Many say they cant separate job, religion
By Nate Legue
ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR
Published: April 30, 2007
ROCKFORD At least once while shes at work, Dr.
Saima Naeem pulls a green rug out of a closet, washes
her face and hands, and kneels to pray toward the
northeast corner of her office, the direction of
Financial adviser Tom Muldowney keeps a picture of
Jesus on the wall opposite his desk to remind him that
God watches over his work. Another investment company
leaves Bibles in its waiting room and holds Bible
studies for employees.
Car dealer Jim Hawks incorporated a cross into his
logo, a move he said sometimes spurs conversations
about spiritual matters with customers.
Many employers are accommodating the faith of their
workers, allowing employees to hold voluntary Bible
studies on company property, even providing chaplains
at some corporations. Some management gurus even
encourage religion at work, both as an antidote to the
corruption problems of the Enron era and to foster
employee satisfaction and productivity.
Still, the faith-at-work movement is not without its
conflicts. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission reports 2,541 charges of religious
discrimination during fiscal 2006, which ended Sept.
30 a nearly 49 percent increase since 1997.
But many of the faithful who dont mind speaking in
spiritual terms at work say they cant
compartmentalize their religion to weekly worship
For Naeem, a Pakistani hospitalist at SwedishAmerican
Hospital, faith is a overarching presence in her life.
To try to separate it from her job or any other part
of her life would be unthinkable. Like most devout
Muslims, she prays five times a day. She even uses a
program on her PalmPilot that determines the exact
times because the salat schedule is based on sunrises
and sunsets that vary throughout the year.
Our religion is not just in the mosque, Naeem said.
The way I walk, way I talk, way I eat, way I bathe,
it tells me everything. Its a way of life.
She also wears her faith. To follow Islamic dictates
about modesty and worship, she wears a hijab, or head
scarf, whenever she is outside her home. Its often
the first thing her patients notice about her when she
makes rounds and many ask her about it. Only once in
her nine years as a doctor in the U.S. has anyone
refused to be treated by her.
That tells me that theres still some ignorance of
the religion, Naeem said.
But most patients are very accepting about medical
care from a doctor from a different religion. Jackie
Jones, whose mother suffered a stroke and was under
Naeems care, is a Jehovahs Witness.
You give it no thought as long as she respects my
feelings and my Bible-based conscience, Jones said.
Shes been here every day for my mom. Shes been
very, very concerned.
Sharing ones faith is easier in some careers than
others. When dispensing investing advice. religious
guidelines on integrity and honesty pay dividends. At
Klaas Financial in Loves Park, nearly all the
employees attend Protestant churches of some stripe
and participate in a semiweekly Bible study.
Christian principles have always been manifest in
the business, said Scott Johnson, certified financial
Its a relationship business, Johnson said. Trust
is of the essence when were taking care of peoples
money. We listen for the opportunity to share, but we
never are in anyones face about it.
One business that keeps faith literally front and
center is Crossroads Auto Sales. The sign towering
over the used car lot has a Christian cross with lane
stripes on it, which has dual meanings because the lot
is right next to Roscoes main intersection, U.S. 251
and Elevator Road.
Hawks opened Crossroads earlier this year and said the
new dealership was a miracle. After an abrupt
departure from another car lot, Hawks was without a
job or the capital to start his own business. But Dan
Arnold, president of Road Ranger LLC and a fellow
evangelical Christian, offered to build the lot and
give him a 10-year lease.
I wouldnt have this business if it wasnt for God
blessing me, Hawks said. Thats why it doesnt say
Jim Hawks Auto World on that sign.
Arnold himself is not bashful about sharing his faith,
but in 2005 his company was sued by the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission said
Road Ranger fired a Jewish employee for not
participating in religious activities; the case was
settled out of court last year.
Theres a line to how affirmative you can be when
youre wearing your religion on your sleeve, but its
a very, very gray line, and its very fact and
situation specific, said Steve Balogh, an attorney
who specializes in employee relations and civil rights
Complaints about religious discrimination to the EEOC
were on a steady rise after 2001, peaking in 2003.
Much of that was because of the 9-11 terrorist
attacks, which sparked a wave of anti-Muslim
sentiment, Balogh said.
Inside the gray line between whats legal and whats
not, theres a variety of responses in the workplace.
Some people make overt expressions of their faith,
others just try to encourage their customers and
co-workers in the dog-eat-dog world of commerce.
Muldowney is a partner at Savant Capital Management
and an unabashed defender of his Roman Catholic faith.
But hes demure about it unless a client asks or wants
I dont wear my faith on my sleeve, I dont make it a
better-than-thou attitude, Muldowney said.
When people are struggling, they struggle with many
different things. They struggle with money and they
struggle with meaning-of-life issues. Sometimes, a
faith orientation can be a very calming influence.
Gannett News Service contributed to this story.
Staff writer Nate Legue may be reached at 815-987-1346