e. pregnant women, those with medical conditions, etc. Like point 3 above, the decision of fasting during Ramadan is a personal and private decision, and you may just want to be aware if a Muslim friend or co-worker is fasting so you don’t try to frequently offer them food. Plus, they may be slightly irritable or sluggish toward the end of the day. (Link to info about Ramadan)

5) “Why don’t you believe in God? You need to find Jesus – come to church with me!” Actually, Muslims do believe in God and call Him “Allah.” Plus, Jesus is a beloved Prophet within Islamic history and many of the tenets of Islam are very similar to those of Judaism and Christianity.

I would encourage all readers of this blog to familiarize themselves with Islam, make some friends with Muslim people and perhaps attend a community or educational event held by your local mosque.

And now here is part 2 – “Five Misconceptions of American Muslims”

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A little about Zainab Baloch

Zainab is a Raleigh native, first generation American, and ran for Raleigh City Council in 2017. She is an advocate for issues facing our city and has a long-standing foundation of community service in various leadership positions. She is the third vice chair of the Wake County Democrat Party, and serves on various boards including WakeUP Wake County, The Islamic Association of Raleigh (link) Board, etc. She works in quality management for the Divison of Mental Health and is almost done with her Masters in Public Administration from UNC-CH (she’s a die hard wolfpack fan though).

Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat: @votebaloch

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Three earlier blogs I have written about Islam and Muslims:

Islamaphobia – a Growing US Diversity Issue

Workforce Diversity – Islam (Muslims) in the American Workplace

The Intersection of Islam and LGBT

Workforce Diversity – Islam (Muslims) in the American Workplace

Many devout Muslims attend weekly services at their mosques on Fridays around noon.

Many devout Muslims attend weekly services at their mosques on Fridays around noon.

When I wrote my blog last month, “Islamophobia – a Growing US Diversity Issue,” I promised to follow up with blogs about Islam in the workplace and the intersection of LGBT issues with Islam. So here is the workplace blog.

With over 2.5 million Muslims now living in the United States, including many who were born in this country, it is very likely that you will have Muslim coworkers, customers, managers and / or employees. So it is important to understand some of the items which may come up in the workplace with this aspect of religious and multicultural diversity.

Here are just three items to consider:

1) The Muslim religious obligation. For the devout Muslim, the most holy time when many Muslims go to their mosque to worship is Friday at noon. Many Muslims would appreciate having an extended lunch hour to attend services. I once had a devout Muslim working for me, and I made sure to never schedule a department meeting around noon on Fridays nor expected him to attend key meetings around the time.

2) Interaction with women. The devout Muslim woman is not allowed to have physical contact except with her husband or close male relative. This may be important to consider when a female Muslim work associate is being introduced to a male. Often our custom is to shake hands when introduced, but this may not be feasible in this case. If you know you are being introduced to a Muslim woman, simply nod your head in acknowledgement and say “very glad to meet you.” If you are unaware that the woman is Muslim and she does not extent her hand back to you, please do not be offended. I would hope that the Muslim woman would be gracious and say something like “my religion does not permit me to touch a male, but I am very glad to be here and to meet you.”

World Champion fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed will make history this summer as the first American to wear the traditional Muslim hijab while competing at the Olympics

World Champion fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed will make history this summer as the first American to wear the traditional Muslim hijab while competing at the Olympics

3) Traditional dress. Wearing a hijab, or headscarf, is for many Muslim women a visible expression of the faith, piety or modesty. There have already been several cases brought to the EEOC (Employment Equal Opportunity Commission) from employers who felt this dress violated corporate dress codes, especially in customer-facing roles, and in most cases, the EEOC sides with the employee. One of the most visible cases was the clothing store Abercrombie and Fitch’s refusal to hire Samantha Elauf, a Muslim, because of her religious practice of wearing a hijab. (See EEOC press release about this case.)

Here is an excellent resource available from the EEOC which goes in more depth on some these issues and additional ones.

Overall, these are simple and reasonable “religious accommodations” as with working with other people of faith in the workplace. It makes good business sense to provide a little flexibility and respect to build a workplace climate where everyone feels included, can be themselves, and bring the very best of their talent to the job.