In the latest installment of Sharia comes to Minneapolis, Star Tribune reporters Chris Serres and Matt McKinney go all out to convey the impression that ringing up pork products creates a bona fide religious conflict for Target’s Twin Cities Muslim cashiers. Target, however, is responding in some way for the moment to customers who prefer cashiers willing to do their jobs:
Target’s new policy is similar to ones at other grocery stores in the area. Spokespeople for the chains that operate Cub and Rainbow food stores said Muslims who share concerns about pork during the interview process are told of opportunities in departments such as dairy, floral or customer service that don’t involve handling pork.
“There are many jobs in the grocery store that do not involve handling pork,” said Vivian King, a spokeswoman for Roundy’s, which owns Rainbow stores.
Each Target store appears to have some leeway in implementing the new policy. At the downtown Minneapolis Target, employees were called into one-on-one meetings Thursday and asked whether they were opposed to handling pork for religious reasons. Those who said yes were told they could no longer work as cashiers during the store’s busiest hours, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., according to an employee at the store who requested anonymity.
At the SuperTarget off Hwy. 7 in St. Louis Park, which has a full grocery section, Muslim cashiers who said they refuse to handle pork were transferred Thursday to the sales floor to stock shelves or fold clothes. It remained unclear whether that change is permanent. The store manager declined to be interviewed, and Thornton-Greear said the company wouldn’t discuss the situation at specific stores.
Suhara Robla, a 20-year-old employee at the store, said more than a dozen Muslim cashiers were asked Thursday to do other jobs. “They told all of us who don’t touch pork to go to the sales floor,” she said. “They really didn’t say why. They just said it was a new policy.”
Now the apologetics:
Many Muslims believe the pig is an unclean animal and consider it a sin to eat pork. The Qur’an has multiple passages in which Allah instructs believers to avoid eating pig flesh. It is so core to their beliefs that some consider it sinful to sell the meat, because that encourages others to participate in a sinful act.
In the Muslim world, there is even a stronger taboo against pork than alcohol, said Owais Bayunus, an imam at the Abu Khudra Mosque in Columbia Heights. Wearing gloves will not solve the issue, he said. “There is a school of thought within the Muslim community that if you sell pork or alcohol to someone, then you are contributing to the propagation of a sinful activity,” he said. “Many Muslims do not want to see non-Muslims involved in a sinful product.”
At Target stores, some Muslim cashiers opposed to selling pork had grown accustomed to waving over other employees whenever they came across bacon, ham or other pork products, even pepperoni pizza. In many cases, they simply switched on a little light above their registers and another cashier would rush to their side and swipe the product for them.
The practice seemed to work well for Robla. She said she needed help scanning pork products only “about two or three times a day.” In other cases, customers would volunteer to swipe the items themselves.
Occasionally, however, Robla said, people would get annoyed when she told them it was because of her religion. “Some people would say, ‘If you won’t scan it, then I don’t want this thing,’ ” she said. “I don’t understand it. Some people don’t even want to wait a few seconds.”
Mohamed Muse, who also works at the St. Louis Park store but not as a cashier, has no problems with the new policy. “If someone is trying to buy pork, you can’t just say, ‘Wait here,’ ” he said. “You can’t put a hold on the work system.”
Muse, speaking to a reporter Friday afternoon at the Somali mall just off Lake Street, said when he applied for his job six months ago, a human-resources worker asked him whether he could handle pork. Muse, who arrived in the country eight months ago after immigrating with his family from Nairobi, Kenya, said no. “They said OK. So I work mostly with fruits and vegetables overnight,” he said. “It was really no problem.”
Still, he understands some of the controversy, which has included discussions on area talk-radio stations. “People are sensitive,” he said. “They say, ‘You are trying to force me to [your] religion! You are losing my time!’ All that stuff.”
Now here’s a question for the two (count ’em!) reporters that the Star Tribune has on today’s story. Is this a problem that has arisen elsewhere in the United States? Or is this problem created by a local fatwa issued by the Muslim American Society or some such group that created the similar problem at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport? Or do Star Tribune union rules relegate that aspect of the story to the exclusive jurisdiction of Katherine Kersten?
UPDATE: A reader writes:
I just got back from a year in Bahrain where I was working at NAVCENT. Bahrain is a shia majority country ruled by a sunni family – so there’s lots of room for conflict, but as Arab countries go, it’s quite good. We were allowed to live in town – which is quite remarkable in today’s Force Protection concious military.
There is no shortage of pork in Bahrain – most of it Danish. It is segregated off to the side of the store, sort of the food equivalent to the X rated DVD rental section, but the cashiers – Bahraini women with their heads covered – no veil – had no problem scanning the food.
The staff in my apartment building were Indian and Pakistani Muslims. The best tip you could give them was a bottle of booze or a six pack from the liquor store on base. There are liquor stores and most western restaurants have a liquor license (Chili’s doesn’t for some reason), but they’re unaffordable when you’re making less than $10 a day.
In fact, the best thing about the Bahrain airport is the duty-free shop located between getting off the plane and going through customs. It means you don’t have to carry your booze on planes (a bonus in these liquid-free days) and it’s actually cheaper than US or Euro duty-free.
It would be nice if the Star Tribune would trouble itself to do some basic reporting that would round out the story on what is transpiring here.
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