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Many say they can’t separate job, religion

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  • Zafar Khan
    Many say they can’t separate job, religion By Nate Legue ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR Published: April 30, 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2007
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      Many say they can’t separate job, religion
      By Nate Legue
      ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR
      Published: April 30, 2007

      http://www.rrstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070430/BUSINESS11/104300021

      ROCKFORD — At least once while she’s 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
      Mecca.

      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 don’t mind speaking in
      spiritual terms at work say they can’t
      compartmentalize their religion to weekly worship
      services.

      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. It’s 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. It’s 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 there’s 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
      Naeem’s care, is a Jehovah’s Witness.

      “You give it no thought as long as she respects my
      feelings and my Bible-based conscience,” Jones said.
      “She’s been here every day for my mom. She’s been
      very, very concerned.”

      Sharing one’s 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
      planner.

      “It’s a relationship business,” Johnson said. “Trust
      is of the essence when we’re taking care of people’s
      money. We listen for the opportunity to share, but we
      never are in anyone’s 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 Roscoe’s 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 wouldn’t have this business if it wasn’t for God
      blessing me,” Hawks said. “That’s why it doesn’t 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.

      “There’s a line to how affirmative you can be when
      you’re wearing your religion on your sleeve, but it’s
      a very, very gray line, and it’s very fact and
      situation specific,” said Steve Balogh, an attorney
      who specializes in employee relations and civil rights
      law.

      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 what’s legal and what’s
      not, there’s 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 he’s demure about it unless a client asks or wants
      to talk.

      “I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve, I don’t 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
      or nlegue@....
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