Practicing Islam on Wall Street

A recent New York Times article explored the ways in which American Muslims working in the financial sector reconcile their faith with Wall Street’s culture. It took a thoughtful look at the obstacles that American Muslims face daily, many of which are not limited to the financial sector. For instance, employees spoke of finding time to pray, avoiding physical contact with opposite sex co-workers, and the discomfort and fatigue that comes along with observing fasts during the workday while surrounded by colleagues going about their normal routine.

However, Wall Street poses some unique problems for American Muslims. The biggest obstacle facing American Muslims in banking is that the Koran, by some interpretations, prohibits the collection of interest, which has sparked a subgenre of Sharia-compliant financial transactions. The article does an excellent job of illustrating the diverse ways that American Muslims interpret their beliefs, stretch their boundaries, and create personal boundaries of their own.

Particularly striking is the success and growth of the Muslim Urban Professionals, nicknamed “Muppies,” which started as a Google group of about 50 people and has grown to about 1,000 members globally. “Muppies” is dedicated to building Muslim professional leaders and provides support for American Muslims looking to succeed without having to compromise Muslim values.

For instance, American Muslims often have questions about how to avoid “boozy” business meetings and social events – as Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol. Some American Muslims advise members to leave events where alcohol is served, while others say that being around alcohol is sometimes O.K. Ultimately, that decision is up to the individual’s personal beliefs and practices– but the group allows American Muslim professionals to share their experiences, give advice, and learn from each other.

American Muslims on Wall Street is a particularly interesting topic because of the ways in which Islamic tenets directly oppose the stereotypically alcohol-friendly and interest-hungry finance sector. But the most important take-away from this article is the diversity of responses from American Muslims. No two American Muslims will make identical decisions about their approach to faith – just as no two atheists, conservative Christians, or Buddhists would respond identically to a religious issue in a workplace.

Though Wall Street certainly has a reputation for being dominated by white males, banking is seeing (and embracing) an increase in diversity, just like many other industries. And as we see religious diversity increase, it’s important to communicate respectfully, ask questions about colleagues’ faith out of genuine curiosity, and encourage Diversity & Inclusion programs to learn from groups like “Muppies” that can act as a resource to diverse and valuable professionals.

Annie Levers
Program Assistant, Workplace