Ramadan: How to support employees, friends and colleagues in the Muslim holy month
If you're an employer or just want to make sure you can be there for your friends, colleagues or neighbours, what do you need to know?
by: SHAHED EZAYDI, EVIE BREESE
21 Mar 2023
A group of diners breaks the Ramadan fast with iftar at Habib's Cuisine in Dearborn, Michigan. Photo credit: State Dept./Brian Widdis
Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, is a physical challenge on the body but a deeply spiritual time for Muslims too. And with work tending to occupy a significant amount of our daylight hours, fasting Muslims can come across a number of challenges in their jobs, especially with fasts lasting up to 16 hours per day in the later half of Ramadan.
Challenges in the workplace can include tiredness and headaches, a lack of acknowledgement by employers, inflexibility when it comes to working hours and prayer breaks, and the constant fielding of questions from colleagues.
So if you’re an employer or just want to make sure you can be there for your friends, colleagues or neighbours, what do you need to know?
When does Ramadan start?
Ramadan 2023 is expected to start on the evening of Wednesday March 22, meaning Thursday March 23 will be the first day of fasting.
The holy month begins with the sighting of the crescent moon, which normally appears the night after a new moon.
How do you say ‘happy Ramadan’?
If you want to wish someone a happy Ramadan, whether they’re a friend, a colleague, neighbour or acquaintance, you say “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem”.
The Ramadan greetings in English mean “blessed Ramadan” or “generous Ramadan”.
Ramadan Mubarak everyone!
Ramadan and work
Less than 5 per cent of the UK population is Muslim, so many companies don’t yet have policies or experience in how to support the Muslim staff.
Aiysha*, a charity worker in London, told The Big Issue: “We haven’t heard anything from management about Ramadan yet but I’d really like it to be acknowledged and talked about as it’s a big deal and I think it’s important for management to recognise the month.”
She said she’s never felt as though she can approach managers in previous jobs about flexible working patterns and working from home during Ramadan and that she’d “love my manager to reach out to ask how the month impacts me, whether I need any additional support, or whether my working patterns need to be adapted.”
Nusiba, an NHS doctor in Liverpool, also described how the onus is on Muslims to inform and organise themselves in her workplace.
“Many people try to request annual leave during Ramadan so their fasts are easier but it can be hard to get this approved, especially if there are a few Muslim doctors working in your department,” she explained.
There are lots of things that should be done to accommodate for Muslims in the workplace, but the main thing Nusiba would like to see happen is employers acknowledging and informing the workplace about Ramadan.
Yasmin*, a freelance writer based in Manchester, recalled a particular experience in a previous workplace where her request to work through the lunch break and finish work earlier was denied, with her manager telling her the reason was because “it’s just not the done thing”.
“If there was a legitimate reason for why I couldn’t work through my lunch break then I would’ve been a bit more understanding but it was simply my manager being unaware of how to approach my fasting and how it could affect my work,” Yasmin said.
She added that “there’s all this talk about inclusive work environments but then this doesn’t always materialise into real and legitimate action that could properly benefit employees in the workplace.”
In fact, a 2021 Muslim Census study about Ramadan in the workplace found that of the 523 Muslims surveyed, 99 per cent had at least one adjustment they wanted from their employer, with the most desired adjustments during this month being: flexible shift patterns (69 per cent), team members understanding Ramadan (60 per cent), and annual leave for the final days of Ramadan (58 per cent).
How can employers support staff during Ramadan?
Roshni Goyate, founder and head of content at diversity organisation The Other Box, explained the two key areas that employers should be looking at when it comes to fostering an inclusive work environment for Muslim employees during Ramadan.
“The first thing is to look at your policies and practices. A lot of businesses are going back to the office, but do you offer the option for flexible working or allow employees who will be fasting to continue to work from home?
“The second way to adopt a more flexible approach is with inclusive language and communication. Many people avoid bringing up topics not because they don’t care about their colleagues, but because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing and offending them. Inclusive language is about having empathy and compassion in your communication, and being flexible and agile enough to adjust your language accordingly when you get it wrong,” Goyate said.
An acknowledgement and understanding of Ramadan could mean that Muslims feel seen, heard and represented in their workplace, especially in a world where “Islamophobia is rife, in both overt and covert ways, which leads to Islam and Muslims often being stereotyped – and that includes in the workplace.”
Sonya Barlow, a diversity coach and the founder of Like Minded Females, reiterates that education is key when it comes to approaching Ramadan in the workplace. “The responsibility shouldn’t lie with Muslims to educate their coworkers, it should be something that employers do, if that’s sharing resources and tools, to encourage inclusive behaviour and a feeling of belonging,” she said.
Employers should also look at small changes that may not matter in the grand scheme of things but could be hugely significant for fasting Muslims. Changes could include “altering meeting times so they don’t clash with prayer times, allowing flexible working patterns, and keeping social events open and inclusive,” said Barlow.
The Muslim Council of Britain has released their comprehensive Ramadan Guide 2023 for both Muslims and non-Muslims, which includes advice for employers and managers such as open discussions with Muslim employees, accommodating annual leave requests, flexible and adjusted working patterns, and having an allocated prayer space.
*Names have been changed
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