Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Muslims and US culture

Sabria S. Jawhar
The Saui Gazette
A religious battle – nothing to do with terrorism or the invasion of American troops in a Muslim country – is going on in the heartland of the United States. Central Nebraska to be specific. The land of corn, pickup trucks and evangelical Christians.
The issue is whether Muslim workers at a food processing plant can be allowed to pray during working hours and to break fast at sunset during Ramadan. It hardly seems to be a burning issue among Muslims worldwide, but in the city of Grand Island there have been protests, firing workers and allegations of religious discrimination by Christians and Muslims alike.
The workers at the plant are primarily Somali refugees who have long struggled to assimilate into the American society. There has been a huge influx of Somali immigrants into America’s Midwest because of its low cost of living, modest housing prices and a generally tolerant view of Midwesterners toward immigrants.These immigrants have been at the center of controversy before.
Somali taxi drivers have refused to take passengers possessing or being under the influence of alcohol or have a dog with them. With the exception of rather loud opinions of American conservative extremists, these small cultural and religious eruptions settled down quietly.The incidents at the food processing plants are somewhat different because unlike business offices and retail outlets, there are significant safety and production issues.
Plant managers are concerned that workers walking off the processing line once or twice during their working hours can affect productivity. It’s illegal in the United States to ask potential employees during the hiring process about their religion. Federal law demands that employers “reasonably accommodate” workers’ religious obligations.
The exception to this accommodation is if making changes in workers’ schedule causes a hardship to the business, such as reducing efficiency or affecting safety guidelines.While one can appreciate the Americans’ desire to keep religion a private matter and not hire workers based on their religious affiliation, an employer must be woefully ignorant not to recognize that a large number of his workers are Muslim.
So it is quite reasonable that a compromise can be met if a company hires a significant number of Muslims. Reasonable accommodation can be arranged with a work schedule to fit in prayer times and allow a brief iftar at sunset.The problem in the United States is two-fold: Islam has become so politicized that many people can no longer view the duties of a Muslim as a religious issue, but one of Muslims attempting to change the landscape of a Christian nation through force.
Many conservatives have gone so far as to label the wants and needs of Muslims as some sort of silent jihad.The other problem is the refusal of some Muslim immigrants to assimilate into Western society. We in Saudi Arabia ask our expatriate workers to respect our customs, traditions and religion while they are guests here. The same could be said for Muslims choosing to live in the United States.
That doesn’t mean they are not entitled to praying five times a day. Of course they have that right. And every employer who respects freedom of religion should find a compromise to accommodate Muslims during work hours. But some Muslims take their beliefs to the extreme. What works in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Somalia doesn’t necessarily work in the West, and special considerations must be addressed.
If you choose to be a taxi driver, then you have to take passengers under the influence of alcohol safely home.There also have been controversies surrounding Muslims working at the JBS Swift & Co. meat packing plant in which pork is processed. Muslim workers have refused to handle pork and have been fired for refusing to handle it.
Any person in the US with a television set, an Internet connection or has gone grocery shopping knows that JBS Swift is a leader in pork products. You don’t want to handle pork? Don’t work at Swift. Don’t like drunk passengers? Don’t be a taxi driver.The point is simple. Accommodation comes from both sides. Compromises have saved the world from many crises in the past.
If you shut out the noise from the religious bigots and take time to understand US history, this whole “us versus them” issue between Muslims and Westerners is a result of new immigrants arriving at American shores.The Irish in the 19th century faced severe discrimination because they were Catholics who adhered to the edicts of a single man in the Vatican and engaged in what was then deemed strange religious ceremonies.
Orthodox Jews, or Shomrei Shabbos, do not operate machinery or drive cars or use electric appliances after sundown on Friday till Saturday night. To this day there are some Jewish American baseball players who refuse to play the sport on Saturday so they can observe the Sabbath.Historically, Christian Americans have accepted them over time and the same will eventually occur with Muslims as Muslim communities assimilate into their new environment. Give it time. Ramadan, like any other American holiday, whether religious or secular, will become common in the US workplace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hire more Saudi nurses

