Diversity, HR & Ramadan

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As a Human Resources Professional and a former Muslim, I get many questions about how to handle the limitations of Ramadan for Muslim employees. When I was working full time and tried to fast during Ramadan, it was next to impossible for me. There were doughnuts at the morning meetings, lunch meetings catered by my favorite restaurants, more lunch meetings with clients and dinner mixers. You could also forget trying to pray five times a day in the middle of these and other obligations as a senior level manager! Today with the increased awareness of the Diversity that exists, Muslims are not as ready as I was to quietly go through the day to fast or pray. Ramadan can present a challenge especially for Human Resources and employees that is confusing. Those outside the Muslim faith don’t quite understand the issues or the flexibility in a religion that looks quite inflexible on the outside. Some try to compare this to the Lenten season, but not all Christians practice fasting for Lent and even then, many Catholics give up meat on one day. Christian fasting is also different as there is no set day. Christians can fast anytime, however they like. It is a discipline to draw them closer to God – not to fulfill any religious obligations. Furthermore, Christian fasts do not make up any meals. If you give up a meal, it is gone.

I describe Ramadan fasting as a flipping of day with night. Meals are not eaten during the day (no water or liquids either). However, at night, you can eat or drink to your heart’s content. We would get up before sunrise and eat a breakfast. You can then eat again after sunset. It’s the daylight hours that present the challenge. I have written other blog posts on this topic: Ramadan Demystified and the Christian’s Guide to Ramadan.

So… what is an employer to do?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion (or lack of religious belief) in hiring, firing, or any other terms and conditions of employment. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says:

“In addition, the Act  requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of applicants and  employees,  unless  doing so would  cause more than a minimal burden on the operation of the employer’s business. A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion. Flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments  lateral transfers, and exceptions to dress or grooming rules are examples of accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs.”

*”Undue Hardship” on Employer = costly, compromises safety, decreases efficiency, infringes on other employees’ rights or requires others to pick up their task of burdensome work.

*Undue hardship also may be shown if the request for an accommodation violates others’ job rights established through a collective bargaining agreement or seniority system.

*Prohibits religious harassment of employees, such as offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices (hostile or offensive work environment) or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

Of course, the EEOC guidelines are to be followed, but a good rule of thumb is to practice Diversity awareness and allow employees to openly have a conversation about what is Ramadan and why it is practiced – if they are willing. This way, it will not become a taboo topic where people are walking on eggshells or ignoring it. In addition, allowing a little flexibility in hours is not only kind but appreciated by all employees (granted in retail sales, call centers and manufacturing, that is more difficult to do).

The same kindness should also be shown to others who have differing religious beliefs- including Christians. I find now as a Christian, it is the flip side of the coin, where people are not willing to share their Christian faith for fear or repercussion – a man I know did not even feel he could put a cross in his office without being ridiculed.  Religious accommodations can be made, but decisions should be made with respect to overall productivity and efficiency of the organization. If all employees on the team are willing to pitch in, then it will become a win-win for everyone – especially if others want to take a religious day off for their practice in the future.

Open dialogue, questions to reach an understanding and a willingness to help — these are all hallmarks of organizations that are open to diversity and create a culture of learning.

 

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Living in a Bubble

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It’s the same routine everyday: go from my little bubble in Edmond, Oklahoma, in my little bubble of a car, to my bubble of work, or to my Bible Study bubble, back to my car bubble and back home. It’s almost the same daily – I just get to change a few of the bubbles around as the week progresses. I used to have different friends but one day, I suddenly realized that I chose to hang out with my Christian girlfriends because they like to do Bible Study or Bible Journaling or talk about Jesus. How did that happen?

It is difficult to go and hang out with others who do not share the same beliefs as you and even look down upon you as being (as my mom put it) “over-religious!” I took it as a compliment when she said that and she told me repeatedly “that is most definitely NOT a compliment!” So why do it? Why should you seek out others who don’t share the same views as you?

Well, the plain and simple answer is that all people need DIVERSITY in their life! Diversity keeps things rich and stimulating. It’s good to share your views and then have them be challenged by others who may not believe the same way or even (gasp!) tell you that you are wrong. That’s what happened to Jesus and also to the early church. They reached out to others who were not like them in love. They wanted to share the love of God and the Good News of the Gospel. They were not comfortable or even in a little bubble. God did not call them to be “comfortable,” just as God does not call us to be “comfortable!” If they had remained there, the Gospel would not have spread and the Christian church would not be as diverse as it is today!

So many of my church friends look at Christianity from a Western view. They see the Church as made up on mainly white people. That is true in some areas, but not in all parts of the world. A few years ago, my husband and I got to go to the Leader’s Conference for RZIM. One evening was a formal dinner. I wore my black, silk Sari with gold embroidery. I knew I would not be the only one in a Sari that evening because my friend Ruth (Indian) was also going to wear one. When we showed up to dinner, we saw that the Africans were wearing their African clothes, the Malays were wearing their clothes, several Indians were in Saris and others were donned in their country’s finery. It was so sweet… It was wonderful to see all nations coming together under one leader: Christ.

