Nursing home refused to allow Muslim worker to wear hijab, government lawsuit alleges

July 9, 2014

Nursing Home Prohibited Religious Headwear and Fired Worker in Retaliation Federal Agency Charges

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A Jasper, Ala., nursing home violated federal law when it refused to allow a Muslim employee to wear a hijab (the traditional covering for the hair and neck that is worn by Muslim women) on the job, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed June 30.  EEOC v. Shadescrest Health Care Center, ND Ala. Case 6:14-cv-01253-SLB (June 30, 2014).  The agency also contends that Shadescrest fired the employee in retaliation for filing a complaint with the EEOC.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, in August 2012, Tracy Martin, a Muslim woman, was hired as a certified nursing assistant by Shadescrest Healthcare Center.  On or about Aug. 9, 2012, Martin reported to work wearing a hijab, in accord with her sincerely held religious beliefs.  According to the EEOC, Shadescrest refused Martin’s request to wear the hijab, despite its religious significance, and instead, told her to remove the head covering or be subject to termination.  Subsequently, Martin filed a charge with the EEOC complaining that Shadescrest refused to accommodate her religious beliefs.  Weeks after Shadescrest received notice of Martin’s charge of discrimination, Martin was summarily fired.  According to the EEOC, Martin was fired in retaliation for her complaint to the EEOC and on account of her attempt to exercise her rights under Title VII’s religious accommodation provision.

“Businesses, like Shadescrest, must respect the religious practices of their employees and, when practical, accommodate those practices,” said EEOC Birmingham District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas. “The EEOC will continue to target policies and practices that discourage or prohibit people from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts.

Ayad Akhtar: On Muslim identity, and life in America

July 17, 2014

To appreciate the relevance of playwright Ayad Akhtar’s work, you need look no further than two eerie coincidences that shadowed his debut drama, “Disgraced.” The play, which portrays the downfall of a Muslim American lawyer, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2013. The day the award was announced, two Muslims deposited pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston marathon. A second grisly coincidence came a few weeks later. On the day “Disgraced” opened in London two Muslims murdered and tried to behead a British soldier on a busy street in what one said was revenge for the British army’s killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody linked these attacks to Akhtar’s play, but they were nonetheless chilling reminders of the violence that hovers at the edges of the territory he explores. “The work I’m doing is in direct dialogue with what’s happening in the Muslim world,” he said recently over dinner in New York.

‘A process of coming out’

By some measures, Akhtar is thoroughly American: born on Staten Island and raised in the Midwest. Both his parents are doctors who emigrated from Pakistan in the late 1960s. A Muslim identity pervaded his family to varying degrees — his father abstained from practice while his grandmother was so devout she lowered her eyes every time the prophet was mentioned. Young Ayad was drawn to his faith and went through a period of intense religious commitment. As he got older, he wanted to fit into American life but often felt invisible among the white kids in his suburban Brookfield, Wis., neighborhood. “I didn’t have a place in the culture in the same way that my white friends did,” he recalls.

Akhtar turns an introspective eye on Islam’s tough questions. Like the daughter Zarina in “The Who & the What,” he has long wondered about the true nature of the prophet Muhammad. In the play, Zarina has written a novel portraying the seventh-century founder of Islam as a real man; her aim, as she puts it, is to consider “who he really was” — to view him not just as a figure of worship but as a human. In considering the prophet, Zarina raises questions about the treatment of women under Islam. “I hate what the faith does to women,” she says. “For every story about [the prophet’s] generosity or his goodness, there’s another that’s used as an excuse to hide us, erase us.” Her father, Afzal, is outraged not only because of her blasphemy but because of the dangerous implications for a daughter he loves beyond measure. “In Pakistan, she would be killed for this,” he cries. Then, trembling at such a prospect, he adds: “If anything happened to her . . . .” But in the end, his ire gets the best of him and he wants to erase Zarina from his mind, telling her: “You make me regret the day you were born.” Akhtar has been obsessed with the prophet since he dreamed about him at age 8. He fully understands Afzal’s frenzy, but he also is in sympathy with Zarina. “I’m still trying to understand what the Prophet means not only to me but to our community,” he says.