By : Sabria Jawhar
AS a regular, if not daily, visitor to hospitals in Madina and Jeddah for my mother’s medical care, I have become more intimate than I care to admit about medical centers.
Though I have come across some well qualified nurses whom I consider life-savers in my mother’s treatment, I have also seen several other nurses whom I wouldn’t trust to treat the neighborhood dumpster cat.
Providing quality medical care is one of the many issues Saudi Arabia faces.I acknowledge that Filipino nurses are usually qualified and dedicated to the job, but does that mean we must continue to recruit Filipinos for nursing positions here? Recently, the Philippines government announced that 2,000 Filipinos will be recruited to work in Saudi Arabia. The applicants must be graduates in nursing.
Work experience, however, is not a requirement.Monthly salaries for these nurses range from SR 2,250 to SR4,000. They get all benefits like 45 days annual paid vacation with a round-trip air ticket to their home country, free transportation and free housing. This is fine for Filipinos, but not so for Saudi women. Even in 2008 a stigma that nursing is a less than noble profession remains in Saudi minds.
They still feel it is an embarrassment for Saudi women to treat and provide aid and comfort to the sick and afflicted.This was even more true 10 years ago. The idea of a Saudi woman entering the nursing profession was short of being scandalous. Today an estimated 35 percent of the nurses in Saudi Arabia are Saudi women. By contrast, in Kuwait - which is perceived as a progressive Arab nation - only 8 percent of the nurses are Kuwaiti women.Clearly, the perception in the last decade has changed and acceptance of Saudi women as nurses is now more prominent.
Over the last five years, the Saudi government has repeatedly stated its commitment to hire more Saudi female nurses to work in government and private hospitals. The Ministry of Health pledged to employ as many as 70,000 Saudi female nurses by 2010. Despite such announcements, recruitment of nurses from Philippines and other countries continues. Rather than training Saudi nurses, the government is hiring non-Saudis.
This doesn’t mean the Saudi government should embark on a Saudization program of placing unqualified workers in jobs. Such a program is bound to fail.Saudi female nurses have a reputation of not doing the job properly. Complaints of failing to show up to work on time, lacking proficiency in their work and refusing to treat male patients are quite common.
These selfish girls remind me of the female Muslim medical students in the United Kingdom who refused to wash up before a medical procedure because they are required to roll up their sleeves up to their elbows.Ridiculous. If one can’t abide by the rules of the profession and give 100 percent of what is required, then these women should do what they are best at: Stay at home or go to the mall to buy the latest Hermes purse or Chopard watch.
The nursing profession doesn’t need them.My guess is, there are plenty of Saudi women out there willing to provide care for the sick and eager to earn a good salary. Let’s not waste our precious labor resources by continuing to recruit expatriates, especially when we have enough qualified workers within our own borders.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saudi Tourism

WHEN I disclose to someone in the UK about where I come from, I get a look that says, “I’d go anywhere but there.”They are polite, of course, and respectful, but the conversation usually ends there.
Interest for travel seems to plummet with the mention of Saudi Arabia.Not everyone feels that way though. Japanese and most Asians see visiting Saudi Arabia as adventurous. Muslims, naturally, even if it isn’t for the specific reason of Umrah, want to experience our country.Since 9/11 Saudi Arabia has taken many steps to open the country to visitors.
I admit the Saudi government moves at a snail’s pace when it comes to tourism, but in areas of trade, commerce and attracting investors for projects we have moved rapidly forward.Tourism is a natural step that becomes part of the equation.
People should not need a visit visa, a sponsor or a work visa to visit the country. People who want to visit the historic sites and experience the Saudi lifestyle should have that opportunity.The process is, however, not easy. A potential tourist can’t simply walk into a Saudi embassy or mail his or her passport to a consulate for a tourist visa.
Tourist visas are arranged by travel agents when their holiday packages are purchased. Citizens of 66 nations are approved for tourism. US, UK and most European countries, including Denmark, are part of the approved list. We won’t eat their butter but we will use their tourism dollars.
The website for the Saudi Commission on Tourism and Antiquities is of little help for the average traveler. No specific tourist visa information or guidelines is available. If someone wants to have a general idea on tourist packages and visa requirements, they won’t find it so easily.
The reported requirement is that only women over the age of 40 will be considered for a visa, as if younger women will be too much for our Saudi men. Another requirement of male guardianship for all female tourists will be a concern for foreigners.
Tour groups should also have a minimum of four people and tours range from three days to two weeks. Promoting tourism can have several social benefits. Of all the complaining we do about being misunderstood by the western world, what could be better than inviting tourists to improve understanding.
Tourism can also create a number of jobs for Saudis. Prince Sultan Bin Salman, secretary general of the Higher Tourism Commission, said he expects the industry to create up to 2.3 million jobs by 2020.Tourism officials are seeking investors to help boost local tourism and promote tourism culture among Saudis.
Scuba diving, restaurants, transport, hotel industry will all grow and even the small businesses, such as those in old Jeddah will benefit.Travel agencies have already reaped the benefits of bringing in tourists. One company reported that 2,500 tourists from the United States, Germany, Italy and several Asian countries have visited Saudi Arabia since January. Saudi tourism has had a bumpy ride since it was first considered in 2000.
I never felt that Saudis were enthusiastic about the idea. The belief among many of my friends and acquaintances is that since we live in the land of the Two Holy Mosques, why bring in outsiders, especially non-Muslims, to our country?