Photo Credit: Ben Schumin
Bearded man praying on Pennsylvania Avenue, March 19, 2011.

Three Mount Sinai Hospital Muslim maintenance on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against their employer in Manhattan Supreme Court for forcing them to prune their beards in order to pass “fit testing” for N95 facemasks, the NY Post reported (Muslim workers forced to trim beards at Mount Sinai Hospital for masks: suit).

The suit claims that Orthodox Jews working for Mount Sinai were “able to maintain a beard and were not were not similarly required to pass an N95 fit test.”

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According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), when surgical N95 respirators are necessary to protect employees, employers must implement a formal, comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with Cal/OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (5144) and Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) Standard (5199).

The Muslim plaintiffs allege that a Mount Sinai HR official named Jeffrey Cohen forced Muslim men to provide get a letter from their religious guide proving they are devout and therefore long beards to comply with their “sincerely held” beliefs.

Raashid ul Nabi wrote in Brighter Kashmir in September 2020 (Keeping Beard is Mandatory in Islam) that Keeping beard is Wajib (mandatory) for all men. “Shaving beard is clearly violation of Islamic principles,” he argued. “Firstly, it is the disobedience to Allah. Secondly, it is also disobedience to the messenger of Allah.”

“There are various hadiths which prove that growing beard is mandatory for all men. ‘Trim the moustache and leave the beard’ (Al Bukhari and Muslim). […] The Holy Prophet Muhammad used to have large beard, we as Muslims should imitate him in his practices. Quran says that, ‘In the messenger of Allah is good example for you to follow,’” he recommends.

He also wrote that “to shave the beard off completely is the practice of the Jews of India and the fire-worshipers.”

Now there’s a hot combo…

HR official Cohen is named as a defendant, and the plaintiffs claim he said that “religion is one of those things that if you look you can find an opinion that meets your expectations.” He’s not wrong, of course, but it’s just possible that he could have prevented the lawsuit with a little more honey and a whole lot less arrogance.

The suit alleges religious discrimination in violation of State and City Human Rights Law, and cites Cohen’s “failure to engage in a cooperative dialogue.”

“No explanation was given as to why the fit testing requirement was suddenly being enforced after almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and over six months after Mount Sinai Hospital System created a policy against allowing the use of the religious exemption for facial hair on the basis that it ‘obtained special dispensations from religious organizations,’” the suit charges.

A Mount Sinai spokesperson said on Wednesday: “Our policies protect our healthcare workers and our patients, and we will vigorously defend ourselves in court.”

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.