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Observing Ramadan in the Workplace

We begin the month of Ramadan and Muslims worldwide will be observing this holy period by abstaining from eating and drinking between dawn and sunset. Fasting is central to the Islamic faith generally, but during Ramadan, it becomes even more fundamental and is a significant part of it.

All Muslims are required to fast (although there are certain exceptions allowed) and in a recent interview, we talk to someone about Ramadan and fasting, and what it means to them as well as find out how workplaces can ensure an inclusive environment.

Tell me more about Islam’s holy month of Ramadan?

Ramadan is one of the holiest months on the Islam calendar. We do not follow the Christianity calendar but the Hijri calendar which is based on lunar months. A new month begins when a new moon is sighted, and so, Ramadan can only start once we have seen the new moon. As soon as we see the new moon then the following dawn is when we must start fasting for 29 or 30 days, depending upon the moon.

It is mandatory to fast between dawn and sunset. There will be some people who are unable to such as young children or those who are sick. Fasting is very important to us because it is one of the five pillars of Islam, making it compulsory.

What are the other four pillars, and how do they relate to Ramadan?

So, Islam is founded on five pillars, which are:

  1. Shahada – which is our faith, we believe “there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the final Messenger of God”. The word ‘God’ translated in the Aramaic language (spoken by Jesus) means ‘Elaha’ which is were ‘Allah’ is derived from.
  2. Salat – which is our prayer that we must do daily, 5 times per day and during Ramadan we do it even more
  3. Zakat – which is Alms, charitable giving, so we pay an annual tax of at least 2.5% of savings to charity
  4. Sawm – which is fasting and recommended all year, but during Ramadan, it is compulsory to do each day
  5. Hajj – which is taking the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life. This is compulsory if you can afford it.

What would a typical day be like for you during Ramadan?

So, once the moon has been sighted, Ramadan will hereby commence. On waking, I’d have a snack and then from around 4.30am I would start the fast. This means not having any food or water until sunset that day.

I then go to Mosque for the first of five prayers and come home, where I grab a couple of hours sleep, then I start my day.

The second prayer would be around 1.15pm, and prayer three around 5pm.

Once sunset occurs, we are permitted to break our fast and that’s when I can get something to eat and drink, and I would also then do the fourth prayer with the final prayer around 8.30pm/9pm.

All timings are approximate because everything is based around the sun.

How do you manage fasting when you have to work too?

The first three days for me are the hardest, as my body is adjusting, and I get really bad headaches. But after then, I get used to it. Although it is hard with the tiredness.

Is there anything you would recommend employers do to support Muslim employees at work when fasting?

For me, going without food is not an issue for me, as you get used to it, but the broken sleep is a really big thing, plus for our final prayer of the day, we come home from the Mosque very late at night.

So, there are many little, small things that employers can do to help with the lack of, and broken sleep such as letting employees start that little bit later or flexing the working day to help balance work with the requirement to observe Ramadan.

Educating everyone is also very important to driving an including culture, and one which recognises not just Islam, but other religions too. Having clear policies and procedures too on equality, diversity and inclusion is also another vital tool in ensuring there is an inclusive workplace for all.

If the job involves travel, then the lack of and broken sleep can affect concentration, so being able to limit travel, wherever possible would greatly help too.

Then finally, allow time during the working day for employees to pray, because it is a requirement to pray at least 5 times in a day. So having a private, clean, and quiet space is important.

When you are at work at the time you must pray, what facilities do you need?

So even outside of the month of Ramadan, we must pray five times in a day. We have sunrise prayer, noon prayer, afternoon prayer sunset prayer and night prayer. Prayer is our second pillar and is therefore a sacred part of our life.

Prayer is a solitary and private activity and so from a workplace perspective and as a bare minimum, having a quiet and private space and one that is clean is important.

Before praying, there is “wudu” or referred to as “ablution”, which is where we must wash our hands, face and arms and feet. So having facilities to be able to do this is important.

Talking about Islam in a wider context, what else can employers do to support Muslim employees?

I would say, in being inclusive to the Islamic faith, it is often about the small things that employers do. Such as the flexing of working hours to support prayer, or being mindful of the food and drink that is made available at work events.

The Quran explicitly forbids drinking alcohol and even forbids indirect association with alcohol. To be in a room where alcohol is present is not desirable, even though we are not drinking it. This means that we cannot sit with people who are drinking alcohol either.

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