Storm in a tea cup

Much ado about nothing, I say. Before we can draw our team brief to a close this morning at work we have to cover preparations for Christmas Dinner. It’s all going swimmingly until the organiser thinks she should inform us of a problem. Apparently a certain employee upstairs cannot attend because it has been booked in a pub and her beliefs stop her from going to pubs. She’s a Muslim. That causes a few raised eyebrows and laughter. Someone points out that if it was a restaurant, they’d still be serving alcohol.

I start sinking in my seat, burying my eyes in the table top. The organiser adds, actually the lady in question wasn’t bothered too much, that it was another member of staff who was worried about it on her behalf. Who’s attended Equality and Diversity training, asks our Director, what should we do? My Manager starts saying that we should have thought about this. Yes, they agree, but now what are we going to do about the lady upstairs? Will we have to cancel our booking and arrange something else? I could easily say something – suggest that I’m sure she’s not even bothered about it – but I’m staying out of this one.

Except I’m not going to be allowed to let this pass me by; I’m about to be outed. We should have thought about this from the start, says my Manager, she’s not the only person in the organisation who wouldn’t be able to attend for that reason. There are at least two people affected. Who, asks the organiser, you don’t mean X (the Indian woman upstairs)? My time has come. I think she means me, I say, and all eyes are on me, a look of horror on six of the faces. Tim’s a Muslim, my Manager tells them.

Faces are red. It probably wasn’t the best timing; after the words exchanged moments earlier. Never mind, my Manager’s brought me in. So yes, I tell them, it’s true, I am a Muslim. Personally, I tell them, I wouldn’t go to the pub either, which is why I excused myself from attending. I don’t expect them to change their plans on my behalf. I appeal to the memory of my Methodist grandfather who similarly excused himself from alcoholic gatherings. I explain that the lady upstairs probably isn’t worried about the matter at all and wouldn’t expect anything to be rearranged. I point out that last year’s storm about a council allegedly banning the word Christmas in case it offended Muslims had absolutely nothing to do with Muslims, but was the product of some well-meaning official. And I say, yes perhaps my faith has implications for them when it comes to organising social functions, but I am not guilty of keeping a secret any more than they are; none of them had told me they were atheist, Catholic or whatever.

After the meeting my Manager sends me a one line email:

Tim, I didn’t mean to embarrass you in the team meeting. Sorry if I did.

I tell her not to worry about it, but I send an email of my own to my immediate colleagues, my Director and the organiser of the Christmas Dinner.

Dear all,

A clarification on today’s revelation during team brief… It is indeed the case that I am a practising Muslim – as I have been for about a decade. This was a personal choice, following a period of searching prompted by the discomfort of being the only agnostic in a very religious family – both my parents are Anglican priests.

I really don’t have a problem with people knowing that I am Muslim, but I did make a conscious choice when I started this job not to publicise it widely given the prevailing political climate. I am sure it won’t have escaped your attention that my religion has been receiving a lot of negative attention over the past few years, particularly after the massacre on the London transport system in 2005. Having experienced colleagues making wild assumptions about me because of my beliefs in past roles, I felt that silence was the best option. Thus I disappear off at lunchtime to do my prayers and make excuses for not coming to the pub with you.

I do not expect you to make alternative arrangements on my behalf. Generally I do not sit where alcohol is being consumed – partly for reasons other than religion – which I guess is rather an anathema at Christmas time. But don’t worry about it. At the end of Ramadan, I had a lovely Eid celebration – I don’t feel I’m missing out. Others may feel differently, but that’s my personal take. If in doubt, talk to the people concerned – whether it is someone with health issues or specific cultural needs.

Apologies to anyone who thinks I should have been more open about my beliefs – but you know the English way; we tend not to broadcast our beliefs. Hence I never knew that David is a Jedi Knight.



Almost straight away, my director responds.

Tim, I apologise if you were put in an embarrassing position this morning. As a PCT I hope we are sensitive to everyone’s beliefs. Sometimes it is difficult to think of everything so I was appreciative of your understanding. Please don’t hesitate to come and see me if there is anything you want to talk about.