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Just as we tell our children to go and sit with other kids during lunchtime at school, we need to remember that we need to do the same. At work, do you sit with the same people? Have you asked any of your coworkers to come over to share a meal at your home? I asked that at a session I spoke at this week and people laughed nervously, then got serious and shook their heads, no! We are SO SCARED to let people into our homes! Why is that? Are you scared that they might see your laundry on the couch? Do you honestly think they don’t have a pile of laundry sitting around somewhere in their own home (in case you are wondering: yes, I do… big piles – come over and help me sort them out!)?

Get over yourself!

Just pop ONE bubble in your life and venture out. See what you might find and the types of friends you might make. I know that my own life is richer when I make friends with those who are not like me. They challenge me, provoke me, make me mad, frustrate me, but eventually cause me to go deeper into study and come out stronger as a Christian. Try it out and then tell me how it went for you!

International Women’s Day

 

 

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Today is International Women’s Day was established in the early 1900’s to raise awareness of Women’s rights and issues around the world. With the technology we have today, it is much easier to address and raise that awareness. However, things still do not remain equal when it comes to gender bias, especially in the workplace.

Here are some statistics about women in the workplace that you may not know:

  1. It will take at least 100 years to close the wage gap between men & women in the US (money.cnn.com)
  2. As of Dec. 2017, the US fell to spot #49 in equal pay (mainly due to companies that don’t provide paid maternity leave) (www.pewresearch.org)
  3. Over 42% have experienced gender discrimination at work
  4. Over 22% of women say they have been sexually harassed at work
  5. 1 in 2 women experience discrimination as a result of being on maternity leave or after.
  6. For every dollar a male makes, women earn approximately 80 cents (or less if they are a female minority) (equal payback project).
  7. More than 1 in 8 women live in poverty.
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www.dol.gov

Now for a little bit better news (kind of):

  • In 2017, Women outnumber men for the first time in college: 56% to 44% men (US Dept of Education).
  • There is a substantial effort being made in education for empowering girls
  • Women are Integral to Today’s Workforce
    • There are 74.6 million women in the civilian labor force.
    • Almost 47 percent of U.S. workers are women.
    • More than 39 percent of women work in occupations where women make up at least three-quarters of the workforce.
    • Women own close to 10 million businesses, accounting for $1.4 trillion in receipts.
    • Female veterans tend to continue their service in the labor force: About 3 out of 10 serve their country as government workers.

 

  • Trends in Women’s Employment  over Time
    • Women’s participation in the U.S. labor force has climbed since WWII: from 32.7 percent in 1948 to 56.8 percent in 2016.
    • The range of occupations women workers hold has also expanded, with women making notable gains in professional and managerial occupations. In 2016, more than one in three lawyers was a woman compared to fewer than 1 in 10 in 1974.
    • The unemployment rate for women is currently 4.8 percent, down from a peak of 9.0 percent in November 2010. (Source)

 

There’s still a lot of work to do and each one of us can step in to help another woman. Mentoring, supporting, encouraging women should be a duty for all of us! We can start easily:

  1. start at home – encourage your daughters with positive role models (no, I’m not talking about Pilot Barbie, but about learning about a REAL person like Amelia Earhart).
  2. start in your community – join a positive role model group like the Community of Christian Business Women in OKC!
  3. start at work – meet with women, build peer relationships and succession plan with awareness.

STOP complaining about it. START DOING!

 

Women’s History Month!

Women's History Month

It’s MARCH!

I wanted to shine the light on WOMEN all over the world as we celebrate contributions, discuss women’s issues (gender disparity, education, etc), and of course, discuss Diversity & Inclusion. My challenge to all my sisters out there is to go out there and SERVE another!

Some say that we should not have one month to focus on women’s rights and issues, but that it should be a focus 365 days. I agree – however, I think it’s good to have at least some time to highlight and bring special awareness. It is my hope that this month will give you a chance to explore ministries or choose an area for advocacy… not just to “talk about it,” but to actually DO something!

By the way, International Women’s Day is March 8 – being an “International Woman,” I have a special highlight article for that day!

Stay Tuned…

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14

Macy’s Launches Hijab Fashion!

FASHION or OPPRESSION?

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RTT News Photo

On February 1, 2018 Macy’s announced a major decision to sell a fashionable line of Women’s Hijab. This line called the “Verona Collection” debuted a few days ago in stores and online. The news is being heralded as “groundbreaking” and as a “landmark” decision. The announcement comes on the heels of the Nike Hijab selling out like hotcakes.

