Growing up in multicultural Western Sydney, I was always surrounded by Muslim friends. The neighbourhood was often decorated with beautiful lanterns, candles and flowers. It is a joyful moment of the year to witness my friends observe such an important event. So, when I first started my HR career, I would get questions from confused managers who didn’t understand the importance of allowing flexibility during this time. Because I was always surrounded by friends and people from all walks of life, I was genuinely concerned about the question.
I should have approached the manager’s question with more empathy in hindsight. I now understand that my worldview and lived experiences differ. That doesn’t make me better than anyone else. I think this world is too obsessed with being right or ‘morally superior’, which is where cancel culture comes in — and this needs to stop.
We need the curiosity to learn about others and show deep compassion more than ever. So, if you’re curious about how to support employees or colleagues during this holy month, you’re in the right place.
Ramadan is coming up
Ramadan is observed from April 2 to May 2 this year. All healthy Muslims who have reached puberty will avoid eating, drinking, and smoking daily from dawn until sunset.
Ramadan is also a time of intense devotion and spiritual practice, which involves prayer, acts of charity and reflection.
How to support Muslim colleagues
Many employers are unaware of how to support Muslim employees during this time. Learning more about the occasion and showing support can help Muslim colleagues feel a deep sense of belonging.
Should you eat around Muslim employees?
This is a common question. Practising Ramadan can be difficult for some Muslims. Intermittent fasting can result in headaches and lethargy. These effects may disrupt concentration throughout the workday. Many say the first few days are usually the most difficult because your body adjusts to a new eating schedule. After the first few days, you get normalised to fasting and by the end of the month, most people are used to it.
While some may feel awkward or uncomfortable eating around their Muslim colleagues, most Muslims say that people shouldn’t feel this way. Many Muslims during Ramadan witness their children eating in front of them all the time (as young kids don’t fast). Just be sure to avoid offering food during this time.
As Ramadan is an important time for Muslims, if you’re ever unsure, just ask your employees whether or not they will be fasting, and ask how you can best support them.
Colleagues can still perform and achieve greatness during this time.
Companies can support Muslim employees in many ways. For instance, colleagues can wish Muslim workers “a happy, blessed and successful Ramadan”. These simple words show an awareness of Ramadan and kindness to Muslim employees during this time.
Other ways to show support and kindness is simply by asking questions and expressing a willingness to learn more about Ramadan and the Muslim religion.
Employers should be flexible with schedules. For example, reducing hours as needed, working from home, considering leave requests or assigning more demanding tasks in the morning when those who are fasting have more energy.
If Muslim employees need to work later, employers should allow some time and space to break the fast and perform prayer during sunset. This break in work is also essential for employees such as police officers or firefighters, who may work evening shifts.
The exact date of Eid ul-Fitr is unknown
Eid ul-Fitr is a festival marking the end of Ramadan. It’s similar to celebrating Christmas, where many Muslims take a few days off. They often attend a prayer and exchange gifts with loved ones.
The exact date of Eid ul-Fitr is unknown until hours before it happens, as the celebration (usually one to three days) depends on the sighting of the crescent moon. Muslim employees might not know until the night before, and employers should be accommodating to accommodate.
To avoid any discrimination claims, employers must do their best to accommodate any requests. Prepare in advance for alternative working arrangements.
Lastly, Muslim employees should not be treated any differently. I know some well-meaning non-Muslim employees feel bad for their fasting Muslim co-workers and give them fewer job responsibilities — this is actually doing more harm than good.
While working during Ramadan does create some challenges, the Muslim community has been navigating many workplace challenges for years and can still do their jobs.