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Ramadan - Why are your Muslim colleagues are fasting and how can you support them?

Ramadan - Why are your Muslim colleagues are fasting and how can you support them?

For those of us working in multicultural environments, it’s fair to say that our colleagues may occasionally observe traditions with which we aren’t familiar. Ramadan is one such occasion.

In the same way that non Muslims may avoid asking questions for fear of intrusion, Muslims may equally avoid going into too much detail about Ramadan for fear of their colleagues not being interested.

It’s rarely the case however, individuals don’t take an interest in the things that are important to our colleagues.

So, let’s assume that you work in a multicultural environment and that your Muslim colleagues have just embarked upon Ramadan.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to discuss Ramadan with them, or if it’s rather taken you by surprise, then let’s look at why your colleagues are fasting. If you want to take it one step further, then let’s also look at how you might be able to support them or engage in the festivities which come at the end of Ramadan.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan refers to the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. This month is important to Muslims as it is one of the five pillars of Islam and the month in which fit and able Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

As it runs on a lunar calendar and starts on the siting of the full moon, then this means that the date of Ramadan changes each year. As it is believed to be the time at which the Prophet Muhammad received the first Quranic revelations, then the reading of the Quran is an important part of Ramadan.

The Quran states that fasting is an important way of coming closer to God. Many fasting Muslims also say that, not only do they feel closer to God, but that the abstinence of food puts them into a state which feels fundamentally spiritual and that, emotionally, they feel more relaxed.

What is Fasting?

So, what do we mean by fasting? Islamically, fasting requires individuals to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking or taking medications from dawn to dusk.

The day can be long. Although fasting times change depending on where you are in the world, towards the end of Ramadan 2021 in the UK, individuals started their fast at approximately 03:50 am and completed it at 20:30 pm. This is a marathon 17 hours or thereabouts!

This long fasting day is an immediate indication as to why you shouldn’t confuse the Ramadan fast with Lent. Although there are some similarities relating to remembrance, charity, togetherness, family and abstinence, Ramadan is physically and mentally far tougher than Lent. During Lent, it’s a requirement that individuals give certain things up. A Muslim however, is required to abstain from all sustenance completely.

How can you Support your Colleagues or Team?

If you have colleagues who are fasting, then it’s good to understand that this has a physical impact. Don’t expect them to take on unessential physical tasks and certainly don’t expect them to dial into international conference calls at 10:00 at night – they will be recovering from the day’s fast and replenishing their energies for the fast on the following day.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Ramadan may take place during the warmer months. As such, avoid arranging outdoor meetings or including your fasting colleagues in demanding excursions as their energy levels won’t marry up with yours.

I’m not saying to not include your colleagues at all, or to avoid the essentials, as working while fasting is part of the trial during Ramadan. Muslims expect it and are typically good at managing it. Indeed, what I am saying is, if it’s not essential or important, then let certain things wait until after Ramadan.

The Importance of the Last 10 Days and Nights

It’s also good for you to be aware that fasting becomes more challenging as the month progresses. Since fasting times are based on the concept of dawn to dusk, when the sun rises earlier as the month progresses and then sets later as the month comes to an end. This naturally extends the fast further. The lack of sustenance over the month has an accumulative effect, with many fasting Muslims becoming more tired as the month progresses.

This is particularly so during the last ten days of fasting when it is believed that Lait’ul Qadr or ‘The Night of Decree’ occurs. Since the night is not fixed, then Muslims typically aim to spend as many of the last ten nights, and as much of the night, in prayer as possible.

Why? Because it is believed that if a Muslim exercises devotion and prays on the Night of Decree, all their previous sins will be forgiven. Essentially, therefore, not only are Muslims more likely to be tired as the month progresses from fasting but during the last ten days, they are also likely to have had less sleep.

Any extra allowances that you can extend to your colleagues, therefore, would be well appreciated. If you are a team manager, then you may wish to give priority to holiday requests from Muslim employees during this time. If the holiday is ever more needed during Ramadan, then it is certainly throughout the last ten days.

Ramadan isn’t just about fasting

As you can see from the Night of Decree, Ramadan isn’t just about fasting. Muslims are also required to focus on spiritual cleansing. This means an increase in the amount of time dedicated to prayer, reflection, reading the Quran and supporting charity initiatives.

Where you can, give your colleagues the space and time to fulfil these obligations during their work breaks. Try not to disturb them and allow them to focus on what is important during this time. Again, if you are a team manager, then consider giving a dedicated ‘quiet’ place during this special time.

Coming Together with Muslim Colleagues During Eid ul Fitr

The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a ‘Eid ul Fitr’ which lasts up to three days. The duration of festivities and the way in which this period is celebrated varies greatly depending on country and culture.

For most people, however, the fundamentals involve large meals with friends and family, new clothes, presents for children and charity contributions. People also send each other ‘Eid Mubarak’ cards, which essentially mean ‘Blessed Eid’. Feel free to greet your Muslim colleagues with ‘Eid Mubarak’ when you see them during this period as undoubtedly it will be appreciated and show that you have taken an interest.

If you have a number of Muslims in your workplace, then why not consider making Eid ul Fitr an opportunity to carry out some team bonding? Perhaps arrange for a lunch buffet to be delivered, or something similar, which can be shared by everyone – Muslim and Non Muslim alike? When advantage is taken of such occasions, it can open opportunities for dialogue and understanding which don’t otherwise present themselves.


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