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Published: 5/22/2001

Toledo-area Muslims report few on-the-job clashes over traditions

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

To illustrate how well Toledo workplaces accept Muslim traditions and how clashes in central Ohio have not been prevalent here, Cherrefe Kadri tells this story from her work as a downtown lawyer.

During Ramadan, when Muslims are not to eat or drink anything during daylight hours, a judge caught Ms. Kadri glancing at the clock late in the day.

The judge said he didn't end the day just because it was 5 o'clock, and Ms. Kadri explained that she planned to stay as long as it took. She said she was only looking at the clock to see whether it was sundown and she could break her fast. At sundown, the judge poured a glass of water from the bench and handed it to a courtroom worker to give it to her.

“He kept his eye on the clock and was concerned about my fast,” she said. “I thought `How cool.'''

Not every local workplace makes all the accommodations that Muslims would like. It's almost impossible, for instance, for many teachers to go to their mosque for Friday prayers, which are held in the early afternoon and sometimes last more than an hour. Most of the people who regularly attend services on Fridays - the Muslims' holy day - are self-employed and have more control over their schedules, some say.

But unlike in the Columbus area where some Muslim employees and employers have been at odds on fitting religious traditions into the work world, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it does not know of any severe disagreements in northwest Ohio in recent years.

“It seems Toledo is more diverse than other areas of the state in religious and ethnic background and that probably makes employers more aware of the needs of different people,” said Ahmad Al-Akhras, president of the council's Ohio branch.

Muslims have been in Toledo for years, but in central Ohio a new wave of thousands of immigrants have recently arrived from Somalia, India, Pakistan, and other areas. The issues they are raising - such as time for washing before several daily prayers and wearing garments that cover almost all of a woman's body - are new to parts of Ohio and probably are the reason for an increasing number of complaints to the council

Some new immigrants are more devoted to Muslim practices than many people in their homelands because they deeply embraced their faith and had time for extensive study while in refugee camps, said Omar Omar, a Columbus resident who is originally from Somalia.

Another likely factor is that Toledo's Muslim community is considered liberal. For instance, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo was one of the first to elect a woman - Ms. Kadri - president.

Some local workplaces - especially hospitals and schools - have rooms that groups of Muslim staff and students use for their own Friday prayer services. St. Vincent Mercy Medical Service has a prayer rug, a Koran, and a sign pointing to Mecca in its interfaith prayer room. Toledo Public Schools agreed to all of the requests from a group of Muslim leaders who approached school officials in 1998. Among the requests was that children could spend their lunch period in the library instead of the cafeteria during the Ramadan fast.



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