Excerpt:

Fatuma Hassan has just enough rice in her near-empty cupboards to make it through the month. The anger she felt when she lost her job in May has given way to a dull, nagging hunger.

Yet this soft-spoken 22-year-old became an unlikely hero within the Somali community when she and five of her Muslim co-workers were dismissed last month from the Mission Foods tortilla factory in New Brighton for refusing to wear a new company uniform -- a shirt and pants -- they consider a violation of their Islamic beliefs.

"For me, wearing pants is the same as being naked," Hassan said, noting the prophet Mohammed taught that men and women should not dress alike. "My culture, my religious beliefs, are more important than a uniform."

Over the past century, Minnesota has seen waves of immigrants from Germany, Sweden, Norway and Laos, among other nations, and each group managed to move up the ladder of prosperity despite some initial doubts about their ability to integrate.

Yet nearly two decades after a violent civil war brought thousands of Somali refugees to the Twin Cities, their integration in the U.S. workplace is becoming more contentious.

Their insistence on maintaining Muslim traditions, including prayer times and modest clothing, have led to firings at several manufacturers across the state and a sharp increase in religious discrimination complaints.


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