For a former Muslim woman, I don’t get it… I don’t understand the hype and I don’t understand the desire to wear a man-made restriction on my head. As a Muslim who lived in the United States, I never wore a hijab nor was I ever made to wear one. I was the child of very educated, progressive mother who saw great oppression from the strict Islamic clerics while working in Saudi Arabia as a physician. She experienced first-hand what it was like to be pushed down when she was going to Medical School in the 60’s in Pakistan as well.

When we moved to the US, my mother literally breathed a sigh of freedom. Both of my parents allowed us to have many blessings that come from living here, including being raised with education, being outspoken and as strong women. When we would see another Muslim woman in a hijab, we would all wonder (sometimes out loud) why she was wearing one here where the rules of society did not mandate it?

Therein lies the conundrum. For centuries, women have been forced to take the veil in Muslim countries – not all, but many. Today, younger women are fighting more for a visible ethnic identity than anything else. Diversity is wonderful and it brings out a rich expression in our country, however it is my belief that Muslim women in America are CHOOSING to be set apart for their religious beliefs. Instead of Inclusion, it is a call for Exclusion by the Muslim community. Many Muslim women I have talked to see it as showing the half-naked women in the West that they are more pious, modest, and they belong to a special class of private women.

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Some American Muslim women have gone as far to say that this is an overt way they show their freedom to choose how they wish to express themselves, while in Tehran only a few weeks ago, 29 women were arrested for taking off their hijab as a protest for not having any freedom or rights — this is nothing new. Over 100,000 were arrested in Iran in 1978 during a similar protest!

So… which one is it?

Is it a symbol of oppression or is it a symbol of ethnic identity?

Macy’s happens to think it is a symbol of fashion and a way to make money.

2 Cor3:16-18 

16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

ISIS & the Cultural Muslim

ISIS & the Cultural Muslim

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I know Muslim homes around the world were cringing yesterday when a Muslim man’s name was announced for the terrorist attacks in Spain. My family gets really agitated and worked up each time there is an attack. They don’t want to hear it was a Muslim person yet again who was driving into people, killing at random.

Most of my family and friends are “Cultural Muslims.” They will tell you that they are not terrorists. In fact, this is what I used to go and speak about as a Muslim woman after the 9/11 attacks. The Muslim community sees itself as a peaceful, working class group – just like any other patriotic citizen.  There is a desire to fit into the culture, yet be set apart from it due to the religion and what it entails. This is not an easy thing to do. It’s a fight I had within myself as I grew up Muslim in America.

The freedoms you have in the West do not compare to the oppression from Islamic nations. It’s really easy here to get used to being able to talk freely to everyone (including men), to speak your mind and share opinion without repercussions and to practice your religion – even at work. I enjoyed all these freedoms!

When faced with the media and portrayal of Muslims, I find a broad-brush statement like  “all Muslims are terrorists” or even “all terrorists are Muslims.” The frustration for others comes when Muslims do not stand up and deny that Islam teaches this type of behavior. It’s hard for someone who doesn’t come from this culture to understand what’s going on in the background.

Muslims – even cultural Muslims will not condemn what ISIS is doing because ISIS is indeed going by what the Quran says (see Quran 3:32, 48:29, 5:23, 9:29, 9:73, 9:111, etc). Orthodox Muslims will tell you that ISIS is those who are holding true to the Quran = real, authentic Muslims. In fact, Orthodox Muslims say that the Cultural Muslims are not real Muslims and have denounced them. 

When I was a Muslim and we showed up to the Mosque, I would inevitably get the 20 questions routine (I have blogged about this before). There is a battery of questions asked unashamedly by others. I was usually asked what my name was, my parents’ names, where we were from (city), if I was married, husband’s name (this was a kicker when I was married to an American, but remained a Muslim), if I kept all the fasts for Ramadan, if I prayed 5 times a day, on and on. They weren’t trying to be nosy – they were trying to figure out what kind of a Muslim I was. The reason why they asked is because we were not regulars to the Mosque! Should’ve been obvious we were not Orthodox in our beliefs. The question and answer session usually concluded with the person looking down at me in disdain.

Nevertheless, even the Cultural Muslims will not come out against what another Muslim is doing, especially if they have no clue as to whether or not the Quran supports it (for many have not read the Quran or have only read it in Arabic when it was not their native language). The condemnation only comes from the Orthodox Muslims for the rest of the Muslim world to follow what they are doing. This is not only scary for the Cultural Muslims (because they actually want to live in Western countries and want to work and be “normal”) but also for the rest of the population for the US and Europe. Did you follow that? Orthodox Islam condemns Cultural Muslims for their flimsy, watered-down beliefs. 

There is a definite call to follow Orthodox Islam. Saudi Arabia sets the tone for the rest of the world because it is the heart of Islam and the birthplace of Muhammad. The Muslim world looks to Saudi Arabia for everything from when the moon is in the right phase for the start of Ramadan to dictates that they set (especially Sharia law). In 2007, Saudi Arabia launched an official website for issuing of “Fatwas” (religious decrees and mandates put forth by Islamic scholars on a council, including who was an enemy of Islam).

