HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
March 26, 2007, Herald Journal

Muslim cashiers won’t touch pork


At the beginning of March it was reported Somali Muslims, who work as cashiers in stores that sell pork, are refusing to touch the pork packages, even though the pork is sealed in plastic.

According to Islam, pork is unclean. Muslims are forbidden to eat it or handle it. Pork is considered unclean by Jewish people also.

In Minneapolis, though, Somali cashiers asked customers to scan it for them, and put the packages of pork in the bag, so they wouldn’t have to touch it.

Cashiers are not expected to touch the pork directly, though, only the plastic on the outside of the package. There is nothing in the Koran, the religious text for Islam, that says Muslims can’t touch plastic.

This is a perplexing problem for employers and store managers because they are required to accommodate their employees’ religions. Here is how employers and store managers can solve this problem:

First, don’t hire people who are forbidden to touch products you sell because of their religion. Or, put the employee in an office position, for example, where she won’t be directly exposed to the store’s products. This is exactly what store officials from Target decided to do last week.

Second, if they are already on your staff now, provide rubber gloves for cashiers, or package pork in an extra layer of plastic.

If cashiers still refuse to scan or bag the plastic-packaged pork, then the manager must scan and bag it.

Above all, do not ask customers to do the work for the cashier. The cashier, not the customer, is getting paid wages for scanning and bagging the merchandise. Part of the price of the merchandise the customers pay covers the cost of the cashier’s wages. Customers are paying twice if they are expected to do the cashiers’ work for them.

I’ve heard several more developments spin off from these incidents.

According to the Somali version of Islam, rubber gloves and extra plastic wrap won’t make any difference. Muslims are prohibited from “helping” other people sin, so they can’t scan or touch the plastic anyway.

Also, there are many more, and for a longer time, Muslims in the Detroit area, than in Minnesota. Muslim cashiers in Detroit have no problem touching the plastic wrapped pork products. Why is this a problem here?

Finally, some are saying it doesn’t take that long to scan a package of pork or bag it, so why are customers in such a hurry that they can’t do it themselves?

This is really a bad solution, and the time it takes has nothing to do with it. The larger culture in the United States shouldn’t be expected to obey the laws of a tiny Somali Islamic sect. It is up to the Somali Muslims to adapt to the United States.