If you’ve never wished a colleague “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak”, whatever country you’re in, the chances are high that you’ve missed out on a chance to help a large percentage of the population’s working-age people feel a sense of Belonging.
Yes, that’s Belonging-with-a-capital-B and is a vital aspect of the Inclusion part of D&I – in fact, it’s so important that, in 2019, HRB linked it to some impressive stats: “High Belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days.”
And Culture Amp’s blog on the topic is practical, putting it bluntly: “People don’t stay where they don’t feel welcome.”
When coupled with the fact that observant Muslims are often from ethnic minority groups, it becomes even more important to make sure that Ramadan, and the festival at the end, Eid, are given consideration at your place of work.
As one Muslim woman told HR Grapevine on condition of anonymity: “Even though I don’t choose to fast, Ramadan was a special family time for us, and Eid was wonderful, with great memories. So, if someone here in the UK takes time to wish me a good fast or happy Ramadan, it makes me feel wonderful!”
Things to keep in mind during Ramadan
For those who don’t know, or perhaps have done some sub-rock dwelling of late, Ramadan is not dissimilar to the Christian period of Lent, although most Muslims observe the fast from sun up to sun down with complete abstention from taking any food or drink (yes, “not even water!”). They then break the fast with a meal called iftar (usually a light soup and some nibbles), then have a proper meal later in the day, known as suhour.
Prayer five times a day is, of course, a staple of a practicing Muslim’s life, and starts and ends the fasting period each day. The main ethos behind the Holy Month is to abstain from food or drink and to ‘fill’ that emptiness, or lack, with prayer, meditation, peaceful thoughts and – perhaps the most important part of the fast – compassion for those who suffer poverty and are most in need of charity.
Charitable giving and acts are encouraged during the Holy Month and some, for example, will put aside the money they save on food and donate it to a charity or a neighbour in need. In Muslim-majority countries, there are iftar feasts laid out for poor workers, widows, disabled people who may have a tougher time with fasting, etc.
Top tips for the month
Firstly, it’s important to remember that just because someone has an Arabic name, or wears hijab, or talks about Islam, does not mean they’re fasting – they could be doing a reduced fast, or any number of different types of observation of the month. Pregnant and nursing women, women on their periods, ill or frail people often won’t fast, or will fast at a later date. Ultimately, it’s their belief system and up to them how or if they observe it.
Don’t mention food, drink or smoking/vaping – they know what they’re giving up, and an incredulous white/Western person shrieking, “What, not even water?!” is unlikely to help them maintain a sense of peace!
Ask them how they’d like you to interact with them re: Ramadan – for some, it’s a familial period, and for others, a period of intense religious devotion – don’t assume either way.
If possible, eat and drink away from them – though many won’t find this necessary, it’s an easy courtesy in most work places.
Perhaps hold an HR event to educate your workforce on Ramadan and Eid – when it comes to equity, education is half the battle!
Remember that fasting people will be weaker, particularly in the first week of the fast. They might be a little slower with tasks than usual, or experience the ‘brain fog’ of hunger and dehydration. If you can make their workload lighter or adjust their working hours, that might help. Talk to each employee and see what suits them best.
And lastly: wish them Ramadan kareem!