Author: Kamil Ahmed
Starting this week, millions of Muslims around the world will observe the holy month of Ramadan which involves fasting during the daytime and engaging with religious activities for 30 days. Many will be doing this alongside their jobs.
Ramadan 2021 will commence on April 13th and will end on May 12th in North America. Those observing the holy month will begin their days with a morning meal before dawn, around 4am. Each day, Muslims will refrain from food and water (yes – no water either) until dusk, when they will break their fast around 8pm. Ramadan in the summer means a 17 hour fast everyday, for 30 days.
Ramadan has long been cited as a community activity with social gathering and sharing as fundamental components of the holy month. This year, Muslims all over the globe will navigate Ramadan under lockdown and social distancing measures. This means Muslim employees and colleagues may be dealing with the compounding effects of social isolation and personal exertion. Now more than ever, the support of managers and senior leadership is of vital importance.
HR practitioners, managers and other stakeholders need to demonstrate an awareness of the personal and religious sensitivities of their employees. Understanding the Muslim experience and making relevant accommodations showcases good management and enables individuals to perform well. Acknowledging diverse needs and accommodating them through policies builds mutual trust and can improve employee retention, morale and company culture.
Best practices around addressing Ramadan in the workplace do exist. We put together a guide to help you support employees observing Ramadan. Our guide is actionable, but general in nature. Similar to other religions, Islam looks different across cultures, generations and interpretations. A great rule of thumb is to ask.
What is Ramadan?
The word ‘Ramadan’ refers to the name of the ninth month in the Islamic Calendar – the holiest month. The Islamic calendar is calculated according to lunar cycles which means Ramadan begins with the sighting of a new moon. Therefore, the start and finish dates of the month change year to year, typically backtracking 10 days every year.
Currently, Ramadan in North America arrives during the long days of summer but in a decade or so, Muslims will be fasting shorter days in the winter months.
What do Muslims do in Ramadan?
Although fasting is typically the first association made with Ramadan, the month demands much more than that. From extra prayers to late nights and an elevated emphasis on patience and control, Ramadan is about discipline and the improvement of self.
While fasting itself involves staying away from food, water, smoking and chewing gum etc., there are also actions that are considered impermissible while fasting. Muslims try and stay away from lying, swearing, gossiping, greed and interpersonal conflict.
Muslims break their fast at sunset with a meal called iftar and it is common practice to begin with water and dates. After sunset, there are no limitations on food and drink.
Many Muslims will also spend much of their evenings engaging in additional prayers called taraweeh that would typically be performed in congregation at a mosque. Instead, Muslims will be tuning in to live broadcasts of prayers and participating from their prayer mats at home.
On the day after the last fast, Muslims celebrate Eid ul Fitr – the biggest celebration of the year. There is often some uncertainty around the day of Eid as it too depends on the lunar cycle. This will affect when an employee needs time off and when they can notify you. Be prepared for your Muslim employees to not always know the exact date of Eid.
- Ask your Muslim employees and colleagues if they will be observing Ramadan. Some people such as pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses are exempt from fasting and so may not be taking part. Others may be making a personal choice. They will not mind if you ask and will most likely appreciate your initiative.
- Acknowledge Ramadan and make sure that all staff that work with Muslim colleagues are knowledgeable of the month and what it entails to facilitate understanding and respect. Feel free to use the design ideas below to virtually communicate the arrival of Ramadan.
- Ask your Muslim employees who will be fasting if they could benefit from any changes in parts of their work to make the month easier on them. Some may request changing their working day or work hours to take no formal breaks or perhaps finish in time to break their fast. Being flexible may enable individuals to work when they are most productive.
- Continue to host virtual meetings and standups if you have implemented them. If not, check out our Work from home tips. If you have implemented coffee breaks or other virtual spaces that revolve around food or drink, consider altering these for the month. Instead, you can ask employees to bring their pets to the meeting or wear a silly hat.
- Understand that some workers may have additional religious commitments during Ramadan. For many, it will be especially important to perform the five daily prayers on time some of which may overlap with scheduled meetings.
- Plan ahead for individuals to take between 1-3 days off to celebrate Eid at the end of Ramadan. Eid bears a significance to Muslims similar to that of Christmas. Even though they may be working from home and tempted to check in with work, encourage them to spend this time with loved ones.
- Leverage Ramadan as an opportunity to foster greater understanding between team members and elevate team dynamics. You could even host a virtual iftar one evening and encourage team members, especially your Muslim ones to share their values and traditions with their colleagues.
- Assume that fasting will interfere with work-related tasks. While your Muslim employees and colleagues may lack energy during the day at times, they will be okay. Motivating words can go a long way here.
- Assume that what one Muslim expressed to you will stand true for all Muslims you meet.
- Act so surprised to hear that Muslims refrain from water as well as food. Don’t tell them that they may die from dehydration – this is probably not their first time fasting.
- Suggest loopholes around fasting. While your intentions may be pure, this can quickly make things uncomfortable. Your Muslim colleague(s) and/or employee(s) know what they are doing.
- Call out a Muslim employee or colleague during a meeting/chat channel for not being as energetic or engaged as usual. If you are really concerned, feel free to reach out individually.
Lunaria wishes all Muslims, Ramadan Mubarak.