Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullaah,
Rather than writing a long article, I had wanted to pose a question to our readers. One of the major obstacles that Muslims living the West face, particularly those of us who must work amongst non-Muslims, is having to be “professional,” according to the Western concept of the word, without compromising our practice of the Sunnah. Allow me to be a bit less vague. If a brother would like to follow the sunnah with regards to his beard, he would not touch it, or at least leave it at fist-length. Without delving into the particular fiqhi rulings of whether or not the beard is fard, and if so, how long it must be, etc etc, we can safely say that it is considered highly recommended across the board to leave the beard either completely or at fist-length. Sisters, on the other hand, are required to cover, and, to my knowledge, the ulama agree that the minimum requirement for hijab includes a long outer-garment to be worn over her normal clothing (termed as jilbab) in addition to covering the hair. Again, I don’t wish to get into the fiqhi details of exactly what constitutes jilbab, or whether or not niqab is fard; rather, I am aiming at the obstacles faced when trying to meet requirements of hijab in the workplace.
Furthermore, there are gender interaction issues. Handshaking between non-mahram men and women does not constitute appropriate Islamic behavior. Indeed, even free-mixing of genders, as is so commonplace in the professional world, is not deemed as appropriate. However, for a Muslim who is working, and attempting to earn his rizq, some of these situations seem simply unavoidable.
So my question to the readers is as follows: What obstacles are faced in attempting to observe the sunnah, in the sense I mentioned above, in the professional world, while still maintaining proper “professionalism”? I will start off the discussion by answering my own question, and inshaAllah, brothers and sisters can share their responses.
I currently work in an engineering product center for an oilfield services company. Alhamdulillah, so far I have not faced any problems with keeping a fist-length beard; of course, I do my best to make sure it is well-groomed each day. However, to be honest, I do feel as though observing this sunnah does create obstacles in terms of professional development. Alhamdulillah, I have no intention whatsoever of leaving this sunnah, and observance of the sunnah gets a much higher priority for me than “climbing the corporate ladder.” Although no one has told me anything yet, I am fairly certain that some of the upper-management may raise a mental eyebrow, so to speak. Mixed gender interactions are also minimized, alhamdulillah, because for some reason, our female colleagues do not seem to be very attracted to the oil and gas industry :) . However, the occasional situation does, and almost certainly will again, present itself where a female extends her hand for a shake. How to best deal with this situation and maintain “professionalism” seems quite tricky to me.
I can write more, but inshaAllah, let’s hear from some of our readers. I am quite certain some issues, such as the beard, would pose a greater problem in a different profession, such as the medical profession. Likewise with hijab/jilbab for our sisters. And I know mixed gender interactions can also be a greater problem depending on the field.
Anyways, bismillah, comment away…