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We have a new colleague in our team and she's Muslim. Technically she's my subordinate, so I want to avoid as many pitfalls as possible.

What are things one needs to know in this context? Prayer-related details, food/drink choices we should/shouldn't offer, even behaviour-related things?

Please assume I have no idea whatsoever about the topic.

60

As others have said - ask her, she knows what offends her.

Yet, a couple of points may be worth considering:
Note - this isn't intended to be a comprehensive list, and I don't think one is needed. you're not expected to be an Islam expert in order to work with Muslims.

  1. Muslims (most of them) don't eat pork or drink alcohol. If you take the team out for lunch, avoid places which are centered around either of these. A place that serves them is perfectly OK, as long as it offers alternatives.
  2. Once a year, during the month of Ramadan, muslims don't eat during the day. Try not to make it extra hard for them.
  3. Avoid too much physical contact, such as hugs. I think it's a good advice for anyone you don't know really well, Muslim or not, but religion may make it worse.
  4. Let her take time off during Muslim holidays.
  • 3
    Comments removed. Please use The Workplace Chat or The Workplace Meta for extended discussions, and post the link to such a discussion as a comment if it is relevant to this answer. – yoozer8 Nov 4 '13 at 13:58
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Talk to them and ask them. They are the people most likely to know what they find offensive.

If, like most people, they are reasonable human beings, they will be able to tell you. You can also ask them to tell you if you do indeed end up doing something like that inadvertently - this way they can feel OK to tell you what you did wrong and why.

Not all Muslims are religious (meaning, devout) or follow their religious precepts (or do so to different degrees), so the answers will differ for each person.

  • 2
    I did talk to her now, and of course that was the best way to figure out what she finds offensive. The other answers on this question helped me, however, to demonstrate openness to the topic and the willingness to get involved by asking for specific details. And - that's my subjective feeling of course - it helped me help her address topics that she might not have mentioned to a superior in a more open, general question about what she found offensive. – CMW Nov 4 '13 at 13:03
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    @CMW - Glad that it helped and you got satisfactory resolution. – Oded Nov 4 '13 at 13:07
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Although I'm not Muslim, I grew up in a Muslim family in a largely Muslim country, so I think I can offer some insight. First of all, let's clear two things:

  1. Keep the relationship professional and treat them the way you treat any other colleague. In most cases, that's enough.

  2. The majority of modern-day Muslims (like the majority of modern-day people of all religions) don't really expect too much from you regarding their religion.

Now, the most important thing to keep in mind when working with any religious person (Muslim or not): Avoid topics regarding their religion and don't stir up any conversation regarding their religion vs. other religions.

If they're moderately religious to highly religious, then here are some things you need to be careful about (I'll edit the post and more if I remember):

  1. Food: The vast majority of Muslims (even ones who drink alcohol) do not eat pork. So, at company parties; lunches; or dinners, make sure you offer an alternative. (Extra religious: Won't be comfortable looking at it or smelling it)

  2. Alcohol: Most Muslims don't drink alcohol. Whenever alcohol is around, make sure an alternative is offered. (Extra religious: Will try to avoid tables where alcohol is present)

  3. Prayer: A lot of Muslims pray 5 times a day. In a normal working day, there will be two prayer times (noon prayer, and afternoon prayer), so she might be go spend 5-10 minutes in an empty room in those times. On Friday, Muslims have the Friday Prayer where men are encouraged to attend it in a mosque.

  4. Ramadan: Most Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan. The vast majority don't expect you to cease eating in front of them, but try not to offer them food or drinks in Ramadan.

  5. Pigs: When giving greeting cards, calenders, gifts, etc, make sure you don't use pictures or wrapping that has photos of pigs on it. Even if cute cartoons. Most Muslims are repulsed by the sighting of pigs.

  6. Physical contact: Since she's a, well, she, you need to be extra careful here. A lot religious Muslim women don't even shake hands with a man.

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    #5 not the majority, the minority :) We are just not allowed to consume any pig-related products. – Omar Oct 29 '13 at 17:13
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    A small curiosity of mine: what is the reason of #6 ? – Radu Murzea Feb 21 '14 at 13:27
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    #5 is an exaggeration.. – Adel Feb 21 '14 at 14:40
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    @Adnan There's NO conflict on this one. Islam prohibits Muslims to shake hands with opposite gender. Practicing Muslim woman will not shake hands with a man unless that man is her Mahram(spouse/father/brother/uncle/grandfather..). Exceptions are allowed under extreme circumstances. – Amna Ali Sep 10 '14 at 20:01
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    @AmnaAli From the point of view of Muslims who subscribe to the teaching of one sect, Islamic teachings come in only one form which is their sect's form. Pretty much like when some Catholics insist that Catholicism is the only "correct" form of Christianity. I understand your point of view, which is a strict Sunni (or, in some cases, very strict Shia) one. This can be a very long discussion, but when it comes to this, please understand that religious teachings are practiced in many different forms by different people. So, yes, there is a conflict, even within the Sunni scholars. – Adi Sep 10 '14 at 20:17
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The best approach is to ask them. Even if there was a simple answer "if new employee is of X religion therefore you do y", there are variations in the branches for each religion. Not to mention the level of devoutness for the individual.

Food & holy days may be able to be addressed in a few simple adjustments, but they might be more complex.

  • 1
    Yes, I was actually asking the question, expecting some straight forward answer like holy days, food, etc. but I see that this is more complicated a topic than could be answered in one simple post. – CMW Oct 28 '13 at 14:08

protected by enderland Jan 16 '17 at 18:18

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