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Employer's Guide to Ramadan

by Safiyyah Ally | Watch the video here

Do you manage or work with people who are fasting this Ramadan? Are you wondering how best to support them? Curious about what you can do to make them feel valued and respected? Read more to find out how.

Muslims are required to fast from dawn to sunset every single day in the month of Ramadan. Ramadan isn’t just about fasting. Muslims are to be on their best behaviour. Lying, cheating, gossiping… all these are frowned upon at all times, but especially in Ramadan. Many Muslims use the month as a sort of spiritual reset, to start fresh and work on becoming a better person.

What does that mean for you, the employer? Fasting is physically and emotionally tough, but it doesn’t mean Muslims can’t keep up with their work responsibilities. Surgeons, teachers and construction workers…Muslims in almost every profession continue to excel while fasting.

Muslims who are fasting won’t eat during the usual lunch time. Instead, they’ll eat at sunset, and if they’re working night shifts, they’ll begin the fast by eating before dawn. The timings are pretty specific. They’re documented in widely accessible charts. Muslims watch the clock and won’t want to be too late or too early for either their dawn or sunset meal.

Muslims also engage in additional worship and reflection in Ramadan. They often do so late at night. That, combined with having to wake up in the wee hours of the night to eat the meal that begins the fast, means their sleep patterns are disrupted and they may seem a little bit tired.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate with Eid-ul-Fitr. They’ll probably take a day off to be with their families. The date of this celebration depends on the sighting of a new moon, so it may not be clear to your Muslim employees until the day before, which day will be Eid. But since the month of Ramadan is either 29 or 30 days long, they’ll know it’s one of two days.

So how can you support your employees?

First, learn about Ramadan. Read about what fasting involves. Know when the month is about to start. You can do that by googling the start date, but keep in mind that some Muslims may begin on a different date, depending on when their community sights the moon.

That’s why my second point is so crucial. Communicate with your Muslim employees. Find out if they’ll be fasting. Even if they aren’t fasting, they may be engaging in intensified worship. Ask them what they need and how you can help. Keep in mind that not every Muslim will practice Islam the same way. And not everyone will be committed to practicing their faith. So different people may need different accommodations.

Third, educate and inform. Let people at work know that their colleagues will be fasting. Give them a bit of information about what fasting involves. It’s not easy fasting all those hours. Let colleagues know to be understanding and lenient.

Fourth, be accommodating. There are many things to consider here, and this may be a lot easier to accomplish during COVID, when many people are working from home.

Here’s one thing you could do. Consider flexible start and finish times. Fasting people get tired as the day progresses and their energy levels get depleted. They may also want to leave earlier to get home in time to prepare the evening meal. Perhaps allowances could be made so they could start work early or work during lunch hours in exchange for an earlier finish. If employees work in shifts, maybe they could swap shifts or change their working hours.

Second, think about how you structure meetings and events. Your employees or coworkers may not object to attending working lunches, but it would be nice if they weren’t expected to participate. It’s perfectly fine for someone to eat in front of a fasting colleague or employee, but if food is the highlight of the meeting, they may feel a bit left out.

Allow your employees to take a break at sunset to break their fast. Give them enough time to enjoy their meal and pray before resuming work.

Muslims may not want to commit to evening events, even if they're online. Nights are precious, devoted to eating, prayer and online gatherings with the family and the community. They may also not be as interested in conferences or staff retreats, even if they’re virtual, if they mean extra hours at work or too much social interaction. Time is precious, and Ramadan goes by quickly. They’ll want to spend as much time as they can worshipping.

And Ramadan is a time to be quiet and reflect. If people are coming into the office, offer your employees a quiet space to pray or take a few minutes to be alone during the day. Even Muslims who don’t usually pray may become more devoted to their faith during Ramadan, so don’t be surprised if someone who doesn’t seem like a practicing Muslim comes to you looking for a quiet corner to pray.

Muslims may also be interested in scheduling vacation time during the last few nights of Ramadan, which are particularly holy. And don’t forget time off at the end of Ramadan to celebrate Eid. It’s a pretty big celebration after the difficult month of fasting.

Finally, there’s no need to make too big a deal about fasting. Yes, it’s tough, but for most Muslims, it’s a rewarding experience. So show your happiness and appreciate the discipline and endurance they’re exercising.

If you follow these tips, you’ll be able to show your Muslim employees or coworkers that you respect and value them, and you care about fostering an inclusive and productive workplace for all.

I leave you with two greetings, Ramadan Kareem and Ramadan Mubarak. You may want to try out one of them at work in the first few days of this blessed month.

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