MUSLIM supermarket checkout staff who refuse to sell alcohol are being allowed to opt out of handling customers' bottles and cans of drink. Islamic workers at Sainsbury's who object to alcohol on religious grounds are told to raise their hands when encountering any drink at their till so that a colleague can temporarily take their place or scan items for them. Other staff have refused to work stacking shelves with wine, beer and spirits and have been found alternative roles in the company. Sainsbury's said this weekend it was keen to accommodate the religious beliefs of all staff but some Islamic scholars condemned the practice, saying Muslims who refused to sell alcohol were reneging on their agreements with the store. Islam states that Muslims should not consume alcohol, but opinion is divided on whether it is permissible to be involved in the sale of it. Mustapha, a Muslim checkout worker at the company's store in Swiss Cottage, northwest London, interrupts his work to ensure that he does not have to sell or handle alcohol. Each time a bottle or can of alcohol comes along the conveyor belt in front of him, Mustapha either swaps places discreetly with a neighbouring attendant or raises his hand so that another member of staff can come over and pass the offending items in front of the scanner before he resumes work. Some of the staff delegated to handle the drink for Mustapha are themselves obviously Muslim, including women in hijab head coverings. However, a staff member at the store told a reporter that two other employees had asked to be given alternative duties after objecting to stacking drinks shelves. Mustapha told one customer: "I can't sell the alcohol because of my religion. It is Ramadan at the moment." His customers did not appear to have any objection to his polite refusal to work with alcohol. One said: "I have no issues with it at all, it really doesn't bother me." However, some senior Muslims were less approving. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Institute and leader of the Muslim parliament, said: "This is some kind of overenthusiasm. One expects professional behaviour from people working in a professional capacity and this shows a lack of maturity. "Sainsbury's is being very good, they are trying to accommodate the wishes of their employees and we commend that. The fault lies with the employee who is exploiting and misusing their goodwill. It makes no difference if it is only happening over Ramadan." Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the inter-faith committee of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said: "Muslim employees should look at the allowances within Muslim law to enable them to be better operating employees and not be seen as rather difficult to cater for." A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's, confirming Mustapha's stance, said: "At the application stage we ask the relevant questions regarding any issues about handling different products and where we can we will try and accommodate any requirements people have, but it depends on the needs of the particular store."
Source: Times Online (English), h/t Nieuw Religieus Peil (Dutch)