March 10, 2005

MOVE THE BREAK (via ph):

30 Muslim workers fired for praying on job at Dell (ROB JOHNSON, 3/10/05, The Tennessean)

Work or pray.

Faced with that difficult decision, Abdi H. Nuur removed his employee badge and walked away last month from his forklift driver's job at Dell Computer's Nashville plant. He and 29 other Somali Muslims say they were forced to choose between their faith and their employment.

Now the Metro Human Relations Commission is trying to intervene in a confrontation that pits American-style production quotas against Islam's requirement that its adherents pray daily when the sun sets.

''They told us that we cannot pray at sunset,'' Nuur said. ''They told us that we would have to wait for our break.''

He said he explained that while some of Islam's five daily prayer times are somewhat flexible, the sunset prayer is not. Nor does the sun set at the same time every day.

The company is certainly within its rights, but the action is morally repellant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 10, 2005 2:00 PM

When in Rome do as the Romans. Do they want to be Americans or not? (they can always convert)

Posted by: h-man at March 10, 2005 2:34 PM

its not morally repellent, its not even a matter of morals at all. start a muslim computer company. or get a job that's compatible with isalmic practices. how is this different from someone wanting to operate machinery after participating in a peyote ritual ?

Posted by: cjm at March 10, 2005 2:56 PM

I think OJ feels this is morally repugnant because it may cause the Muslims to form a union.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at March 10, 2005 3:34 PM

Federal law requires businesses to make "reasonable accomodations" to religious practice. For example, our company changed the Friday work hours of an employee who was an observant Jew so she could work 8-4 (instead of her normal 9-5) on Fridays in the winter so she could get home before sunset. It seems to me that Dell could make a similar adjustment here without too much disruption to their organization.

I don't understand h-man's question: "do they want to be American or not?" I didn't realize "America" was a religion that could be converted to....

Posted by: Foos at March 10, 2005 3:43 PM


Peyote affects your ability to do the job. The timing of a break doesn't.

Posted by: oj at March 10, 2005 3:56 PM

oj, but each adherent thinks their religous practices "trump" the workplace rules. how can you make allowances for one religion, but not the other ? i would hope a company tries to accomodate its staff, but if it can't (or won't) then its not really any different from having rules on attire, office hours, etc.

it was the part about sunset occurring at a different time each day, that makes the prayer issue so problematic.

islam forbids charging interest, what if a muslim claims a bank is violating his rights by not giving him a 0% loan ? where do you draw the line ?

Posted by: cjm at March 10, 2005 4:06 PM


They're closed on Sunday.

Posted by: oj at March 10, 2005 4:12 PM

A break for only certain employees, the time of which changes every day, far from being reasonable, is impossible.

I do wonder why a shift change isn't possible, however.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 10, 2005 4:12 PM


Yes, just make it a sliding break for the whole team.

Posted by: oj at March 10, 2005 4:22 PM

They should convert to Christianity.

Posted by: carter at March 10, 2005 4:56 PM


Their kids will.

Posted by: oj at March 10, 2005 4:59 PM

"They're closed on Sunday."

Which is why, if you subscribe to ACLU logic, that the lack of postal delivery on Sunday (and the closure of gov't offices in general) is a violation the Separation of Church and State.

This little controversy just points out that at some point Muslims are going to have to recognize that what worked for a small group of tropical medieval desert dwellers might have to be adjusted for other climates and times. And that if they wish to be tolerated, they need to learn to tolerate the societies in which they've emigrated. But when God is on your side, I guess, you can not only afford to be intolerant of non-believers in their own homes, but it becomes your duty, too.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 10, 2005 6:39 PM


Correct, I wasn't clear. This is a recent immigrant and he seems to be under the assumption that the US is under an obligation to accomodate his desire to live under the same strictures he had in Somalia. I would suggest if fairness is your particular schtick would it not be "fair" that before coming to American he agree to live under the prevailing rules in America. Seems fair to me and if I migrated to Somalia then I would expect abide by their prevailing community rules, whether it was working on Sunday or not.

I haven't even gotten into the employment laws, but there was no mention of a legal violation by Dell. (i doubt that there was one) By the way, were the work rules at Dell kept secret from him?

Posted by: h-man at March 10, 2005 7:17 PM


It sounds like the workers get a break time and thirty of them need to take a break to pray. Why not have the break time float with their need?

Posted by: at March 10, 2005 7:27 PM


If I was running the company, I would do that, if I needed those workers.

Imagine 30 immigrants moving to America and applying for work with a company that makes no provision for such weird, strange, bizarre behavior as dropping to the shop floor and praying 5 times a day. After they get the job, they complain about mistreatment and OJ's even suggests that it is "morally repellent".

