An Open Letter to My Muslim Brothers and Sisters
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I’m writing to share my thoughts on items recently reported by the Twin Cities media – all concerning how religious convictions impact the ability/willingness of Muslims to perform some tasks that are often considered essential to customer service jobs.
The four items that stand out the most are:
The refusal of Muslim cab drivers to transport airport customers who have alcohol (usually purchased from duty free shops) in their possession.
The refusal of Muslim cab drivers to transport customers who travel with animal companions (even if the potential passenger is blind - ouch).
The refusal of Muslim grocery store cashiers to scan pork products.
The refusal of Muslim women to appear uncovered for State ID photographs.
But you’re not alone: Some Christians refuse to dispense lawful medication based on religious grounds.
I’m sure you’re well aware that America prides itself on religious tolerance. I’m sure you’re also aware that we sometimes fall short of our ideals. Though it’s not expressly written in any of our laws, a number of our traditions and practices have their origins in Christianity. Sunday as a day of rest takes it origin from the Sabbath – not an exclusively Christian tradition, but evidence of how religion shapes our traditions.
In many ways, I see the tension between your religious beliefs and American traditions as analogous to the experience of other religious minorities. For example, Jews in America don’t get time off to observe their holy days (even though Christmas Day is a day when most workplaces are closed). In effect, Jews lose personal leave in for religious observance. Seventh Day Adventists will refuse to work their sabbath - from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown – though it may impact both job choice and career growth. Some faith traditions eschew electricity and modern conveniences and thrive in our country, a place that prides itself on technological and scientific advances.
But the conflict is not limited to religion. On the basis of personal ethics or morality, people in America may refuse to eat meat, or wear fur or leather. Some people refuse to ride in cars.
In America, a vegetarian may decide that working as a waiter at a steakhouse, or working as a sales clerk at a furrier is not their ideal profession.
No one has to work as a cab driver. But once one decides to do so, he or she must serve all who seek transport (unless they’re phenomenally drunk or conspicuously dangerous). No one has to work as a cashier, but once one decides to do so, he or she must scan all items available for purchase. No one has to drive, or even have a photo ID, but if one chooses to take advantages of the rights and privileges that require an ID, one must take the photo in a way that makes it useful for identification purposes.
And just as I would advise a Christian who aspires to be a pharmacist but does not want to dispense birth control to choose another profession, and just as I would advise a vegetarian who does not want to profit from the death of animals not to work at a steakhouse, I would advise you, my Muslim brothers and sisters who do not want to give cab rides to people traveling with alcohol or animals to seek other work.
No one here will force you to live outside of your faith or traditions (unless you’re faith promotes animal sacrifice or polygamy or ganja/peyote/licking those frogs or other things considered too extreme for support), but don’t expect too much accommodation either.
Realize that the failure to offer it is not related to intolerance, but actually has a practical basis. In a country where the freedom of religion is included in the Constitution, we cannot rewrite our traditions, laws, and practices to embrace every tenet. We tend to honor Christian principles more than we should – we don’t always live up to our ideals.
So my advice to you is this: follow the dictates of your heart, your conscience, and your faith, even if it means you must sacrifice in order to do so.
With sincere best wishes,
P.S. Thanks for the idea Mary!