Pigs Are Jumpin', And The Dudgeon Is High
Customer service and faith clash at registers
Some Muslim cashiers at Target refuse to handle pork, setting off another debate over the place of religion in society.
By Chris Serres and Matt McKinney, Star Tribune staff writers
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.
It has set off a firestorm of comments—more than 400, as of Tuesday evening—on the Star Tribune’s community blog, www.buzz.mn. People called the newspaper from as far as Tokyo to voice their opinion.
It remains unclear how many Muslim cashiers in the Twin Cities are declining to ring up pork sales.
Immigrants help fuel debate
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.”
Target released this statement in response: “Providing guests with consistently fast checkouts is a key, fundamental part of our business and our guest service commitment. As always, we continue to explore reasonable solutions that consider the concerns of team members while ensuring that we maintain our ability to provide the highest level of guest service.”
Retailers have accommodated other religious groups over the years. In the Twin Cities, these include those who don’t want to sell lottery tickets or work on Saturdays, said Bernie Hesse, local organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 789. Supermarkets in particular have been good about recognizing their employees’ religious observances, he said.
“If we ever get to the point of selling wine in grocery stores, I imagine some folks will be excused from doing that,” Hesse said.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for a person’s religious practices if it doesn’t impose an undue hardship.
A customer’s personal preferences are usually not a factor in deciding whether a religious practice is protected in the workplace, noted Khadija Athman, national civil rights manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington.
In most cases, a cashier should be able to call over another cashier who can scan a product and the shopper shouldn't be inconvenienced, Athman noted. “If the employee is rude and gasps at the sight of pork, then it's a different situation,” she said.
Cabs are different from stores
Some legal experts said cashiers who avoid pork in a checkout line are different from taxi drivers at the airport who refuse customers carrying alcohol. “I think in general we expect taxi drivers to pick up all fares,” said Eric Janus, the vice dean of William Mitchell College of Law. “That’s part of what it means to be a taxi driver.”
A supermarket cashier, on the other hand, is not under the same legal obligation to serve all customers, though the store may be. As long as another cashier is available to serve the customer, there should be no problem, said Janus.
The cashiers’ example holds a similar legal ground to pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control or morning-after pills, a practice that has led to differing legal opinions in some states as many legislatures decide to take on the issue.
"It gets a little more difficult in the pharmacy world if you're dealing with a 24-hour pharmacy and the only pharmacist on duty is refusing to fill prescriptions," said Stephen Befort, a professor at the University of Minnesota College of Law.
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.”
©2007 Star Tribune staff writers. All rights reserved.
I am sick and tired of this kind of crapola. And I’m sorry to have to say it, but it seems lately to be predominantly Muslims who are pulling it. So if you think the rant to come might offend your delicate sensibilities, stop right here…
If Muslim immigrants to this country want to live under the oh so enlightened glow of shari’a law, then fine, but they do NOT get to impose it on the rest of us. Go back home to all those countries living in the wisdom of the Prophet, countries that cut people’s hands off for stealing and impose genital mutilation on women. If they love their Islamic homelands’ ways so much, they can fucking well go back to them.
There were some suggestions that people like this clerk and the alcohol-carrier-denying cabdrivers mentioned in the piece are simply badly misinformed as to the strictures and limits of their own traditions, and are taking this avoidance policy upon themselves either out of ignorance or a desire to annoy Americans. If we were in their country, we wouldn’t expect them to bend over backwards to accommodate us, but we would honor their traditions.
And ours is “You want to live here, you play by OUR rules. Not yours.”
It’s stupid and it’s ridiculous and it’s just plain wrong. I recall that some years back bleeding-heart liberals and Hmong elders actually pushed for the establishment of purely Hmong clan courts, so that Hmong-on-Hmong crime could be decided by Hmong leaders according to their culture’s laws. Well, that’s not how we do things here. We’re all in it together, and that’s why it works. Why do people like this come here at all, if they want to make no effort to be American?
