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Muslim ride-share drivers share the challenges of praying during Ramadan

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Since Ramadan began in March, Ahmed Mohamed said he drives a little more than a mile from an Uber and Lyft parking lot near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the Abubakar Islamic Center in Tukwila to shower before his daily prayers. But, he does not stay in the mosque to offer prayers.

Instead, he quickly returns to the ride-hail hub to join two dozen other drivers as they arrange their prayer rugs in the corner of the parking lot to begin afternoon prayer. Mohammed and the driver choose to pray on the blacktop to avoid losing their place in the long queue for Uber – a designated waiting area where drivers must stop to receive ride requests from airport passengers. If drivers leave the queue area, they have to wait for two to three hours before receiving a ride request from Sea-Tac.

“When you are facing God, you want to be clean,” said Mohammed of the mandatory washing ritual known as wudu, which cleanses bodily impurities and shows respect. “For us to have a place where we can wash and clean ourselves will be a great relief.”

Drivers said temporary restrooms in packed lots emit a foul smell, and hand-washing stations often run out of supply from constant use. Using dirty water and being near bodily waste can invalidate the ritual. Ramadan is one of the holiest months of the year for Muslims. Lasting till April 21 this year, the month is marked by abstinence from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, as well as prayer, spiritual introspection, giving to others and spending time with loved ones.

Although driving for Uber and Lyft could allow workers to have flexible schedules as independent contractors, many Muslim drivers said the decision to pray daily and during Ramadan could come with a price tag. When Mohammed skips the airport line, he risks losing all or half of his daily earnings, resulting in a potential loss of between $800 and $1,000 a week for his family.

These challenges bring additional stress to workers and can make it difficult for them to observe Ramadan, said Mohammad Adan, a representative of the Drivers Union Advocacy Group, which represents app-based drivers. Union spokeswoman Kerry Harwin said the group estimates that more than half the drivers are Muslim.

Aden said, “It puts the believer in a very difficult spot because you have to choose between God and your bread.” “It is a very important time for Muslims, and if it is disrupted… they really lose this momentum and opportunity. And then it can also cause psychological pain.”

Although federal employment non-discrimination laws do not protect independent contractors, state laws may. have independent contractors anti discrimination protection belongs to the organization that contracts them under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, a law that protects people from unfair practices in employment, real estate and credit, among other public accommodations. Meanwhile, under federal and state laws, employers must grant reasonable requests for accommodation as long as it would not cause an undue hardship to the company. This may include not scheduling Jewish and Christian workers during the Sabbath, or allowing people to pray during their workday. Employee should wear religious clothes Like hijab or turban.

Because of these struggles, for-hire drivers and activists are pushing the ride-hailing corporation and the Port of Seattle to build prayer rooms at ride-hail parking lots. For drivers like Mohamed, observing the traditions of Ramadan can conflict with the demands of attracting customers and making a profit per trip in an increasingly competitive industry.

“If you are worried about making money, it will disturb your Ramadan rituals,” said Mohammed, who anxiously drives to the mosque to wash. “By the time you come back, you have to wait two to three more hours to get a ride. Even if it means making sacrifices and losing a spot for me – I have to do it.

“But deep inside, it hurts me,” he said. “Because I don’t have [resources] To do the things I wanted to do.

Observers eat before dawn and then break their fast with iftar, the evening meal, throughout the month before the holiday ends with the Eid al-Fitr celebration. For Mohammed, that means breaking the fast in the parking lot instead of at home with his family.

“If I don’t make enough money that day, sometimes I’m forced to do it,” said Mohamed, who has driven for Uber since 2015 and is active in a drivers’ union advocacy group. “I eat a date or two and drink water in my car. When I earn enough money, I can go home and eat something. It’s hard for me, and it’s with every driver.”

Some drivers who spoke to The Seattle Times said they are so worried about losing their place in the queue that they use water bottles to clean themselves there, or they use water bottles to save their place in the queue. Leave your phone with a friend when they depart to use the bathroom outside the lot. Uber driver Abdirahman Ali echoed the sentiment that having access to proper facilities would ease these concerns.

“It means a lot not only to me but also to the other drivers,” said Ali. “When they come to work, they don’t have to close the app and find a place to pray.”

A spokeswoman for Uber and Lyft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Working near the airport is generally more profitable for ride-hail drivers than in other areas of Seattle and surrounding cities, said Mohamed, who estimated he made at least $35 to $45 per ride at the airport. Ride earned. In other areas of Seattle, he said he can sit in his car for hours for some $5 trips.

According to Imran Siddiqui, executive director of CAIR’s Washington chapter, obtaining religious accommodation at work can be especially difficult for Muslims with hourly or blue-collar jobs. Siddiqui said this is often due to socio-economic disparities. As of 2020, there were at least 125,000 Muslims living in Washington state, most of them in King County, according to estimates by the nonprofit.

“They haven’t been given this level of leeway or understanding,” Siddiqui said.

The commission said representatives of the Port of Seattle, the agency that manages the Uber and Lyft parking lots, and the airport approved a project in February will upgrade a lot with this permanent toilet, but shall not include a sheltered place of prayer. Port of Seattle Commissioner Hamdi Mohammed said the agency is exploring options to build a meditation room on site as well as identifying locations at offsite locations.

Mohammed started driving Uber eight years ago to support his three sons and wife. He said that driving with Uber allowed him to teach his sons soccer and swimming. For Mohammed, having access to a place to pray, especially during Ramadan, would make him feel more appreciated on the job.

“Ramadan is a very spiritual month for us, and we don’t want anyone to go through their rituals in sadness,” Mohammed said. “We are here to serve people and to make sure that people reach their destination… But at the same time, there are certain things that we need to function well as a human being.”