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Thursday, 18 September 2008

Sharia in the workplace

There’s a lot happening behind the scenes – but you probably already knew that – to ensure that foreign laws and practices are enshrined into our way of life here in the UK, and no doubt elsewhere in the Western world, just to comply with people’s superstitions.

If you demanded a change in your workplace practices to accommodate the fact that you like to spin round seven times widdershins in a chalked pentagram while wearing a chicken suit and bellowing, “I am the master of the universe, so you can all fuck off!” five times a day from the middle of the reception area, your bosses might raise an eyebrow.

“Ah, but, it’s my religion,” you’d protest.

“Oh, all right, then,” they’d say.

Or not.

But, then, you never know these days in politically correct Britain, which bends over backwards to accommodate the ever-increasing demands of Muslims (others, too, but it’s Muslims who seem to do the most demanding and moaning and for whom most changes are made).

I came across a piece in a journal that doesn’t often come my way, Personnel Today. It examines how changes in the workplace are needed to accommodate Islamic beliefs, even changing bonus schemes and pension plans if they don’t comply with sharia law – instead of simply telling them, “You can take it or leave it.”

In the article, Georgina Fuller talks of a law firm who give seminars on sharia (there’s money in it for them, of course), “as it is an increasing concern for organisations”. It then quotes a representative of the firm, Paul Griffin, as saying, “We’re helping more businesses and advising them on how far they should go in complying with Shariah law in the UK.”

Griffin goes on, “If, for example, you offer a discretionary bonus scheme, you can’t earn or charge interest under Shariah. This can make finance a tricky area for firms to manage. Employers have also got to be aware of loans and share options as Muslim employees can’t be owed something in financial terms.”

How much does it cost the firm to do all the twiddling of financial knobs to be compliant with superstition? Does this affect the amount other employees, who don’t feel they have to comply with some religious mumbo-jumbo, get in their bonuses? No doubt the knob twiddling won’t be done for free.

If something is plain unethical, then it’s up to employees to point this out and take appropriate action against their employers until they put it right. But that doesn’t need Allah or the other fella in the other crazy book to arbitrate: it needs human beings with sound morals. Anything else is a case of one rule for part of the workforce and another for the other.

Then we come to time off for prayer.

Fuller quotes Mohammed Farrukh Raza, managing director of Islamic Finance Advisory & Assurance Services (IFAAS UK), which advises companies on how to become sharia-compliant. She writes:

Raza says that Shariah is based on fairness and that, although, in his view, employers have certain obligations to Muslim employees – such as providing prayer rooms – the religious obligation is on the employee rather than the organisation.

“Shariah law is based on fairness but it has to be fair to all, regardless of whether you are a Muslim or non-Muslim,” he says. “The time that Muslim employees can legally require to take off to pray mystifies employers but it’s simple. Muslims are required to pray five times a day and a prayer typically lasts between five to 10 minutes. So normally a Muslim employee would expect to take 25–50 minutes out during the day. Some employees spend the same amount of time taking cigarette breaks.”

But a ciggy break can be postponed or simply cancelled if there’s a job that needs to be done – “. . . like, now”!

Would you employ someone if he or she said that, twice or three times during the working day (depending on its times and duration) ten or fifteen minutes would need to be spent praying in a special room?

And prayer rooms? Are you kidding? Would you give up more valuable space in your small premises, having already provided a rest room for your staff, to accommodate someone’s urge to go and stick his arse in the air for ten minutes?

And there’s also the overriding thing here: the principle. It may seem a good idea to keep Muslim employees happy by giving them a space to pray and by ensuring that they get two or three periods of ten or fifteen minutes to go and do it (taken off their lunch break, presumably) if you have a couple of Muslim employees out of fifty or seventy or a hundred. But then you find your proportion of Muslim employees rises to 10 per cent, then 20 per cent and so on. Then they begin to ask for more, all to satisfy religious beliefs – not general ethical beliefs (though in some cases they may overlap), but specifically religious beliefs.

But I think the point is made.

See also an earlier letter in the same publication, “All religious beliefs should be treated with respect”, which in turn refers to a July article, “Wrong about rights”, in which Tony Pettengell says, among many other things:

But the sooner all references to religions are expunged from the law books, the sooner we'll have an equal society. And until this happens, the weight of 2,000 years of suppression will keep women where they've been for so long – in the background.

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