Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims and is a pillar of faith. Muslims abstain from food and drink (yes, even water!) during daylight hours in this month. As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the month moves back approximately 10 days a year in the Gregorian calendar. In 2022, the dates are from early April until early May; fasting in the U.K. this year is around 14.5-16.5 hours, pretty long!
Exempt individuals include people who are not medically fit enough, pregnant women and women who are menstruating – so it might not be a good idea to publicly ask a female Muslim colleague who was fasting a day ago why she is suddenly having a coffee! Some Muslims also choose not to fast and this is their personal choice.
Although the common emphasis is on the lack of physical sustenance, those who are fasting are also trying harder to become better people by giving up bad habits such as arguing, backbiting and swearing. The idea is that you stop concentrating on feeding the body so you can feed the soul with spirituality and good actions.
Muslims are more generous this month with charity than any other time, not least because they know what it feels like to be without food and drink. Many Muslims choose Ramadan to give Zakat, which is the obligatory annual donation of part of their wealth and assets.
After Ramadan ends, there is a day of celebration called Eid. As with the start of Ramadan, it is not confirmed which of two days Eid will fall on. Why? because a lunar month comprises of 29 or 30 days and traditionally the new moon has to be seen with the naked eye to confirm the start of the next month. This pattern has given rise to memes where a Muslim worker asks their boss in advance for a day off for Eid, but when asked what date they need off, they say they do not know!
Many Muslims are able to continue with their daily work and other activities whilst fasting but some adaptations from employers may be welcome, for example:
- It is helpful for employers to be aware of when exactly Ramadan falls each year, and the importance to Muslims of celebrating Eid.
- Flexibility of working hours can be helpful, e.g. working 10-6 during the month rather than 9-5 or perhaps an earlier working pattern instead. Some prefer to take a portion of annual leave during this month as the routine can get tiring, so this should be allowed wherever possible.
- Colleagues might also need to take short breaks to offer prayers during the work day so this should be facilitated as far as possible.
- Meetings might be arranged at earlier times as sometimes concentration can diminish during the working day.
Employers and colleagues alike can show support to people who are fasting. Colleagues can help by framing comments and questions about fasting in a respectful and sensitive manner. For example, rather than “You poor thing, I could never do that” one could say “I admire you for your commitment/resilience”. And although the phrase “no, not even water!” might be a source of amusement in the Muslim community, having to answer that question throught the whole month can understandably get a little wearing. For curious colleagues, there are plenty of sources of information on Ramadan, such as the aptly named Not Even Water.
If you want to wish your colleague well at the end of the fasting month the greeting is ‘Eid Mubarak’!
For more information or advice please contact us.