Should Religious Tolerance be Promoted at Work?
I recently read a very interesting (and completely false) story about a small town middle school planning to “go Muslim” in November. According to the story, students at Westhills Middle School in Jerome, Illinois, were going to “get a taste of Islamic living” next month as the school celebrated Muslim Appreciation Month in “exceptional fashion.”
And just what did the fictional school of 300 students plan to do?
- Through Attire
Parents will be required to purchase new school uniforms; Abayas for the girls and Thobes for boys.
- Through Prayer
Each day of November curriculum will start with a prayer to Allah.
- Through Customs
Children will then repeat an Islamic pledge of allegiance to Afghanistan’s flag.
- Through Daily Lessons and Assignments
Studies will include Arabic reading and writing, Islamic history and Qumran study to name a few.
- And Through Traditional Meals
Traditional Islamic meals will also be served in the cafeteria.
The story also said that the celebration would end with a two-hour school play about the life and teachings of the prophet Mohammed, and any student who failed to participate in the month-long activities would receive “a failing mark and the child being forced to take the grade over.” Ouch.
The school’s alleged principal, Mohammed Ishir, said:
I have been seeing a disturbing trend in the conservative news media when it comes to racism against Muslims. There is simply too much prejudice in today’s western culture. All I know to do is to reach out to the children. I hope by showing them the true meaning of this peaceful religion I can bring acceptance to future generations.
Apparently, the purpose of this “celebration” was to expand the students’ understanding and tolerance of Islam. Now, you have to admit: For a made up story, the writer sure put in a lot of detail to make it believable and add that “shock value.” And although it’s untrue, as I read this story, I wondered if and how this practice would ever be translated into corporate America.
Employers, do you think it would be a good idea to follow in the ficitonal Mr. Ishir’s footsteps and promote religious intolerance…in the workplace?
You could be thinking, well this was supposed to happen at a school, an educational environment where students go to learn. It’s not a business or organization where adults go to work.
Yet, every day billions of workers learn new things while on the job. The question is simply whether or not being tolerant and understanding of others’—say their colleagues’—religious preferences should be added to those learning opportunities?
Think about it: In the office, employees will inevitably learn about team work, adhering to deadlines, and time management, to name a few. But, the work environment also provides opportunities for workers to learn more “personal” skills, like interpersonal communication and how to effectively resolve conflicts with others.
The majority of workers also develop “politically correct” skills when dealing with gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation issues at work. Perhaps religion is just another area?
In school, students learn about different cultures to help them better understand the differences that exist in society. And in an ideal world, this type of education would help create a society that is open to diversity and inclusion. If your company celebrated Muslim Appreciation month by doing Islamic-related practices or promoted African-American traditions during Black History month, could this potentially create the same “open” culture within your business?
So this poses the question: Is promoting religious (or any other specific group/cause) tolerance your role as an employer? Is it your job to make sure all your employees understand and tolerate various religious groups? Or do your responsibilities stop at being an equal opportunity employer?