This year’s 13th April marked the holy month of Ramadan. While Muslims celebrate multiple holy events throughout the year, Ramadan maintains its place as a very special month, where Muslims worldwide participate in the well-known event of fasting from dawn till dusk for 29-30 days.
From sunrise, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking – yes, that includes drinking water) in exchange for spiritual feeding (worship); and at sunset, Muslim families gather around the dinner table to break their fast together. The focus for fasting Muslims in Ramadan is to develop a closer relationship with God, exchange poor habits for an improved spiritual and religious self, socialise with family, and importantly also sympathise with poor people across the world. Finally, the fast is ended with a celebration called Eid-ul-Fitr.
While Muslims’ fasting hours amount differs depending on location, what they all have in common across the globe is a temporary change in their daily schedule. This may or may not affect them in meaningful ways in other areas of their life. For the non-fasting surrounding to be mindful and inclusive, this might call for some consideration.
In the past, concern about Muslim employees’ health during Ramadan has led to tense discussions whether Muslim employees should fast at work, following generalising assumptions that fasting inevitably leads to decreased energy levels, decreased ability to concentrate and as well decreased productivity. However, both studies and medical professionals have since disproved these ideas being generally representative, because fasting affects people’s bodies differently. Fasting may even increase productivity, concentration and focus.
Regardless of the individual effect, fasting employees rarely share openly when they are fasting unless necessary. Some because it is a personal decision, but some also unfortunately due to concern about how it will be received by the surrounding non-fasting environment.
Perceived negative thinking about fasting employees’ and colleagues’ decision to fast can limit inclusion and their feeling of belonging in the workplace, which is why consideration is especially important during this time. But these are only some out of a handful of things one can be mindful of. Below we have included steps workplaces can take to increase belongingness and empower an open space for our fasting colleagues and peers.
- Express awareness about Ramadan and willingness to considering adjustment of the fasting employee’s working hours to support their temporary change in schedule. It demonstrates their decision to fast is respected and supported and that their religious identity does not conflict with the company culture.
- Accommodate different levels of productivity at different times of the working day. Criticising employees that have reduced energy levels during this period of religious observance could make them feel excluded and penalised for observing their faith. Understanding and flexibility will make them feel included and supported.
- Permission to pray during working hours is already a major concern to Muslims, outside Ramadan too. Many Muslims plan their day around their praying schedule. This is only increased in Ramadan. Devout Muslims pray five times a day of which two take place in the working day. Making working from home and substituting lunch breaks for prayer breaks possible are ways in which the employer can be more supportive and inclusive.
- Carefully consider the employee’s request to be excused from attending conferences, offsites, dinners or similar events, especially if they’re held late. The presence of food and the time may be of concern to the employee. For important events, explore whether a compromise can be reached.
- Muslims celebrate and spend time with their families on Eid. Eid is still not recognised as a holiday in Western countries, so Muslim employees will appreciate the ability to take the day off. There may be uncertainty about the date of Eid (this year 12th or 13th of May) because it is based on the lunar calendar, so flexibility will be appreciated.
For colleagues, employers and other environment:
- Muslims are exempted from fasting if they have a medical reason or condition. If you find that a Muslim colleague is not fasting, asking why they choose not to can be an overly personal question. Remember fasting is an individual choice, which is why it should never be stereotypically expected. If you are really curious, research or ask more generally when one is exempted from fasting rather than put someone on the spot.
- It is OK to eat in front of fasting employees. Fasting is their decision and they have no problem with others eating or drinking in front of them.
- You might find your fasting colleague is keeping a longer distance than usual – good, because there’s a pandemic going on. But they might also be doing it out of consideration for you because they’re aware that fasting affects their breath.
- Try to meet your fasting or Muslim colleague with understanding about their religious observance and be curious over assumptive.
Remember that fasting is a personal matter, yet still makes a lot of Muslim people feel highly visible, vulnerable and fear exclusion around this time. Don’t give in to misinformation and as always, genuine inclusion is the key – when it regards our Muslim colleagues, too.