When I speak publicly about growing up Muslim and becoming a Christian, I get responses like “well, the Muslims I know are nice people and not terrorists.” My response is that my own family is made up of nice people and not terrorists, but that isn’t the point. The point is that to say you are a Muslim, you have to believe 100% of what is in the Quran. You cannot say “I don’t believe in the violent passages of the Quran.” That is not possible. As a Muslim, it’s black or white. Either you believe or you are not a Muslim. This is the choice I was faced with when I started to read the Quran. I didn’t know there were passages about violence against women. I didn’t know that there were passages about violence against non-believers and that they were the enemy of Islam. I didn’t want to believe that. The problem was I could not then say I was a Muslim. I knew either I believed it or I did not.

Here’s just a small sample of what the Muslim Scholars say about a Muslim who doesn’t pray 5 times a day:

If the one who does not pray does not do it because he denies that it is obligatory, even though he is aware that Allah has commanded that prayer be established, then he is a kaafir and an apostate according to the consensus of the ummah. 

If a person does not pray because he denies that it is obligatory out of ignorance on his part that it is obligatory, such as one who is new in Islam, he is not deemed to be a kaafir, but he is to be taught and instructed to pray. 

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (may Allah have mercy on him) said:  The Muslims are unanimously agreed that the one who denies that prayer is obligatory is a kaafir who is to be executed if he does not repent from that kufr. However they differed concerning the one who affirms that it is obligatory but deliberately does not do it even though he is able to.

End quote from al-Istidhkaar, 2/149 

NOTE: Kaafir = Unbeliever (usually used as an offensive word)

The choice I had to make was revealed to me by the Holy Spirit. I was led to a church, where the pastor shared the definition of GRACE with me. He also explained that Jesus was the only one who was sinless and could bridge the gap between us and God, thus giving us assurance of heaven. Muslims do not have assurance. They only have works. Either they do good deeds or they go to the fiery place and burn for an eternity. There is no Savior – it’s all up to you. This is why Jihad is so alluring. Jihad is the only 100% way to get to Paradise (Quran 4:95 & 3:169-170). It’s an act of desperation – of knowing you cannot make it to heaven because you have sinned. You cannot do it on your own, so you drive a van into a crowd.

Christians need to use this opportunity to share the message of Grace with a Muslim -that God offers us His mercy and pardon from sin as a gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23. It’s not what we do, but what Christ does that brings us to a place of peace and restoration with God and thus, with the world. The Muslim world is not our enemy. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” Ephesians 6:12.  How much better would the world be if we realized we are not to hate your enemies but to love them and offer them peace found in Jesus Christ?

A Christian’s Guide to RAMADAN

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I used to dread Ramadan as a Muslim… I knew I was supposed to look forward to it each year, but it was so much better to simply ignore it was coming and that I would be judged by how many fasts (“Roza” in Urdu) I would keep.  On the occasions I would fast, I would sleep all day, get headaches, try to brush my teeth because I couldn’t have water and even passed out from dizziness (I used to pass out all the time growing up).  I wrote another blog about fasting here last year.

All of that was worth the night time activities. Being one who enjoys having people over to our home, the evenings would be a time of celebration (we made it!) and we would feast, play board games and cards and eat full meals again until the wee hours of the morning before sunrise… only to do it all over again.

There was even a joke in our family-if you weren’t fasting and if someone asked you if you were keeping your fast, you should always say “yes, I keep it in my closet.” The bottom line is that for Muslims, keeping a fast is a matter of honor and shame for your family. Muslims will ask you straight up if you are fasting or not to see how pious you are (or not, in my case). There is definitely a sense of pressure from the community. This is not felt so greatly in Pakistan or in the Middle East because everyone there assumes you are fasting – it’s just what you do. During the day, restaurants are open only to foreigners (and even that is limited).  In some Muslim countries, it is a punishable crime to eat and drink in the public during Ramadan and the religious police look for people! Everything shuts down, so the only thing to do for women, especially is to watch long movies and sleep.

For many Christians, Ramadan is a mystery. I hope today to untangle some of those confusing ideas.

