By Salina Khan, USA TODAY
Taxi driver Farhad Nezami rolls out his prayer rug, removes his shoes and raises his hands to begin the early afternoon prayer.
Facts, figures about Islam
Islam: One of the three biggest religions.
Followers: 1.2 billion worldwide.
Beliefs: One God, called Allah in Arabic; prophets (including Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed); holy books revealed to prophets; angels; day of judgment; life after death - hell and heaven; and predestination.
Five Pillars of Islam: 1. Belief that there is only one God, and prophet Mohammed was the last prophet of God; 2. Pray five times a day; 3. Purifying contribution: To give 2.5% of one's net wealth to the poor and needy; 4. Fasting: No food, liquid or sex from sunrise to sunset in the month of Ramadan; 5. Pilgrimage: To Mecca, Saudi Arabia, if affordable.
Holy book: Koran - word of God revealed to prophet Mohammed through angel Gabriel.
Place of worship: Mosque.
Nezami's not worshipping in a mosque. He's standing in a lot near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport that about 300 Muslim cab drivers turn into a makeshift prayer hall several times a day.
They pray there in rain, snow and sleet because Metropolitan Airports Commission has repeatedly denied their request for a room for four years.
Nezami is one of an estimated 6 million Muslims in America - a growing number of whom are demanding flexibility to practice their faith in the workplace.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and expected to soon command the largest following in the country after Christianity.
"There are a lot of Muslims in this country, and they need to be recognized," Nezami says.
Many employers are unfamiliar with Islam, which is practiced by 1.2 billion people worldwide, and often don't know how to handle Muslims' requests.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim rights advocacy group, says it received 135 workplace discrimination complaints for the year ended March 1999, up 13% from the same period last year.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and its affiliates received 440 complaints from Muslims in 1998, up 42% from 1994.
"Our biggest obstacle has been ignorance on the part of employers - not prejudice," says CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper.
While many employers accommodate Muslim workers' needs on a case-by-case basis after they learn more about the religion, CAIR says companies should adopt detailed religious-accommodation codes. Changes in management often bring the same complaints about the same companies.
Some religious customs of Muslims include:
Many Muslim women wear the religiously mandated headscarf or hijab, which serves as a symbol of their modesty.
"She's to be treated in a way that considers her mind above all else," says Sharifa Alkhateeb, vice president of the North American Council for Muslim Women.
Seven Muslim security workers at Dulles International Airport near Washington are back at work after filing an EEOC complaint alleging they were fired because they refused to remove their hijabs.
The complaint said the demand to remove the scarves violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees' religious practices.
Argenbright Security, which employs the women, says the women misunderstood their supervisor and were never fired.
Not all companies protest their employees' choice to don the hijab. Nadia Salem wears a headscarf while on the job at law firm Pembroke and Brown in Park Ridge, Ill.
"She's talented, and she knows what she's doing," says the firm's senior partner, John Pembroke. "I believe people should be hired on merit."
Friday is the holy day for Muslims, and men are required to pray the early afternoon prayer in congregation, or Jum'a.
Mohammad Abdullah of Lincolnshire, Ill., used to come in early or stay late on Fridays to make up for the time he'd be away for prayers.
He was eventually fired but won a $49,000 settlement in 1997 after taking his case to the EEOC.
Many devout Muslim men wear beards in the tradition of Mohammed, the final prophet of Islam who lived in the seventh century.
A recent federal appeals court ruling upheld two Muslim police officers' right to wear beards for religious reasons. Companies that have altered their policies to allow Muslim men to keep facial hair include Coca-Cola and Adirondack Transit Lines.
Discrimination lawyer Kamran Memon says Muslims are suing employers as they learn about their rights.
"More Muslims are willing to come forward because they are feeling more at home in America," says Memon, who's an American-born son of Pakistani immigrants.
Muslim civil rights advocacy groups and lectures by Muslim lawyers at mosques also are propelling changes in the workplace, Memon says.
CAIR provides sensitivity training to businesses and has distributed 15,000 copies of its Employer's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices since 1997.
The recent upswing in Muslim refugees from Bosnia, Somalia and now Kosovo also is changing the face of the U.S. workplace.
A meatpacking plant in Minneapolis set aside a storage area for prayer after a large group of Somalians threatened to quit if they couldn't pray on the job.
Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., says he will introduce a resolution next month supporting religious tolerance toward followers of Islam because "too often, Muslims have been discriminated against simply because of their faith."
Accommodating religious differences also makes good business sense, says Anne McMahon, a professor of management and member of Partners for Workplace Diversity in Youngstown, Ohio.
"Employers have to accommodate religious and cultural values if they want to take advantage of all the talents, contacts and networking opportunities people have to offer," McMahon says.