When I had a Dell - I used to pray all the time - it was the worst computer, with the worst support


Work or pray.

Faced with that difficult decision, Abdi H. Nuur removed his employee badge and walked away last month from his forklift driver's job at Dell Computer's Nashville plant. He and 29 other Somali Muslims say they were forced to choose between their faith and their employment.

Now the Metro Human Relations Commission is trying to intervene in a confrontation that pits American-style production quotas against Islam's requirement that its adherents pray daily when the sun sets.

''They told us that we cannot pray at sunset,'' Nuur said. ''They told us that we would have to wait for our break.''

He said he explained that while some of Islam's five daily prayer times are somewhat flexible, the sunset prayer is not. Nor does the sun set at the same time every day.

Big employers in the Nashville area have responded in drastically different ways to their Muslim employees' requests to slip away from their workstations for about five minutes to pray.

For example, Whirlpool Corp. chose last year to take a similar dispute before a federal jury, which agreed with the company that the employees' sunset-prayer request created an undue hardship on the La Vergne plant's production schedule.

According to leaders of Nashville's Somali community, Dell has been one of several area employers with strong histories of accommodating Muslim workers.

But that arrangement apparently came to an abrupt halt in February, with the firing of 30 workers. They were employed by Spherion, a labor agency that provides workers for Dell's Nashville operations, according to David Perez, the compliance officer for the Metro Human Relations Commission.

A Dell spokesman declined to comment about the cases