Anti-Islam workplace bias target of summit
A Muslim woman quit her job because company meetings and functions always had alcohol, and the employer of a Muslim chef who worked at a bar kitchen could not understand why he could not touch pork. …
More reinforcement of muslim phobias and assorted prejudices and baggage at New Zealand Herald thanks to Mullah, pbuh
A Muslim woman quit her job because company meetings and functions always had alcohol, and the employer of a Muslim chef who worked at a bar kitchen could not understand why he could not touch pork.
Challenges faced by Muslim workers in New Zealand and the reluctance of employers to hire them are among the issues that will be up for discussion at a Muslim at Work summit on Wednesday.
“The summit aims to dispel myths, shed light on the Islamic culture and create understanding of the diversity within our Muslim workforce,” said AUT professor of diversity Edwina Pio.
Many Muslims were getting a better deal in employment here than in their countries of origin, she said, but some employers were still nervous about hiring them.
“Many employers, with every good intention, are skittish about employing Muslims, based on media pictures and coverage about Muslims globally, which is often linked with violence, gender inequality and extremist jihad.
“By sharing and information and research, we want to encourage delegates to promote understanding and positive change.”
The summit, at AUT University, will be convened by Professor Pio, and speakers include Equal Employment Commissioner Jackie Blue, Imam Sheikh Rafat and New Zealand’s first ethnic police inspector Rakesh Naidoo.
Topics will include the Islamic concept of work, what success means to Muslims and Muslim women in the workplace.
Research done by Professor Pio found there was still tension about employing Muslims and that acceptance of Muslims and their way of life needs improvement.
“Women with veils and/or burqas are viewed with general curiosity and avoidance … it is also difficult for men with beards … employers seem okay with employing Hindus and Buddhists, but they have question marks if the individual is Muslim,” Professor Pio said.
There are now more than 46,000 Muslims in New Zealand, originating from more than 50 countries.
“Muslims in New Zealand have a lot in common but they are also a diverse group … crossing the spectrum of socioeconomic status, skills and education,” added Professor Pio.
Over the last two years, the Human Rights Commission received 10 complaints of alleged discrimination against Muslims in the area of employment.
These complaints include several cases of Muslim employees being denied the ability to say prayers on the worksite or other accommodation of their religious beliefs at work, and others involved remarks about their faith considered by complainants to be harassment and for being treated less favourably because of their faith.
“This forum provides the chance to discuss important challenges and opportunities, education and awareness is critical to building a greater understanding,” said Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy.
Dame Susan said evidence showed having a diverse workforce also significantly enhances business.
“Instead of a single, standardised perspective, diversity gives you a different perspective – diversity can give you that edge that no one else has.”
Zain Ali, the University of Auckland’s Islamic Studies Research head, said Muslim employees could give companies the “cultural advantage” needed to grab a slice of the global halal market, which is expected to be worth US$1.6 trillion ($2.1 trillion) by 2018.
However, Muslims face challenges when seeking work in New Zealand, he said.
“Perhaps they have foreign sounding names, look and dress different … people can often have a bias towards wanting to be with those they can relate to,” Dr Ali said.
“So a scarf-wearing refugee from Afghanistan has a very different life experience from the average Kiwi, and the important thing is to be aware of these biases and to make an effort to rise above them.”
The summit is supported by the Office of Ethnic Communities, Human Rights Commission and the New Zealand Police.
Muslim immigrant Sameer Nisar, 32, says he has experienced racism in New Zealand – but believes it was because of his ethnicity, not his religion.
“Especially on Saturday nights in the city, sometimes you get people saying ‘eh you Indian, go back to your country’,” said the office administrator.
“But I think this is with regards to my ethnicity, and how I look like, and nothing to do with my religion.”
Mr Nisar lives with his wife, who wears a hijab, and their two young children in Mt Albert.
He said he was happy with his decision to move from Pakistan to Auckland eight years ago, and that he is able to freely practise his faith. Mr Nisar is one of two Muslims working in his department, and said he has a “very understanding and accommodating” employer.
