By Sameena Karmally
How do you support your muslim colleagues in Ramadan?
As the United States grows increasingly more diverse, employers must create inclusive workplaces that accommodate the religious practices of all their employees in order to attract and retain talent. Doing so may prove more difficult given the current status of the pandemic and the new normal of many employees working from home.
This year, Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, will be a more challenging period than usual for Muslims who observe the holiday. Employers should be cognizant of this difficulty and try to support its Muslim colleagues during Ramadan this year.
Muslims and Ramadan
First, it should be noted that Muslims are a very diverse group. There are Muslims in every country, of every race, with different languages, cultures, and food. Just like in other religions, levels of practice can vary from very orthodox to more relaxed. Some Muslims may not be very religious during the year but increase their religiosity during Ramadan.
During Ramadan, fasting is used as a means to focus on the spirit and draw closer to God. During daylight hours, food and drink (even water) is avoided; the fast is broken at sundown. The Islamic (lunar) calendar is about 10 days shorter than ours, so Ramadan moves throughout the seasons. This year it begins around April 24 and ends around May 24. The timings of dawn and sunset move by about a minute every day.
Usually, Ramadan in the workplace is a non-event. Muslim employees simply do not eat or drink when they are at work, and go home, eat, pray, and carry on. However, due to the pandemic, important practices during Ramadan must take new forms since the month-long celebration centers around nightly gatherings at dusk to share a meal and pray which are no longer possible because of the bans on large gatherings and social distancing measures. Additionally, this year, with the lines between work and home disintegrated, fasting in Ramadan while working from home is especially challenging.
All the usual home responsibilities still pile up – laundry, sanitizing, obtaining and wiping down groceries, cooking, cleaning, childcare, online school. But in Ramadan, cooking a pre-dawn meal means waking up around 4 am. Energy levels drop in the afternoon for many people, just as the kids get bored. Caffeine headaches are a nightmare. Hungry teenagers make for unpleasant office mates.
Despite all the new challenges that the pandemic brings to the celebration of Ramadan, Ramadan is a special time and carries cultural expectations. Families eat the pre-dawn meal together and have dinner at sunset followed by prayers. For a person whose family members aren’t Muslim, it can be a lonely time.
How you can help your Muslim colleagues during these times:
1. Obtain a basic understanding of Ramadan practices.
2. Familiarize yourself with religious accommodation laws.
3. Make sure ALL employees know where to direct requests for accommodation. Don’t single out any employee for special treatment, even if your intentions are good.
4. Many employees feel vulnerable and do not want to burden an already stressed manager. Publicize your company’s no retaliation policy.
5. Don’t make assumptions about who is or is not a practicing Muslim, or whether their practice lines up with that of other Muslims you may know.
6. Think about timing of meetings. Ramadan has set times that are location-dependent. Can you schedule meetings, training and other virtual gatherings around them?
7. Think about current work policies (PTO, floating holidays, reduced hours) that you can modify in order to make reasonable accommodation if an employee makes a request.
8. If you have Muslim colleagues willing to be a resource or faith-based ERGs, involve them in your planning.
At the end of May, when the crescent moon appears new in the sky, Ramadan will end. The day after Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, is one of two major Islamic holidays, and many Muslim employees usually take off from work. This year, we will be logging into Zoom to wish each other “Happy Eid” or “Eid Mubarak!”
Ramadan celebrations at this time may look very different, but the meaning and importance behind them remain the same. Supporting your Muslim employees during these unprecedented times will be remembered for years to come and have a lasting impact on such employees’ loyalty, engagement and productivity.