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Supporting Muslims at Work

April 14, 2023

Muslims are a growing part of Canada’s workforce. Unfortunately, many people do not know much about Islam or Muslims. And many have negative views about the religion and its followers. A recent report by the Angus Reid Institute found that 36 percent of Canadians outside of Quebec have a negative view of Islam (and 56 percent inside Quebec). 

Employers have a role to play in turning this around. Why should they? Because it is the right thing to do. Negativity fuels Islamophobia and discrimination. Every worker has the right to a respectful workplace, regardless of their religion.

It’s also the smart thing to do. With about a million Muslims in Ontario and growing, Muslim workers are an expanding part of the workforce. Smart employers will provide a respectful environment for all workers. People would rather be with employers that want to accommodate them, rather than ones that only accommodate because they must.

How do you support your Muslim workers? It starts with understanding. Many employers offer harassment and discrimination training, particularly to managers, that include segments on racism and homophobia, but few touch on topics pertaining to religious discrimination, like Islamophobia and Antisemitism. 

But education shouldn’t only be about what not to do. So here are a few Islamic practices that may affect work life, and some tips on how employers can support Muslim workers:

  • Daily prayers – many Muslims pray five times a day, two or three of which can fall within the workday (depending on the season). The prayers take a handful of minutes each, and require the person to stand, bow, prostrate and sit. Employers should be mindful of Muslims who need to take a break to pray. If you can accommodate the space, consider having a dedicated room (sometimes called a “meditation room”) to accommodate all workers who wish to pray or meditate during the day.
  • Friday prayers – Muslim congregational prayers occur on Friday afternoon, usually at a mosque. The sermon and prayer take about half an hour, excluding time needed to get to where prayers are held. Avoid scheduling mandatory meetings during this time if workers are attending prayer. Allow for flexible work schedules that can accommodate prayers.
  • Fasting – many Muslims fast the month of Ramadan. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, dates can vary yearly. Unless ill, Muslims refrain from food and drink (yes, including water!) during daylight hours. During Ramadan, many Muslims opt to work earlier in the day, and evenings are often dedicated to family dinners and prayers. Again, providing workers flexibility goes a long way.
  • Headscarves and face veils – many Muslim women wear a hijab (headscarf) and some wear a niqab (headscarf and face veil). If your workplace requires a uniform or protective equipment, make sure it’s hijab/niqab friendly.
  • Dietary restrictions – many Muslims only eat halal meat and most avoid pork. Halal meat is meat that complies with Islamic dietary rules. In Canada, many restaurants provide halal meat and grocery stores often have meat with halal labels. If you’re providing food at work, ask those attending if they have any dietary restrictions. Generally, vegetarian and vegan options would accommodate if halal options don’t exist or aren’t practical.

Communication, compassion and flexibility go a long way to making a respectful and accommodating work environment.