  1. Ramadan starts upon the sighting of the crescent moon by Saudi Arabia’s High Judicial Court. The dates always vary of when Ramadan starts due to Islam’s use of a lunar calendar (hence the shape of the moon on all things Muslim).  Fasting is for 30 days.
  2. TODAY, May 27 is the first day of Ramadan for 2017
  3. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the FIVE Pillars of Faith (requisite checklist for all Muslims)
  4. It’s not truly fasting as in the Christian sense of the word (completely abstaining from food and water like Jesus did in the desert (see Matthew 4) for 40 days and nights. Fasting for Ramadan is a flip of night and day. You can eat all you want from sunset to sunrise – you don’t touch food or water (not even a sip, otherwise you break your fast) from sunrise to sunset. It’s embarrassing for a Muslim to gain weight during this time!
  5. Ramadan is a time for prayer. Muslims try to get closer to God. WE CAN HELP!!!
  6. Join a Christian movement called “30 days of Prayer”  http://www.30daysprayer.com/ to pray for the Muslim world to come to the LORD. The website also has a devotional book you can order, as well as e-mail reminders to pray for the Muslims around you.
  7. Women who are pregnant or nursing (or menstruating) cannot fast. They will have to make up their fasts at a later time in order to do their duty as a Muslim. Children and the very elderly do not have to fast. There are also some exemptions made for athletes and those who are traveling.
  8. Some Christians I know want to fast in solidarity with their Muslim friends – you can most definitely do that (=freedom in Christ!), however please note that fasting during Ramadan is complete with religious obligations and rules set forth by Islam. Don’t follow those rules or do something contrary to the beliefs you have in Christ Jesus. These two religions are very, very different! Make it clear why you are fasting so that they don’t get the wrong idea or so that you are not misleading them into believing something else. Be clear about who you follow, that’s all.
  9. We can enter joyfully into a fast and even share the breaking of the fast party with our Muslim friends and neighbors. Let them know that Jesus allowed Christians to fast in Matthew 6:16-17 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”
  10. At the end of Ramadan, all Muslims celebrate Eid — many of my fond memories as a child revolve around us celebrating Eid with so much joy! Eid is scheduled for June 25 this year.

69859_artworks-000076178737-9xpof4-originalMuslims are our neighbors, and Jesus instructed us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mat 22:39) Pray For Muslims in Love. Invite them to your home! 

The Bible says: 15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. ~James 5:15-17

Ethics, Morals & Values

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I remember being in a Bible Study once and a woman who hadn’t done her homework asked me what I had down for some of the answers. I laughingly said “I think it might be double-wrong to cheat on Bible Study homework!” Of course I was just teasing her and that was not a serious statement levied towards her. She was simply asking about some of the questions that were confusing to her about our study.

When I teach Business Ethics, we always begin with clarification of terms. You cannot talk about ETHICS without considering a few other terms: Morals & Values. We don’t talk much about what we value today. There is discussion in the social circles about values, but the discussion tends to be vague. It is even more difficult to have this discussion in the workplace about Business.

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Mintz & Morris “Ethical Obligations & Decision Making in Accounting (2011).”

Ethics are simply defined as what is a Society’s standard of behavior of RIGHT and what is WRONG. MORALS comes from applying those ethics with principles and a framework of VALUES. VALUES are personal beliefs that are chosen or are cultural.

This is so very confusing and gets blurry very quickly! Here’s a way to think about this. We will start backwards. Values are personal. They can include hard work, integrity, honesty, love, servant attitude. It’s personalized and each individual has their own values. You can also have negative values – like valuing money above all else or greed, coveting, etc.

The word “morals” comes from Latin and has the root word “mores (pronounced “more rays”). Mores means societal customs and literally means manners of doing what is right and wrong. Morality becomes “conformity to the rules of right conduct.”

The word “ethics” comes from the Greek word “ethos” which means character. Many times people look at ethics as a moral code that governs the internal decisions of a person and morals as the external code for society. Whatever the case, both are intertwined.

This becomes even more convoluted when you look at ethics, morals and values from a Diversity viewpoint. For example, I did consulting work for a manufacturing company that was having issues with their employees stealing equipment. When I asked what was happening, they told me that they gave each employee a meat cutting knife to use. The employees were stealing these expensive knives ($50+ each) and they kept having to order more. What they didn’t realize is that most of their employees were from another culture where “giving” the knife meant it was theirs to keep. They were simply taking it home and using it in their kitchens. The management did not explain that when they gave the knife, it was to only be used at work. I asked if the employees could possibly take the nice knives home if they promised to bring them back for their shift? They reluctantly said yes, but if the employees did not, they would start fining them. Guess what happened? After a meeting with the employees to discuss the misunderstanding, the knives came back. The rest of the year, they did not have to order any more. This was not “stealing” it was “given.”

So, if ethics is defined as “right or wrong,” how do you make that as a general rule? What is right and what is wrong? If we use Morality, then we use society’s definition of what is right and wrong. Is it wrong to kill people? Most would say yes, it is wrong, yet we have the death sentence and abortion. When is it okay to kill? What about war? What about euthanasia (painless killing of a patient with a terminal disease)? What about suicide? These are very difficult questions that are made even more difficult when you take God out of the picture.

