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Muslim-Americans Say They Suffer Job Discrimination - 2001-11-21

Complaints of workplace discrimination against Muslims in the United States have risen in the months following the September terrorist attacks. Increasing numbers of Muslims report being fired, demoted or harassed at work because of either their religion or their national origin.

Job discrimination based on either religion or national origin is against U.S. law. In order to be reinstated in a job or compensated for being wrongfully fired or not hired, however, a person must prove his religion or national origin was the cause.

Hodan Hassan of the Council on American Islamic Relations says some cases are more difficult to prove. She cites the case of a Muslim woman who applied for a job at an American hotel chain after the September attack as an example. "A manager looked at her headscarf and said, 'You might not want to wear that now. It might cause some friction with our guests.' And when she explained to him that this was a religious-mandated headscarf, he told her, 'We'll get back to you' and never got back to her," Ms. Hassan said.

Others are less subtle. American attorney William Amlong says his client, an Iranian born Muslim, was suddenly fired in October from a job he'd had for 17 years. No reason was given. "Mr. Mohammed had done nothing wrong," says Mr. Amlong. "He had done nothing but excel during his 17 years working at the Don Shula Steak House, and now, because he is Muslim, because he is Iranian, because his name is Mohammed, he is out of a job."

Mr. Amlong has charged in a law suit that Mr. Mohammed's firing was a violation of both national and state laws prohibiting such discrimination. He believes the south Florida jury that hears the case will side with Mr. Mohammed. "South Florida, you have to realize, is as [racially and culturally] diverse a community as there is in the entire nation. It is very cosmopolitan," he said.

About six million Americans consider themselves Muslims, and they are a varied lot. Hodan Hassan says African-Americans make up 40 percent and southeast Asians, Africans, and Bosnians make up most of the rest. "I think previously people really had no understanding of the history of Islam and the diverse populations that are in this country," said Ms. Hassan. "People are asking more questions now, which is always a good thing."

If hostility has increased in the wake of the September attacks, Hodan Hassan says, so has understanding.