Colleagues celebrating Ramadan? Five ways to help

photo: mosque at sunsetRamadan – or Ramazan – is almost upon us. Next week, the religious festival will start somewhere between the 8th and 10th of July. (The differences depend on the calendar – lunar or solar – that you use, how you calculate the date and where you are in World, and this is often hotly debated.)

And it’s important! Over 1.5 billion people, almost a quarter of the world’s population, will be celebrating Ramadan – the holy month – which is a time of fasting as well as abstaining from drinking, smoking, and any kind of excess from dawn until sunset daily.  The practise is used to cleanse the soul and help people to practice selflessness, praying more than usual in the hope of forgiveness for sins. Ramadan holds huge emotional significance for Muslims of all ages, and although fasting is only compulsory for adults, children will often join their elders and fast.

Last year we put together five pointers to help show consideration to Muslim colleagues at work, for their very special time of year, which we’re repeating here with this year’s dates:
1. Meetings

Allow flexibility around meetings and calls:  Muslim colleagues are juggling additional prayer calls and are expected to spend more time with their families.

2. Front load the day

At the end of the working day, devout Muslims will have had nothing to eat since the morning, and will need to get home both to eat and for family and community events. These may be families coming together to break fasts or Qur’an readings in the Mosque. Helping colleagues to leave punctually at the end of the day will reduce stress and be greatly appreciated.

3. Working lunches/coffee break meetings

Avoid working lunches for the month. As it is forbidden (with some exceptions) also to drink, even water, try and stick to straightforward meetings around a desk.

4. Arrange travel carefully

When Muslims travel they are exempt from the fast (although depending upon their interpretation of the Qur’an, they may have to make this up at a later stage). There are several particularly holy days, when travel other than to see relatives could cause hardship:  Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan (August 7/8 this year) and the following days (massive feasting); and the Laylat al-Quadr, the most holy night of the Islamic year – the night of destiny – which falls on different days towards the end of Ramadan but this year falls around Saturday, 3 August.

5. Learn

There are as many ways to observe Ramadan as there are Muslims. If you have Muslim colleagues with whom you have a good working relationship, why not ask them how they are celebrating Ramadan?

If you are a non-Muslim working within a country or organization where Islam is the dominant culture, the cues around you will probably be more evident.  As a mark of respect you should be dressing modestly (whether you are male or female), respecting prayer spaces, and neither eating nor drinking in public during daylight. If you are invited to someone’s home during Ramadan, it would be rude to refuse: remember to remove your shoes upon entering and as those around you may only be eating with their right hand, follow suit. Of course, you wouldn’t bring a bottle (of alcohol) under normal circumstances, and Ramadan is no different.

At Global Integration, experience has taught us that you should rarely be afraid to ask your colleagues for cultural guidance if you are unsure. Mostly, colleagues are as conscious as you are of differences and don’t not expect you to know everything. Demonstrating a willingness to learn, showing interest and consideration will almost certainly be more comfortable for everyone than being awkward and embarrassed.


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