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Staff parties: the Muslim dilemma

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It is that time of the year when most companies host their year-end parties as employees take time off during the festive season. While some Muslims working for large corporate companies have the advantage of halal food at these functions, Muslims still find themselves in a tough spot as usually alcohol is served. For observant Muslims, having to compromise on one’s religious ideals is a difficult thing when trying to socially integrate with one’s colleagues and bosses. Those who refrain from taking part in the seasonal festivities are considered as extreme, intolerant or just plain unsociable. As Muslim employees start diarising their staff Christmas parties, ulema have sage advice.

“Try to avoid if possible. At times I understand that it is not possible but we should always try to steer clear from haram food,” advises Maulana Hashim Cassiem.

“There are the exceptions: If you are on a flight and the person next to you is having alcohol then you cannot ask for your seat to be changed. Likewise, you need to know not to partake in the haram.”

Shaykh Riad Fataar agrees: “It’s simple: rather remove yourself from the situation.”

Accommodating Muslims

Muslims working their way up the corporate ladder admit that it’s a tricky balance trying to be halal-conscious while mixing with colleagues and clients at social affairs. On social media, a number of people surveyed said they found accessibility to halal food at corporate functions much easier than before.  Zaheera Ismail who works in the tourism industry said her company always take into account halal dietary requirements and this is predominant in most corporate environments. However, the prevalence of alcohol is still a major issue.

“Unfortunately we are somewhat forced to attend yearend functions regardless of where it is held and in those cases sometimes the food is halal but there is alcohol being served,” says Saffiyah Ebrahim, a charted accountant.

Shakeel Madni is employed by a renowned retail company that has a fully halal cafeteria section for Muslim employees.

“The coffee shop is not halal friendly but strictly halal. There is no alcohol or pork/non halaal products served,” Madni boasts.
When asked about the year-end function, he added: “This will be held at our own facility or hall. The company ensures we are provided with strictly halal meals.”

Immoral behaviour

However, many ulema agree that the debate around Muslims attending end-of-year social functions is not simply about the exposure to alcohol.

“The liquor, exposed awrah’s, music, dancing, free mixing and other lewd behaviour which usually accompany such events are very displeasing to Allah SWT. There are very clear and authentic proofs from Qur’an, Sunnah and Ijma’ (scholarly consensus) as evidence for this. People are always worried and concerned about what will displease their bosses and colleagues, but not about what displeases their Allah,” explains Maulana Irshaad Sedick.

“There should never be any compromising on the compulsory and forbidden elements of the Shari’ah for any reason whatsoever, especially not for the feelings, customs, rituals and holidays of others. If we cross this line for parties, then where should the line be drawn then? In the modern world we as Muslims are considered sexists, misogynists and heterosexists because we adhere to the Shari’ah on matters of homosexuality, women’s and men’s rights etc. Should we change the laws of the Islam to accommodate for all things offensive to the post-modern West? And Allah knows best.”

When it comes to practising one’s deen within the confines of a non-Muslim environment, Muslims are always urged to seek the middle path.

“There should not be such a dichotomy as ‘stick to Islam and be rude and intolerant by not attending such functions or attend and thus be more tolerant and acceptable to the non-Muslim colleagues and employers. This implies that Islam is intolerant, which is not true. Neither should companies be so intolerant as to consider the Muslims, who make such choices on the basis of their religion, as rude and intolerant,” Maulana Sedick points out.

“The person working in such an environment should humbly submit an apology in written and verbal former to his/her colleagues and employers and simply explain that according to the understanding of orthodox Islamic scholars and their personal choice of being as good Muslims, that he/she will not participate in such functions. He/she should respectfully request that their apology be accepted. If the usual counter argument of “but other Muslims are joining us” is presented, then he/she should not slander them but merely say that he/she can only speak for themselves and their understanding of orthodox Islam. This should be sufficient as it is part of freedom of expression and freedom to practice one’s religion.” VOC (Najma Bibi-Noor Mahomed)


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