Saturday, March 12, 2005

Muslims Quit Their Jobs Over Prayer Dispute

Thirty Nashville Muslims have walked off their jobs. They say their employer wouldn't let them pray.

Now, the Metro Human Relations Commission is getting involved and it could lead to fines.

“It didn't make sense at first when they told us. I thought they were joking,” said Abdi Nuur.

Nuur is among 30 Muslims who quit his job at a local labor agency over its refusal to let him pray at sunset.

“I couldn't believe it. What's going on? Why we cannot pray? She be like, ‘It's the policy’,” said Nuur.

Nuur worked for Spherion, a labor agency that provides help for Dell's Nashville plant.

He says managers at Spherion told them they could no longer take turns leaving the assembly line for their once-a-day 5-minute prayers.

Abdishakur Ibrahim runs a Nashville mosque and says the prayers at sunset are central to the Muslim faith.

“They were told to choose between the two -- to either quit praying or quit the job,” said Ibrahim.

“If they have to choose between the two, they will choose their faith.”

The local Spherion office had no comment, but the corporate office in Fort Lauderdale released a statement, saying, "We are taking this matter very seriously and are investigating these claims."

Kelvin Jones with the Human Relations Commission has been working with both sides to negotiate a compromise.

“The tension exists because of a lack of understanding,” said Jones. “As long as there is not an unreasonable burden in the workplace, then religious accommodation should be made”.

Still, his office plans to file a complaint against the company on behalf of the former employees.

The Human Relations Commission plans to file its complaint next week. If a government panel decides there was a violation, the company could be fined thousands of dollars.