Customer Service And Faith Clash At Registers

Chris Serres and Matt McKinney, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 14, 2007

Beryl Dsouza was late and in no mood for delays when she stopped at a Target store after work two weeks ago for milk, bread and bacon.

So Dsouza was taken aback when the cashier—who had on the traditional headscarf, or hijab, worn by many Muslim women—refused to swipe the bacon through the checkout scanner.

“She made me scan the bacon. Then she opened the bag and made me put it in the bag,” said Dsouza, 53, of Minneapolis. “It made me wonder why this person took a job as a cashier.”

In the latest example of religious beliefs creating tension in the workplace, some Muslims in the Twin Cities are adhering to a strict interpretation of the Qur’an that prohibits the handling of pork products.

Instead of swiping the items themselves, they are asking non-Muslim employees or shoppers to do it for them.

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The Twin Cities area has become a hotbed for such conflicts because of its burgeoning population of Somali immigrants, many of whom are orthodox Muslims. Last year, Somali cabdrivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport attracted national attention when some refused to carry passengers toting alcohol.

Dr. Shah Khan, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Minnesota in Fridley, said the Somali Muslim community is divided between those who believe it is wrong only to eat pork and more orthodox Muslims who believe the prohibition extends to selling, touching or handling the meat.

He urged people to remember the extraordinary adjustments many Somalis have made in coming to the Twin Cities. “Many of these people are refugees. They may have been tortured. And they came here having never held a book in English,” he said. “They’re already adapting to our society. We need to adapt to them, too.”

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Some people see the Muslims’ actions as evidence of an unwillingness to adapt to the American workplace, and to the society as a whole.

“It’s about one ethnic group imposing its own beliefs on the rest of us,” said Manny Laureano, 51, of Plymouth, who plays trumpet for the Minnesota Orchestra. “It goes against the whole idea of this country as different groups of people who came together to create a single culture.”

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