Proper Etiquette When a Muslim Wants to Pray in the Office

by Amy Wilde

Daily prayers are part of an observant Muslim's practice, and these prayers must be performed in a specific way and at special times during the day. Non-Muslim managers and co-workers may not be aware of the specifics of this ritual and assume that Muslim employees can or should change it to conform to workplace norms. However, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all employees are entitled to accommodations necessary to observe their religious duties, provided that these duties do not result in an unreasonable burden on their employer.

Daily Prayers

Most Muslims pray five times every day at sunrise, midday, afternoon, sunset and after nightfall. Two of these prayer times will likely occur during a normal work shift. Before Muslims pray they must wash their face, hands and feet. They then face Mecca and perform a prayer while standing, bowing and touching their head to the ground. The process of washing and praying takes about 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to complete. While Muslim employees should be able to complete their prayers during allotted break time, they will need their breaks at specific times in the day. As long as allowing these requested breaks would not cause excessive operational hardship, the employer must comply.

Prayer Space

Muslims do not need complete privacy to pray, but they do need a clean, quiet area to do so. By law, employers are required to provide employees a suitable area to pray, as long as such an area exists. If an employee requests a certain space and it is unavailable, their employer can offer a comparable alternative. While the prayer space has few absolute requirements, considerate employers may wish to ensure that the designated area is both comfortable and private.

Friday Congregational Prayer

On Friday afternoons, Muslim employees may need to attend Juma, a congregational prayer that occurs at a mosque and lasts about 45 to 90 minutes. Employers can usually accommodate this need by allowing employees an extended lunch. Employers and employees can work together to decide the best way for the employee to make up any lost time.

Employer and Co-Worker Responsibilities and Courtesies

Co-workers should always respect the privacy of someone who is praying by not making excessive noise in the area or addressing the person directly while they are praying. A Muslim's religion requires their full attention while they pray, so co-workers should not be offended if a praying person does not respond when addressed. Employers and co-workers of Muslims should keep in mind that individuals do not always observe their religion in the same way. It's important not to assume an employee wants a certain accommodation or feels a certain way simply because they are Muslim. The best approach to take is one of openness and respect.

About the Author

Amy Wilde has worked as a grant developer, copy editor, writing tutor and writer. Based in Portland, Ore., she covers topics related to society, religion and culture. Wilde holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and classical civilization from the University of Toronto.

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