A Muslim Girl’s Experience As A Software Engineer In The US

Apparently, I have been a practicing Muslim. The one who prays their 5-time prayers, who covers her head and try to dress modestly, who doesn’t shake hands with men other than her closest relatives, who doesn’t eat pork, who doesn’t eat meat of any animal not slaughtered according to Islamic laws, who doesn’t drink and who doesn’t attend any gathering where alcohol is served.

Please please don’t think that a practising Muslim is the one who ONLY has the qualities mentioned above. I’ve mentioned ONLY the things that differentiate a Muslim from others in general, because this article is not meant to discuss all beliefs, practices, moral values required to be a Muslim

Anyway, so as a Muslim, of course I’m asked if I have faced any discrimination at work or elsewhere. So, I decided to write my experience of 2.5 years as a practicing female Muslim professional. This is only MY experience. I’m only sharing what I’ve seen and situation in general, could be totally the opposite. So, please don’t base your judgment on this post only.

Interview Awkwardness

In summer of 2012, I had applied to a company that builds software for state workforce agencies. Cleared a screening test and got called for an interview. The person who came first was my to-be manager. The first thing that I had to do was apologize, bow a little and tell him nicely that I don’t shake hands with men. 3 people were going to interview. Then came the next guy who was a Software Architect, this time it was a little more awkward because I bowed a lil and said I’m sorry but when I looked up, he still had his hand extended. It was so embarrassing, probably he didn’t understand or heard me. I had to say that again explicitly that I don’t shake hands with men. But, to this day, I really appreciate that guy for not letting that initial awkwardness get in the way of the actual interview. Thank God the 3rd guy, Senior Software Engineer, was probably told about it already and I took a sigh of relief!

I was very satisfied with how the interview went with respect to the questions asked. And, with the way they accepted my reservation about hand shakes, and carried on the interview, I had no doubt that they would reject me just for not shaking hands. And, Alhamdolillah, I did get that job.

I related this interview incident just so that if somebody fears that they may be rejected just for not shaking hands with the interviewer, then don’t fear, it doesn’t happen ALWAYS. And, if Allah wills, you will get the job. I know it’s not as easy when somebody’s desperate for a job. But do put the trust in Allah and see how it goes.

First Team Meeting Awkwardness

Okay, so I got that job and on my first day at work, there was a meeting of all Software Engineers, the regular weekly team meeting. There were about 10 engineers. So, when my manager introduced me, one of the engineers sitting in the front, extended his hand, and of course, I had to say I’m so sorry I don’t shake hands with men. And, that guy said, oh don’t worry, I have worked in Saudi Arabia and I understand that. And then my manager told me that you don’t have to be sorry and told the team so nobody does it. That ended well.

Asking Manager for Reserving a Meeting Room for Prayers

When at that new place, I asked my manager if I can reserve a meeting room for 15 minutes or so for noon prayers. He not only said yes to that but also told me that “if all meeting rooms are busy, you can message me and pray in my room while I go grab snack or something”. Even though, I never had to ask him to pray in his room but that small gesture meant a lot to me. And, I won’t forget the kindness.

Meeting with the Vice President

This was probably one of the worst ones in terms of the level of awkwardness, even though only 5-6 people were there, but that included the COO, and other top managers. And VP was going to present, so he was standing and he was meeting me for the first time, so, he introduced himself and extended his hand for handshake. That was the most awkward handshake offer that I had to refuse. Felt weird for days, but that gave me the confidence to face even weirder situations.

Dress Code

I wore a black knee length loose coat everyday with a different head covering and no one ever had a problem with that. I remember tutoring Math at a center run by an Indian and after a month or so, I was politely asked if I could wear something other than that black coat. So, nobody interfering with my dress code for 2.5 years was very important to me.

Discrimination, In General

0% discrimination if you ask me. Thankfully I have not experienced any discrimination ever because of being a Muslim. I have to admit, I worked with some very kind people. May everybody find such great colleagues to work with, so you look forward to work everyday.