Scripture tells us in Amos 7:7-8 “Thus He showed me, and behold, the Lord was standing by a vertical wall with a plumb line in His hand. 8The LORD said to me, “What do you see,Amos?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,“Behold I am about to put a plumb line In the midst of My people Israel. I will spare them no longer…” There is a plumb line. For those not familiar with this concept, it’s used in building so that things are straight. You attach a heavy weight to the end of a string and suspend it. It gives you a way to measure and make your walls straight. For us, it is a Biblical Standard for being upright or righteous. It is a way to check yourself and make sure you are measuring up to what God has commanded you to do.

In a world that tells you boys are girls and girls are boys OR there is no “boy or girl” designation anymore, it is difficult to determine right and wrong without a standard. What ruler do you use to measure things? How do you even hang up a picture frame in your home without a standard guide? There has to be an external standard by which we measure.

Many young people tell me that right and wrong are relative. What’s right for you might be wrong for me and what’s wrong for me might be right for you. This is a scary statement for me. If it’s wrong for me to kill (thou shalt not murder – Commandment six), and you think that’s okay, then you threaten my life. These are not things that are arbitrary and left up to us (society = people) to decide. These are things that God Almighty gives us as rules. We need to use some sort of a plumb line in our lives. God is our Plumb Line and the true standard. In the verse above, His warning is to “his people.” In  Galatians 5:1,16-18 Paul says that  Jesus died in our place, thus fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law. Christ “took us out of Egypt,” he took us out of slavery and death. Today we, as God’s People,  have a responsibility to acknowledge what God has already done for us through redemption in Christ for our sins by making an effort to live a pure and upright life according to the standards He has set for us. We are not to look like the rest of the world, but to be set apart for His holy use.

Romans 12:2 ~ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

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Muslims in Your Backyard

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Today, I was invited by my friend to attend a talk given by the Religion Department at Oklahoma City University. I welcomed the opportunity to be in the audience, given that I think we should have an open mind to see what the current Muslim conversation and views are in our community. The speakers were all from the University and were intended to present what it’s like to be a Muslim in America today.

Even though I was not speaking or on the panel (= not a Muslim), I had to pray that the Lord keep my mouth shut unless 3 conditions were met. I prayed “Lord, open my mouth only if 1) it glorifies you, 2) it glorifies your Son, and 3) it is wrapped in your love.” So, being equipped with prayer, I set off with my daughter (who had a fever yesterday and is fine today, but could not attend school due to 24 hr rule for fevers). Right when we got there, I realized I did not bring my notepad to take notes. So, digging into my purse, I found my Sephora coupon for a free mascara. After a moment of hesitation (free makeup!), I went ahead and wrote down notes from the speakers.

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Giving my ALL for Jesus!
The first speaker was the Imam from the Greater OKC Mosque. He is the Assistant Professor and Chair in Islamic Studies Religion and hails from Palestine. Just a side note, he is also the Imam for the guy Alton Nolan who beheaded an innocent woman, Colleen Hufford in Moore, Oklahoma. The Imam started off talking about Islamophobia in the US

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Alton Nolen in front of the Greater OKC Mosque
and asked why we couldn’t “coexist.” He cited examples of being harassed at the Muslim Day at the Capitol but nothing specific, other than saying that a Christian man from Kansas (how he knew he was Christian, I’m not sure) told him that he was “the devil.”

The other two speakers were less emphatic. The professor spoke about being victimized and using Muslims as doormats. He made political comments about the current presidency and also how he has been reading MLK Jr’s books about the Civil Rights Movement. He actually went as far as to say “the Civil Rights Movement is applicable now to the Muslim Community.” How? I find that to be a far reach. The African Americans at that time were facing serious oppression – separate bathrooms and eating areas, not being allowed seats on public transportation, etc. That is most definitely NOT what my family has faced as Muslims. He also said something that caught my attention. He said that Muslims needed to call for tolerance… really? Show me at least ONE Muslim nation that is “tolerant.” This is the reason why so many Muslims flock to the West – tolerance is here in the United States. You cannot find tolerance in the Sharia law that governs Muslim nations.

The young student they had on the panel was just darling and sweet in her replies. I told my husband afterwards that she reminded of me as a Muslim, telling everyone how wonderful Islam was. Her opening remarks were that she had not read the Quran and was not familiar with the writings, but she would share her experiences. She said that she had not felt any hate remarks aimed at her, even though she wears a hijab. She made it a big point to stress that she CHOSE to wear a hijab to cover and that no one was forcing her to do so. Her closing comment on Islam however, was naive and mistaken. She said that she wanted everyone to know that “Islam has the root word for peace and whenever we greet one another, we say ‘Salam’ which means peace be on you.” Unequivocally… not true.  If you want to know, here’s an excerpt from the website Answering Islam:

“In order to find the meaning of a certain word in the Arabic dictionary, it is essential to search for the three letter infinitive verb which is called the root. Many words can be derived from the same root, but they don’t necessarily have to have any similarity in their meaning. The word Islam, which means ‘submission’, is derived from the infinitive Salama. So is the word Salam which means ‘peace’ and so is the verb Salima which means ‘to be saved or to escape from danger’. One of the derivations of the infinitive Salama means ‘the stinging of a snake’ or ‘The tanning of the leather’. Hence, if the word Islam has something to do with the word Salam i.e. ‘Peace’, does that also mean that it must be related to the ‘stinging of the snake’ or ‘tanning the leather’?

