Muslims Hold Protest Over Prayer Dispute and Get Fired

January 5th 2016

Taylor Bell

Nearly 150 Muslims were fired from a meat processing plant in Colorado in response to a prayer dispute at their job.

Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan laid off about 150 Muslim workers after they failed to show up to work and protested the company's policy on break times and prayer, CNN reports.

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It all started when a group of 11 Muslim workers wanted to pray at the same time in a room that the company designates for prayer and reflection. But their supervisor ordered them to pray in smaller groups so as to not affect production.

Somali Muslims praying

Although the workers complied with their supervisor's request, they later walked out after the end of their shifts, and 10 of the 11 workers resigned. As news of the incident spread, nearly 150 other Muslim co-workers, who were mainly immigrants from Somalia, walked out in protest and did not show up for work for three days, CBS Denver reports. Their decision to do so apparently got them fired.

Cargill insists that what happened was a result of a company policy misunderstanding, the Denver Post reports.

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Now, the company is responding.

"At no time did Cargill prevent people from prayer at Fort Morgan," Cargill spokesperson Michael Martin told the Denver Post. "Nor have we changed policies related to religious accommodation and attendance. This has been mischaracterized."

Martin also added that these accommodations are not always possible depending on work circumstances, something the company believed was "clearly communicated" to all the employees.

But it wasn't, according spokesperson and executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Jaylani Hussein. Typically, Cargill allowed Muslims to pray at different times of the day and during their workers' 15-minute breaks or unpaid-lunch periods, according to Hussein. But that policy appeared to have changed, he said.

"Now we are getting supervisors who are telling our clients to go home if they wanted to pray," Hussein told CBS News. "If they are denied their basic rights to practice their faith reasonably at their employment, they seem to be losing one of the basic fundamental rights."

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For Muslims, prayer is a universal ritual that is crucial to their everyday religious life. Their religion states that they must pray five times a day as one of the foundations of Islam.

Fired worker Tony Aden said this to CBS Denver:

“It doesn’t matter if I don’t have a job, my religion is more important.”

Some workers have returned to the plant but the majority continue to hold out.

Image of a Muslim worker's badge after quitting

The company has tried to resolve the issue but to no avail. As of as right now the company is seeking new employees to fulfill the open spots left by workers since the company legally cannot reinstate anyone for six months after they have been fired.