The New Museum Surveys Art From the Arab World

July 15, 2014

The Western media’s obsession with Middle Eastern conflict has made it easy for American audiences to mistake war and crisis as components of Arab identity. But if there’s anything that the New Museum’s newest exhibition, “Here and Elsewhere,” works to dispel, it’s the fallacy that any single portrayal can summarize the many cultural landscapes around and within the Arabian peninsula.

The exhibition, which opens Wednesday and runs until Sept. 28, documents the work of 45 contemporary artists of Arab origin, marking the first-ever museumwide group show of Arab artists in New York City. The show’s curators were careful to avoid making any blanket statements about art from the Arab world. “We’re looking at a very diverse group of artists who share a fascination with the question of truth through images,” says Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s associate director and the exhibition’s co-curator. “This question is also a question of what constitutes an identity, and how an identity like Arab is constructed through images.”

“Here and Elsewhere” is on view July 16 to Sept. 28 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York, newmuseum.org.

Interfaith leaders launch daylong unity fast for Mideast peace

July 14, 2014

While the violence escalates in Israel and Gaza, a movement is taking hold that unites Jews, Muslims and others in a campaign for peace.

On Tuesday (July 15), a daylong fast is planned as part of a public effort to show unity in the fight against war and violence in the region.

Using the Twitter hashtag #HungryforPeace, the cause started in Israel and gained strength in England, promoted by Yachad, a U.K.-based pro-Israel, pro-peace group. Last weekend, it was announced in temples, mosques and churches in the U.S.

Pastor Steve Norman of Kensington Church near Detroit used Twitter to call his 10,000-strong congregation to join him in the fast after reading about the efforts of Muslims and Jews to publicly stand together.

“It just seemed right to follow their lead,” said Norman, whose church sponsors several trips to Israel and the West Bank each year.

The latest series of clashes between Israel and the Palestinians are blamed on the kidnapping of three Israeli young men who were later found dead, as well as the reported revenge killing of a teenage Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem. In the words of Lee Ziv, an Israeli peace activist, “The tears of an Israeli mother over her dead son are identical to those of a Palestinian Mother.”

Ziv started a Facebook page called “The Bus of Peace” and is organizing a bus to drive from Jerusalem to Gaza with flowers and peace slogans to demonstrate the goodwill of many Israelis toward the people of Gaza. In the past, she has gathered blankets and other supplies to donate to those living in Gaza.

CAIR-NY Calls for Hate Crime Probe of Attack on Muslims Outside Mosque

July 21, 2014

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today called on law enforcement authorities and public officials to investigate an alleged attack on Muslim worshippers on their way to prayers at a Brooklyn mosque as a possible hate crime.

On Friday evening, witnesses say passengers in a Lexus drove by the Tayba Islamic Center shouting anti-Muslim slurs, including “This is for your Allah,” and threw eggs at several members dressed in traditional Muslim attire. A 70-year-old Muslim in traditional Pakistani attire and wearing an Islamic Kufi (scullcap) was reportedly hit in the chest by an egg.

“We urge law enforcement authorities and elected officials to investigate this apparent hate crime and bring the alleged perpetrators to justice,” said CAIR-NY Director of Operations Sadyia Khalique. “Public officials need to send the message that our community will not tolerate acts of hate or attacks on houses of worship.”

UC regents have bigger issues than student rep debate

July 18, 2014

For the second consecutive year, the UC regents board is embroiled in an unnecessary and counterproductive controversy over the views of its student representatives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Wednesday, the regents voted to confirm the selection of Abraham “Avi” Oved, a UCLA economics major who will begin his senior year this fall, to be a student representative on the university governing board. Oved has previously served as the internal vice president of the campus undergraduate student government, and he was the selection committee’s unanimous pick for the regents board due to his thoughtfulness and boundless energy, committee members said.