Muhammad used to send letters to the kings and leaders of the surrounding countries and tribes, inviting them to surrender to his authority and to believe in him as the messenger of Allah. He always ended his letters with the following two words: “Aslim, Taslam!”. Although these two words are derived from the same infinitive Salama which is the root of Salam, i.e. ‘Peace’, neither one of them implies the meaning of ‘peace’. The sentence means ‘surrender and you will be safe’, or in other words, ‘surrender or face death’. So where is the meaning of ‘Peace”In order to find the meaning of a certain word in the Arabic dictionary, it is essential to search for the three letter infinitive verb which is called the root. Many words can be derived from the same root, but they don’t necessarily have to have any similarity in their meaning. The word Islam, which means ‘submission’, is derived from the infinitive Salama. So is the word Salam which means ‘peace’ and so is the verb Salima which means ‘to be saved or to escape from danger’. One of the derivations of the infinitive Salama means ‘the stinging of a snake’ or ‘The tanning of the leather’. Hence, if the word Islam has something to do with the word Salam i.e. ‘Peace’, does that also mean that it must be related t’ in such a religion that threatens to kill other people if they don’t submit to it?”

Pastor Mateen Elass also wrote a great blog on the very topic of Islam not meaning Peace. You can find it here & I encourage you to check it out.

The question and answer session began with the question “All of you have been talking about how peaceful Islam is, but what about the violent passages in the Quran?” The Imam took that question right away and said there were NO passages in the Quran about violence at all! He continued to say that in fact, the Quran does not have words like “kill” or  “kill the Infidels,” “convert or die, ” or even the word “sword.”  The professor on his right picked up this theme from the Imam and said how Jihad was only to indicate a personal struggle and that all the students in his class were Jihadists because they struggled to get good grades. The Imam said that the media had bastardized and perverted what was written in the Quran… after all, it is interpretation that is the issue.

NO, NOT SO. We cannot continue to play the “it’s written only in Arabic, so we cannot truly understand the Quran unless you read it in Arabic.” “Kill” in Arabic pretty much means “kill” in English. This was a hard thing for someone who has been a Muslim as an adult and has read the Quran to swallow. I had to break down and whisper to my friend who invited me and tell her that was a blatant lie. There are over 164 passages in the Quran that are violent and deal with war, jihad (even though the word is not used, the intent to fight infidels is clear), or killing. It is not a story about peace and love… not even close. On average, one out of every six lines is about hell fire and damnation.

There is NO good news for Muslims.

Here is a list of over 109 passages in the Quran from a website called The Religion of Peace. Below is only ONE of these verses where you will find… drum roll please… “Kill, Killing, and Kill again” from Surah Al-Baqara (2:191-2):

وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ ۚ وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ ۚ وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِندَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّىٰ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ ۖ فَإِن قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ جَزَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ

And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.

It’s difficult to sit there and see what is being said in front of you without anyone in the audience to challenge it. Yet I knew that this was not a place for debate and I was so thankful for coming to the place prepared through prayer ahead of time. The woman who asked the question about violence in the Quran left early, so I could not catch up to her to talk – maybe it was not meant to be. The rest of the questions were very politically correct and were in the line of “why can’t we all just get along?”

The message from the Muslim community (including those in my family) is mixed. There are many who do not know what is in the Quran and those who DO know (like the Imam) are choosing to not tell the truth or even a part of the truth.

It is important to know and look things up for yourself. The Quran is available online and all you have to do is to Google “violent passages in the Quran” or something along those lines to see BOTH the Arabic and the English. Please don’t accept things at face value. God gave us a brain and he intends for us to use it. Let’s use our brains to His glory and know what is being said in the media and on this type of a panel.

The end was more of the same. The Imam made an ostentatious claim that we are all under one God. He said “Allah, Eloh, Ilah” are all the same (look up the name Ilah & you will find something totally different!). Again, not true. Allah is only one dimension. Our God as revealed by the Scriptures is YHWH. He exists in three dimensions. Unless you know the relationship of love that exists between God the Father, the redeeming love of Christ Jesus and the breath of the Holy Spirit, you miss the whole picture. Allah is not the God of the Trinity.

There is great confusion and darkness for those who do not know God as revealed in the Scriptures. I pray that the Church will wake up and heed the Great Commission to GO! As one who lived in the US as a Muslim, I was accustomed to the darkness. I blindly believed what the Imams said in the mosque and what my parents told me. When the scales fell from my eyes and I saw the truth of God as revealed in Christ, it was indescribable. There is great freedom and love in Christ Jesus. I just pray that we, as Christians will share the Gospel in love. We need to always be prepared to give a reason for the HOPE we have ~ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… 1 Peter 3:15.