“If I need to pray during my work hours or go off early during the fasting month, my boss would say yes, and on my part I will always make up that time later,” Mr Nisar said.
“It is this give and take, two-way street relationship, that makes the whole thing work.”
However, in a previous customer services job, he had observed colleagues who were reluctant to deal with people who looked or dressed differently.
“Of course they don’t say it, but you can see and sort of feel those emotions,” he said. “Religion, I don’t think is the big problem, but dressing and language communication; if you don’t speak in their accent, then that can be an issue.”
Mr Nisar said his wife had also not faced any problems about wearing a hijab.
“We are strong believers and we practise our religion in a moderate way, and it is really good that we can do it freely here,” he said.
“It is my wife’s own decision to wear the hijab, and the reason she wears that is because she is very comfortable doing it.
He said many in New Zealand were still ignorant of Islam because the number of Muslims living here was still small.
Ali Rasheed says he struggled to get job interviews when he first came to New Zealand because he has a Muslim name.
But the 52-year-old grandfather says his liberal approach to the faith has continued to open doors to employment opportunities.
“It was a struggle when I first came. I sent out numerous CVs but didn’t get responses, and I think it has something to do with my name,” he said.
“Muslims are being framed as very extreme, so I think that as soon as they see it they think of somebody who must be associated with Isis or some extreme elements.”
Mr Rasheed moved to New Zealand from the Maldives 14 years ago, and got his first job as a co-ordinator providing support services for Maori and Pacific students.
“My colleagues got to know me, and I think definitely, my liberal approach to Islam has led me from one position to another at the university,” he said.
“For me, religion is a belief that I have, and it is something that I don’t have to impose on others.”
Mr Rasheed has a daughter who is married to a European Christian, and said his family celebrates Christmas at home.
He puts up a tree and decorations for the holiday and has friends over to celebrate the season.
Mr Rasheed said he was comfortable attending functions where alcohol was served.
“We Muslims sometimes have very rigid ways of doing things,” he said.
“But when we insist on having provisions like that, we create barriers rather than work a way where we can live together.”
Mr Rasheed believed issues between Muslim workers and their bosses were often a result of unrealistic expectations of how much their employers should accommodate their religious beliefs.
“We as migrants, we should not try to impose our culture … we should know that we have come here to live in a way that we respect the laws and ways of the country,” Mr Rasheed said.
“If we don’t want to do that, then I say ‘don’t come here’.”
Ghadair Alshemari left her job because meetings frequently involved alcohol, and says her life changed completely after she decided to dress in the hijab, or Islamic headscarf.
The 29-year-old, who moved to New Zealand from Kuwait when she was 7, was employed in an events management company, but resigned to start her own business dealing with mainly Muslim clients.
“For me to be forced to go to a bar in the name of team-building, and for me to say I don’t feel comfortable being served by women wearing bikinis and being surrounded by alcohol, I struggled with that,” Mrs Alshemari said. “That probably was where I hit my point saying I need to leave, even if I have to be a cleaner, I’d rather meet my faith and values.”
Wanna bet that she is lying?
Ms Alshemari said she did not wear a religious headscarf as a child, but started wearing one about 10 years ago.
“After September 11 happened, it kind of made me want to research more and read more, and that’s when I started wearing my headscarf.
“I found out that I was supposed to be a practising Muslim, that I was from an Islam religion background.”
It was a decision that was life-altering, Ms Alshemari said.
“My life changed completely, from an outgoing, sporty person to where I had to think twice or three times before doing something,” she said.
“The looks that I was getting, you know that was really something, and people asking about religion. I had to find clothes that were more covered.”
Ms Alshemari said she had previously worked in sales, where she also found it hard to balance the drinking culture with her career.
“I did get bullied for wearing a scarf by management … a lot of people think I was forced to wear it, when actually it was my choice.”
Ms Alshemari said most of her employers also could not understand her cultural practice of asking for permission before she did things.
“It’s made to look passive, but really it’s not, it’s because of culture that you ask permission,” she said. “They would assume straight away it’s because of my religion … there’s a misunderstanding between culture and religion.”