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Private Accommodations for Islam

<http://frontpagemag azine.com/ Articles/ authors.aspx? GUID=e057c23d- 515a-4ba1-
 John Matthies
FrontPageMagazine. com | 4/18/2008

When is it appropriate to critique the policies of private enterprise?
Private institutions are clearly permitted to carry out their business in a
manner appropriate to their market, so long as they operate within the
boundaries of the law. However, these institutions – commercial,
educational, or the media – also play a major societal role, and hence carry
great responsibility. For this reason, the practice of criticizing these
institutions is an established tradition, as illustrated by book reviews,
theater criticism, Hollywood gossip columns, sports talk, consumer reports,
and others. Acknowledging that the critique of private institutions is
different from the sort directed at government, we engage private sector
entities in consideration of the influence they peddle and (indirect) power
they wield.

There are now many cases of Islamists in the West demanding accommodations –
and of these demands being met. These range from trivial cases of employee
accommodation to cases of gender segregation. While state and local
authorities have often bent to the designs of political Islam, it is to
private institutions that one turns to examine the most egregious examples
of accommodation.

Still, it is more difficult to censure private institutions – given their
greater freedom of action – than it is to censure lawmakers and public
institutions, which are directly charged with serving the public good.
Private entities have the right to run their own affairs, but the public
cannot condone exceptions that result in exclusion or promote a regime of
segregation. Merchants are free to choose the services or products they
offer to target consumers and hence maximize profit. But to deny service to
one group – or create hardship for select employees – to accommodate the
wishes of another is unacceptable. Those policies that dismiss the rights of
others – whether in a place of work, study, or commerce – must not be
tolerated. For this reason, it is fitting to explore cases of accommodation
with an eye both to the exceptional nature of the concession (in light of
existing practice) and the degree to which group accommodation results in
restricted movement, hampered speech, or great inconvenience to the

In the case of Britain’s Sainsbury
<http://www.timesonl ine.co.uk/ tol/news/ uk/article255819 8.ece?Submitted= true>
‘s convenience stores, for example, Muslim employees who prefer to avoid
contact with alcoholic beverages for reason of religion are asked to raise
their hands so a colleague can replace them at their post or scan the item
for them. And those who object to stocking shelves with wine, beer, and
spirits have found alternative positions within the company. A similar
example is credited to Target <http://www.buzz. mn/?q=node/ 898> , where
Muslim employees at a Minneapolis store have been dispensed with handling
pork products, for fear of contamination.

Sainsbury’s and Target have elected to satisfy employee wishes; the
pertinent question is whether management has enacted these policies because
it feels it’s the right thing to do, or simply because no other options
exist to fill the positions presently occupied by recalcitrant employees. (A
spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s admits as much, saying: “At the application
stage we ask the relevant questions regarding any issues about handling
different products and where we can we will try and accommodate any
requirements people have.”) If the latter is the case, it is difficult to
imagine what these vendors can do or what suggestions we might offer. And so
we tolerate exceptions of this kind – with the caveat that one must guard
against those accommodations that infringe upon the rights of others (and do
not merely inconvenience) .

Both state and federal law are clear that employers are obliged to
accommodate employees’ religious beliefs where these are “reasonable” and do
not detract from profitability. But this test fails to account for the
inconvenience brought upon employees, which goes to the heart of the
fairness issue. At the same time, it is clear that inconvenience extends to
paying customers, who are forced to wait while another is found to handle
the transaction – to say nothing of the degrading sort of treatment to which
the customer is subjected, who must appear to create a disturbance for
wishing to purchase an “elicit” product. All told, these examples speak to
the question of the degree to which Islam may be allowed to disengage from

At the same time, it is also unacceptable for private concerns to enforce
Islamic space of their own accord. Consider Harvard University‘s decision to
institute women-only gym hours to accommodate the modesty requirements of
campus Muslims, for example. Islamic Knowledge Committee officer Ola
Aljawhary says
<http://media. www.dailyfreepre ss.com/media/ storage/paper87/ news/2008/ 02/25/N
ews/To.Accommodate. Muslim.Students. Harvard.Tries. WomenOnly. Gym.Hours- 3232133
.shtml> : “These hours are necessary because there is a segment of the
Harvard female population that is not found in gyms not because they don’t
want to work out, but because for them working out in a co-ed gym is
uncomfortable, awkward or problematic in some way.” But Harvard
administrators explicitly noted that the new policy has less to do with
gender than religion; and one reports
<http://www.tnr. com/politics/ story.html? id=2f33c801- ed06-43b7- 8117-73c3554a9
e71> that the Harvard Islamic Society itself was unaware of the change
“until it was being formalized and in its final stages.” It is one thing for
young women to make their own private arrangements to accommodate a
requirement for modesty, but it is quite another for a university to make
these arrangements. Harvard must be asked to imagine where policies like
these might lead (which others might be excluded), and to consider the
motives of groups in support of such a program.

As one explores cases of accommodation and abuse of influence across the
private sphere, one must judge each according to a scale that accounts for
both the exceptional nature of the concession and the degree to which the
majority is inconvenienced, restricted as to movement, or hampered in
expression. Private concerns may be compelled by situation and environment
to alter established practice; but for these same concerns to impose a
program of segregation or apply select “Islamic” standards constitutes a
grave abuse of influence.

(Check out the article about Church’s Chicken going Shariah on this blog)


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