Is It O.K. to Fire a Muslim Driver for Refusing to Carry Wine?

Source: The New York Times

I hired a limo service to drive me to a dinner party at a friend’s house. On the way, I remembered that I was supposed to bring the wine. I spotted a shop and asked the driver to pull over. When we arrived at my friend’s house, I asked the driver if he would help me carry the wine, because I had another bag to carry. He refused, on the grounds that he was a Muslim and was not allowed to touch alcohol. So of course, I carried the wine myself. The next day, I called the owner of the limo service — a close friend of mine who is also an observant Muslim — to apologize for my insensitivity and any awkwardness my request might have caused. He expressed surprise and then outrage at his driver’s behavior. A few days later, my friend told me that he had fired the driver. ‘‘When you are a driver,’’ my friend said, ‘‘you are not a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew — you are a driver, and your job is to deliver service. You didn’t ask him to drink the wine; you asked him to help you carry it into the house. He’s done.’’ I still feel guilty that this man was fired. Help me think the ethics of this through. Name Withheld

First, let’s establish a few points. Muslims, like everyone else, take their ethical guidance from more than one source. The Quran, it’s true, doesn’t explicitly say you can’t carry wine, but there’s a well-regarded hadith — from the canonical body of traditions surrounding the life of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions — that records Muhammad condemning not just drinking wine but also making it, buying or selling it and carrying it. Many Muslims, accordingly, think it is wrong to carry wine, even if it’s not for their own consumption.

Should it matter that the driver’s objection was religious rather than personal in nature? Well, yes. Liberalism — by which I mean civil liberties, civil rights, tolerance and pluralism: the small-L ‘‘liberalism’’ in ‘‘liberal democracy’’ — emerged from centuries of religious warfare in Europe. Before anything else, it’s a modus vivendi: an arrangement that allows different people to live together in peace. In our multi­religious society, we should make reasonable accommodations for the religious scruples of others. (I’m assuming that the driver’s job description includes providing assistance with packages.) Reasonable accommodation makes cohabitation possible; and, practical considerations aside, it enshrines the value of respect.

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