Must immigrants out of the 8th century be accommodated in all their quaint little ways here in the 21st? Are we to allow the incomers amongst us to follow their fine old traditions of family violence, child marriage, stoning of adulterers and gays, cutting the hands off thieves and whipping litterers and drunks? Where does it end?
I would think that this Target clerk who so sanctimoniously (and apparently incorrectly) refused to touch a WRAPPED pork product must therefore also as strictly adhere to all the other charming tenets that make Islam such a great religion.
So: she can’t sell newspapers, magazines or books to women, since in Islam, despite a historic tradition of famous women Koran scholars, females aren't supposed to read or get an education. She can’t even read them herself.
She can’t sell, touch or look at the pictures, either: representational imagery is an abomination.
She can’t scan the pet food: dogs are unclean.
As a woman, she shouldn’t have been out of the home working in the first place—that too is counter to Islam.
She shouldn’t be passing money directly to male shoppers; Islamic custom requires that it be placed on the counter for the man to pick up (and the same for a male cashier and a female shopper).
Where was her husband or other male relative, required to be there to protect her “purity” and guard her “honor”?
She damn well better not have driven herself to work.
And, as a model Muslim woman, let’s hope she underwent genital mutilation at an early age. All to follow the tenets of Islam. Seems to me she likes to pick and choose.
As long as they’re forcing us to do things their way, maybe the Muslim clerks at Target and elsewhere should also make sure that there’s no Muzak on the PA system, because isn’t music forbidden as well? What if some shoppers decide to sing along or, God forbid, dance a little shuffle while they wait for an infidel backup clerk to hop over to scan the wrapped pork products? Oh, and no images of people in the store, either; that too might offend them. The occasions of sin are everywhere. If they can’t deal, let them go home and starve and be stepped on like good Muslims, and sin no more in our midst. I’m sure their Prophet would prefer it of them.
It’s utterly preposterous. Why should a whole long line of shoppers checking out be delayed for minutes on end while someone is found who can actually touch the bacon, ring it up and toss it in a bag, and the Muslim clerk stands idly and “virtuously” by? A line must be drawn in the sand, and I say let it be drawn in bacon fat.
The bacon isn’t being forced into this cashier’s hands in all its naked porcine glory. It’s WRAPPED. In PLASTIC. Orthodox Jews have no problem whatsoever with handling pork—they raise pigs in Israel—they just can’t, you know, EAT pork or cook it in their restaurants or homes. (How sad for them…) And know what? We’re all FINE with that.
I’m all for people keeping up their ethnic traditions, but it has to stop somewhere before the event horizon of lunacy. If someone won’t perform the job for which she was hired, fire her or transfer her to a position where her sensibilities won’t offend herself OR the bacon-buying public.
I fault Target as well: if these people won’t or can’t serve the customers, then don’t freakin’ hire them! (I won’t be shopping at Target myself, by the way…I might offend an employee by asking them to touch plastic-wrapped uncleanness.)
In the course of our employment, we all often have to do things we would prefer not to do in our personal lives. It’s called a job. But Catholic doctors who have a moral objection to abortions don’t do them. Orthodox Jews don’t work in jobs where they have to operate machinery on the Sabbath, or work at all on the Sabbath. The new Muslim immigrants to this country had better start learning this kind of tolerance.
And we had better start requiring it of them in no uncertain terms. Otherwise, we’ll end up as Prophet-whipped as Holland and Denmark and the rest of Western Europe, who ignored the warning signs and let Islam come in and have its way with millennia of social culture.
These Islamic immigrants have no interest in getting into the American melting pot with the rest of us and all our own great traditions. No, they want all the benefits of the West, on their primitive and long-outdated terms, and they want the rest of us to roll over for them. Well, they can’t have it.
I don’t see this as just a little stupid thing, I feel strongly and with great foreboding that it's the thin edge of the wedge. And I don't give a rat’s ass how racist I’m sounding here: I truly believe that this kind of thing is very divisive and very dangerous, and those who commit it mustn’t be coddled or indulged. If we don’t put our foot down (across their necks if need be), we’ll all be ending up in a very different sort of pot indeed.