Embracing Ramadan at work: advice from a DEI expert

Leaders can help educate the wider organisation about Ramadan

Ramadan, the month-long celebration that commemorates when the Quran was revealed, is a sacred time for the Muslim community. It specifically centres around piety, family, generosity, community and reflection.

Many within the community feel a great sense of pride and gratitude, and there are a few things to keep in mind as we engage in community building in support of our Muslim colleagues. In full disclosure: I am not Muslim but I have consulted with those within the community to discuss how best to support them through Ramadan.

When considering inclusion in the workplace around culture and spirituality, employers should consider these moments as learning opportunities to better understand and nurture the talent of faith groups.

Supporting the community through learning

In support, one must first seek to understand the significance of observing Ramadan, one of the Five Pillars of Islam. As a requirement in the Islamic faith, Ramadan is viewed as a holy month during which Muslims participate in consistent prayer, gather in community, engage in self-reflection and abstain from food, water, tobacco, and sexual activity during daylight hours.

Support can also take the form of educating the greater organisation about Ramadan, removing the pressure for anyone in the Muslim community to explain their particular reasons for choosing to participate, or not.

Employers should connect with relevant employee resource groups to provide information and encourage learning and empathy for others’ experiences. 

Fasting, while a personal choice, is a practice of self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy for those who are less fortunate. It’s also meant to redirect one’s focus away from worldly obsessions and practices. It’s important to acknowledge that there are exceptions to the fasting requirement such as menstruation, breastfeeding, illness, and travel. Those who don’t participate may prefer not to disclose their reasons.

Regardless of the decision to fast, we shouldn’t express pity or judgment, such as ‘I feel bad for eating in front of you’, or ‘it must be so hard for you’ etc. Instead, we should offer admiration for such an important commitment and devotion to faith.

Moving to inclusion via accommodations

To accommodate those who are fasting, employers should consider that they may need a break, or multiple breaks, to combat potential fatigue.

Employers should avoid setting meetings and events that centre around food, such as lunch and learns, client happy hours, etc. Typically, fasting is broken nightly during elaborate, communal gatherings with family, so evening meetings should be avoided as well.  

Prayer is another prominent element of Ramadan. Muslims pray up to five times daily during Ramadan, as it’s believed that prayers resonate even more during this time. Employers can support this practice by providing quiet and private places for doing so, where prayer can take place without disruption. Perhaps there’s a small conference room or an area for personal space that employers can designate during this time.

For those operating virtually, employers should be respectful of calendar blocks and changes in availability. Ramadan is centred around faith, community and charity, so employers should be flexible and understanding of their employees’ need to prioritise away from professional responsibilities.

With flexible working being accepted in many businesses now, there could be an opportunity to be especially flexible during Ramadan and to make this a formal change such as allowing those with longer commutes to not be expected to come in when there is an important meeting, allowing them to dial in and save energy when fasting.

Eid al-Fitr, or “the feast of breaking the fast”, marks the conclusion of Ramadan with a three-day festival. It’s celebrated similarly to Christmas is in Westernised areas, and in regions with larger Muslim populations, Eid may even be a national holiday where businesses and schools close in favour of celebration, exchanging gifts and prayers amongst family and friends.

Traditionally Eid is focused on charity, also known as Zakat al-Fitr. It’s a celebration of joy and community for all Muslims. Employers should be mindful and look to accommodate time away from the office during Eid as well, perhaps more so if it is not observed as a national holiday where they are based.

Creating an inclusive environment for Muslim colleagues to feel supported means ensuring that all employees are respected, and we should be diligent in these efforts year-round to truly embody inclusion and belonging.

Brittany Allen is Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Director, 72andSunny North America.

In this article, you learned that:

  • You can engage with relevant employee resource groups to access and share information about Ramadan with the wider workforce.
  • You should avoid making judgements such as pitying fasting colleagues, the only comments should be around support and admiration.
  • You shouldn’t insist that fasting colleagues have to attend in-person meetings, encourage them to dial in from home and save energy.

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