I beg you… Be ready! Be prepared! Give that reason for the hope you have in Christ. DO IT with gentleness and respect. This is what we need to share with Muslims today. Find a Muslim in your own backyard and share the Good News of the Gospel!

HR View on Mike Pence’s Stance on Women

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USA Today photo

Some of you may know that I teach Human Resources (HR) and do Corporate Training. I have taught many courses including  Business Etiquette, Business Ethics, Human Resources regulations and Cultural Diversity. When I do Executive Coaching for Businesses, we discuss not only business related topics but also personal conduct in the workplace.

I try not to watch the news or read the paper. The news bothers me and I find it depressing for the most part. Yet, I find that my friends always fill me in on what’s going on as it relates to my passions. A sweet friend told me on Friday about the media frenzy surrounding Mike Pence following the Billy Graham rule about not being alone with a woman (other than his wife). This was reported first by Laura Turner of the Washington Post article here about Karen Pence and her support of her husband. The description at the start of the article is surprisingly sweet, giving examples of how Mike Pence and his wife support one another and care deeply as a faithful, married couple. It’s towards the middle of the article that raises questions about the current times, stating “But colleagues and employees engage in a relationship between grown-ups who ought to be able to have an appropriate work-related conversation or a meal together” [bold & italics mine]. True, if we all could get along, then maybe people who are grown-ups wouldn’t sue one another or talk about each other behind their backs either. The very next line gets to the heart of the matter “Affairs start in secrecy, and to guard against them is good.” This is why Billy Graham started his rules – so that all he did was out in the open. As an Evangelical Pastor on the global stage, he had to protect himself and guard against things that could be misconstrued by others.

I am shocked at the media backlash this has garnered. Given the amount of lawsuits served up in the HR field, male and female relationships in the workplace are tenuous. For people in higher positions, this can mean being at further risk for workplace lawsuits and also personal lawsuits. For example, I generally advise managers to keep the door ajar when doing performance reviews (good or bad ones – doesn’t matter) so that employees will not charge them with duress or false imprisonment. Before you balk at that, there have been cases where someone of the opposite sex claimed both sexual harassment and also duress during a closed-door performance review. She stated that her male boss made inappropriate comments to her, said that he would raise her ratings for sexual favors and then wouldn’t let her leave because the door was closed (not locked, but simply closed). He denied all accusations, he was well-respected by his staff, but the company settled the case out of court because they did not want to go through the expense of fighting he said/she said in public.

The same holds true for lunch time conversation or long car trips. Why put yourself into that position with someone of the opposite sex? Why not invite someone else to go with you? My recommendation is always this: if you are a female in a position of authority and you want to invite a male to lunch to discuss something, have lunch in the company break room or cafeteria, where others can publicly see you and you are accessible. Do not go to another location outside of work by yourselves. Invite another person to go. This way, if there is an accusation of wrongdoing, at least you have another witness present.

I believe that both Billy Graham and Mike Pence are both correct on this issue, not just from a religious viewpoint that honors and protects their spouse and marriage but also from a secular, business viewpoint. Placing yourself into a situation that can cause doubts and show favoritism can cause tongues to wag in the workplace. This is a great way to invite lawsuits. I’m not the only one with this viewpoint. In a blog  titled “When Genders Matter” by Molly Donovan for The Muse, the same idea is supported. It’s not just a matter of male and female anymore either. The same principle holds true for transgender and LGBT orientation. The person across from you could be another female who may make sexual advances towards you as a female boss. It could be a male employee having lunch with a gay manager who might make inappropriate advances.

In this day and age, it’s good to error on the safe side. Yes, you may offend people when you leave the door slightly open. Yes, you may offend people when you ask for someone else to join you on the one hour drive to the client meeting. However, at the end of the day, you may find that it’s a bit easier to sleep at night knowing that you are not crossing the lines or sending out messages that could be misinterpreted by others.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and profound insight, 10 so that you can discern what best, that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.… Philippians 1:9-11

As Christians, we are held to a higher standard by God. We are to look towards Christ and not allow ourselves to be placed in situations that may mar our witness. May we choose to err on the side of caution and use the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment to conduct ourselves in a way that’s stated in Philippians 4:8 ~ “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ”

Think about how the world will perceive you when you go out for lunch or go for drinks with that ONE female employee after work. Think about what that does to your reputation (man or woman) in the workplace. Think most of all about what message that is sending out about you as a child of God. Mike Pence is suffering from media backlash, but from the examples given about his daily choice to not be alone with women, his witness as a Christian man is to be blameless in his interactions with others. May we all strive to focus on what God wants and not what the world wants. Amen.