But Oved is also an active member of student Jewish organizations at UCLA and an opponent of the movement to have the University of California divest its holdings in companies that do business with the Israeli military. That, regrettably, helped incite an effort to stymie his appointment.

Oved’s appointment comes during a period of contentious debate on UC campuses about the Middle East. Last year, for instance, the U.S. Department of Education exonerated UC Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz of allegations of anti-Semitism in connection with protests that some Jewish students felt constituted harassment. This spring, Students for Justice in Palestine called on UCLA student council candidates not to take trips to Israel under the sponsorship of three pro-Israel groups.

Last year, this page supported the appointment of a Muslim student, Sadia Saifuddin, to the Board of Regents despite harsh objections from Jewish organizations because of her advocacy for divestment. Now, we support Oved as well.

The people involved in these squabbles should take a cue from the two student appointees themselves, who have, for the most part, said the right things. Oved said he would “reach out to communities that may have felt uncomfortable” with his nomination. And despite casting the only vote to delay Oved’s confirmation, Saifuddin welcomed the opportunity to work with him and to help guide him “through the myriad moral and political factors” student regents face.

Indiana law allows Satanists to perform marriages, but not Buddhists

July 16, 2014

An Indiana law is “irrational” and “absurd” for allowing Satanists to perform legal marriages while making it a crime for Buddhists and humanists to do the same, a federal appeals court said this week.

It’s been a rough few months for state marriage laws around the country, which judges have repeatedly struck down for not allowing same-sex couples to marry each other.

Indiana allows neither, limiting marriage powers to religious clergy and certain public officials like mayors, court clerks and judges. Indiana’s statute specifically includes the faiths of Islam, Baha’i and Mormonism — but omits many others, such as Buddhism, Rastafarianism and Jainism. Indiana law also makes it a crime for non-sanctioned celebrants to purport to carry out a legal ceremony.

The Center for Inquiry — a humanist group whose leader is barred from performing legal ceremonies because she is not considered “clergy” under law — sued Indiana to argue that the state’s law unfairly gives marriage powers to certain religions and not to secularists.

Despite its sweeping disdain, the court panel ruled narrowly, however, and instructed a federal judge who had previously denied to institute an injunction to issue an order allowing certified secular humanists to perform legal wedding ceremonies.

The panel, though, did gently hint that perhaps Indiana lawmakers might consider tweaking the law to allow notaries to perform weddings.

Jewish and Muslim communities to break fast for peace

July 15, 2014

NEW HAVEN. The violent actions on display between Israelis and Palestinians is a sight Rabbi Herbert Brockman doesn’t like viewing or listening to.

But instead of hearing about casualties, Brockman, spiritual leader of Congregation Mishkan Israel of Hamden, doesn’t want to stand by.

At sundown Tuesday, Brockman and other members of the Jewish community will head to The Islamic Association of Greater Hartford in Berlin for a date with Muslims, where they will break fast together. Tuesday is Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, a fast day for Jews, while Muslims are fasting during the month of Ramadan, Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Connecticut, praised the event. CAIR’s focus is to empower the Muslim community through activism.

“It was well received from both sides,” Dhaouadi of New London said. “It’s a very small gesture. I don’t think sitting on the sideline doing nothing is acceptable either.”

CAIR Condemns Vandalism of Mass. Synagogue with Pro-Palestinian Graffiti

July 15, 2014

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, today condemn vandalism of a Massachusetts synagogue with pro-Palestinian graffiti.

Police are investigating graffiti, which included “Free Palestine” and “God Bless Gaza,” spray-painted on the Montefiore Orthodox Synagogue in Lowell, Mass.

In a statement, CAIR said:

“Whatever views one holds on the current round of violence in the Middle East, attacks on houses of worship must be condemned and the perpetrators brought to justice.”