Now who is fair in that scenario. I think the honest company is. You think those people who went half way around the world in order to transfigure the rules of Dell are the fair.

What other changes need to be made in our laws to make them feel like they are back home in Somalia?

Friday closing of Business? Polygamy? Freedom to b*tch slap their wife in public? Sure we can do that. We probably will.

Posted by: h-man at March 10, 2005 8:31 PM

We will as we become more dependent on them. "weird and strange" is simple bigotry and morally repellant.

Posted by: oj at March 10, 2005 8:34 PM

"weird, strange, bizarre behavior as dropping to the shop floor and praying 5 times a day"

OJ surely you know the above was merely exaggeration to make the point that our culture is not obligated to accept as appropriate any and sundry manners and morals of immigrating cultures. I would like to think that our mores are defensible in their own right. I think your view to the contrary is not likely to produce the salutary results you fantasize.

Calling me bigoted hurts (maybe true), so I will resist calling you European.

Posted by: h-man at March 10, 2005 9:14 PM


No, I didn't.

Posted by: oj at March 10, 2005 10:29 PM

I remember reading about Walmart where supplier trucks have a 2 minute time slot to show up at the loading dock, or they loose it. If Dell operates at the same level of efficiency, scheduling in a varying time slot for prayer would certainly mess up planning.
Can't recall similair complaints of muslims working in car factories or on other production lines, so perhaps some more flexibility in prayer time is allowed after all.

Posted by: Daran at March 11, 2005 4:18 AM

Obviously the easiest way around this is an informal, non-written understanding that you don't hire Muslims but instead hire Mexicans or members of other groups who know how to behave in a civilized, non-disrutpive fashion.

Why are we bringing Somalis into the country? There isn't enough random violence in American cities?

Posted by: Bart at March 11, 2005 8:55 AM


That's what I thought when Canada took in large numbers of Somalis in the early nineties. They are quite a visible minority in my city. Not much violence, but lots of school prizes.

Posted by: Peter B at March 11, 2005 9:48 AM


You are arguing like the ACLU and Anti-Defamation League. Stop with the absolutes and try a little reasonableness and civility. The fact that these guys need to pray for five minutes is not the equivalent of a voodoo guy who insists on his right to sacrifice a live chicken. Islam is not any old cult, it's a "great religion" (yes, the concept means something) that's a billion strong and been around a long time, and it isn't going anywhere. Plus, these guys are in the country and were welcomed.

This is like the debates about Sikhs and headgear. If headgear is prohibited for safety or health reasons, do you make an exception? Answer: You try and you do in most cases. I'm sure there are lots of instances where rigid practices can't be accommodated, just as a Catholic foodtaster doesn't have a right to paid time off during Lent, but a short regularly-scheduled break for a prayer? Did anyone ask these guys whether they would make up the time or agree to a shortened lunch?

Posted by: Peter B at March 11, 2005 10:04 AM

Somalia is a place for my argument about deciding to hold a few important areas like Berbera, but letting the rest go back to the bush.


The stories about Somalis in Lewiston, Maine and Minneapolis tell a different story. One does hope that once they are here, they do acculturate.

I never understood why a Sikh cop couldn't wear a navy blue turban with the department insignia on it. It is possible that the 'sundown prayer' comes at a heavy time for the business. A shipper has lots to do at the close of the business day. There must be more details to the story than we are being told. After all, Muslims buy cheap computers too.

Posted by: Bart at March 11, 2005 11:05 AM


Template for continuing a tradition of assimilating immigrant populations would be to demand and expect the acceptance of prevailing societal customs and laws. To vary from that opens the door to eventual destruction of the pre-existing culture.

You seem to think Somalian Muslims have no choice in staying within their Somalian Culture, (in Somalia) instead of oops finding themselves in America. Is it conceivable to you that obstinance on their part may hinder assimilation?

Posted by: h-man at March 11, 2005 11:38 AM


You mean like with those millions of unassimilated Catholics and Jews?

Posted by: Peter B at March 11, 2005 1:50 PM

No, they are assimilated.

Better example would be unassimilated "minorities" such as Afro-Centric psuedo-intellectuals, who in order to be a complete pain decided they would convert to Islam in order to stick it to the man. That's the sort of thing I'm talking about.

Posted by: h-man at March 11, 2005 4:01 PM

"There must be more details to the story than we are being told. After all, Muslims buy cheap computers too."

Which is why Dell's decision may be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Don't you think that Muslim consumers might take this firing into consideration when they choose which commoditized computer they buy?

If I were the plant manager, I think I would look at their work performance before letting them go over the timing of a five minute break. Just the fact that they remain committed to such a rigid schedule of prayer should speak well for their ability to remain committed to what must certainly be a boring and repetitive work schedule.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at March 13, 2005 11:26 AM