The organiser of the Christmas Dinner writes to me to say she’s sorry I won’t be attending, but now she understands why. Meanwhile, my colleague writes:

Good clarification, thanks Tim. And there’s nothing wrong with being a Jedi Knight! It is an official religion on a number of planets I visit as an ET Technical Projects Manager, including:

As for the conversation which sparked gale force winds in our best china: a colleague of the lady in question casually mentioned it in passing that she would have liked her to be there for Christmas Dinner. The individual organising the dinner became very worried after this, even though the lady explained several times that she did not celebrate Christmas and did not feel left out at all. Having explained that she did not want any plans changed on her behalf, she left it at that. She tells me, “It’s all a storm in a tea cup.”

13 thoughts on “Storm in a tea cup

  1. The festivities in my family involve attending the Christingle service, the Christmas eve service at midnight and the morning service on Christmas day, usually with one or both of my parents overseeing the proceedings, followed by Christmas lunch, the Queen’s speech and then everyone falling asleep. I did join my family for Christmas lunch a few years ago – I took my own cooked halal chicken with me. Last year I think I got them presents – I think I bought them goats through Oxfam Unwrapped. Or maybe I meant to, but didn’t. Don’t recall.


  2. Dear Tim,I am very delighted that I quite accidentally happened to visit your inspiring blog and find it one of the best, as I can picture a beautiful soul behind it. I enjoyed your little storm in a tea cup, particularly the judicious way a Muslim may handle such social issues as the one you faced at work. I’ll check your blog more often insha’Allah soon. Please carry on the beautiful lead!safa


  3. I’m sure you can get them an rganic table bird for them this year. Ask your neighbour, Abdal Adheem, and he can put you in touch with a farm near Oxford.


  4. Asalaamu alaikum.AlhamdulAllah that you work for such an understanding company, and you handled it in a way that the rest of us could learn from. Unfortunately, my experience in the U.S.A. has been that simply bowing out of the festivities does not go over well, no matter how politely one tries to do so. In fact, I was threatened with being fired from one job for saying I could not attend the Christmas gathering that was being held in a bar.I do attend family gatherings, and often I do bring gifts as well. I think there is a big difference (not trying to justify here, just stating an opinion) between the way we may feel compelled to compromise with family versus how we should have to compromise with our work. The fact is, in my case, I don’t particularly care to socialize outside of work with all of my colleagues in any case. And I don’t socialize where alcohol is served, including those restraunts that serve it or in homes of my bosses/colleagues who may serve it. This is partially due to religious practice, and partially due to other personal reasons. My mother no longer even keeps alcohol in the house (nor does she serve pork when we will be attending) out of respect for the needs of my husband and I when we visit, but this isn’t something I expect of her. The question, for many of us in the U.S.A. becomes “does your company have the legal right to mandate your involvement in such activities as part of your job?”. The answer is actually no, they don’t, so anyone has the legal right to say they will not attend and legally they are not required to give reasons, religious or otherwise. But many people don’t realize this and many companies are very threatening on the matter. Sadly, many companies would be more understanding of someone who said they couldn’t come because they need to stay home with their kids or have another committment, but they go crazy at the idea that a Muslim should have the same right to abstain.


  5. AHNasrBasher: interesting suggestion, but I’ll have to pass on that one as I’ll be in Mecca, insha Allah.


  6. Oh well, then do remember us in your dua(hajj?}. I take it that you know Abdal Adheem and Malik, who’s of Polish extraction. BTW there is a study circle in Wembley led by a swahili speaker. You and your wife might wish to come. If you do then give me your email and I’ll pass it on to the lady who organises it. You may already know some of the people.


  7. I only know very basic Swahili – the kinds of thing you pick up in a month or two. As for the folk you mention, yes I know them both. Malik lives on the other side of my hill. How do you know where I live? Did I mention it? And do I know you? Forgive me – no good with names.


  8. you mentioned the River Chesh in a post. I don’t think we’ve met, unless it was at Sidi Abdal Adheem’s house or you came to Tamer Hogg’s wedding. If you are free today, you might wish to go to the circle I mentioned. Don’t worry it’s not in swahili!


  9. Karibu! My name is Mushtaq and I live in Camridge. Unfortunately, I’ve lost Malik’s contact details again!


  10. Salaam Alakium,Thanks for sharing your experiences. It sounds like you work for a nice company. I’ve had fellow students go out of their way to rearrange a project meeting when it was going to be held in a pub. I told them I didn’t feel comfortable, and they quickly changed it for me, which I greatly appreciated.Alhumdulilah you appear to be employed by a nice company and inshallah Allah will bless you always in this company.


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