It’s that wonderful time of year again! No, not Thanksgiving or Christmas. The holy month of Ramadan begins April 13th – May 12th, 2021. Muslims worldwide observe 30 days of fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food and water, maintaining a pure mind, and dedicating oneself to prayer, God, and donating to the less fortunate. The purpose of Ramadan isn’t about starving oneself and feeling miserable; it’s a way to practice self-control, patience, selflessness, and simply being at peace.
Since the pandemic hit last year, Ramadan was challenging, but also an opportunity to slow down and truly appreciate what we already have. As a practicing Muslim who fasts during Ramadan, here are some tips that might support your Muslim employees, avoid any accidental microaggressions, consider their current circumstances, and ensure they don’t feel like part of an outgroup.
Acknowledge Ramadan and Raise Awareness
Have you talked about Ramadan in your workforce? Do you know if any of your employees are practicing it? Ramadan is not considered among corporate and US holidays and there are not many (or close to none) advertisements or stories about them in the media. Fortunately, social media has helped raise awareness about Ramadan and busted some myths around it.
At the beginning of the holy month, introduce Ramadan in your company newsletter, or chat app channel, but don’t call out every Muslim in your company who is practicing it. Many resources explain the importance of Ramadan and how it’s celebrated around the world. Ask your employees how they celebrate to create a sense of belonging for these individuals. It means a lot when you wish your Muslim employees a Happy Ramadan and ask questions about the holy month.
Don’t Apologize or Feel Bad (It’s our choice)
We appreciate people asking us how we are doing or feeling throughout the day. Remember, this is a choice, and we are not forced to fast for around 16+ hours.
Don’t apologize for:
- Talking about food
- Sipping your coffee or water during a video call
- Snacking during a video call
- Talking about taking a lunch break
- Talking about how hungry you are
- Sharing your lunch or recipe in a group chat
- Sending coffee GIPHYS every morning in a group chat (we want you to drink your coffee!)
It doesn’t bother us. In fact, we want you to eat, and we definitely do not expect any of our colleagues to practice with us in solidarity.
Accidental Microaggressions to Avoid
Microaggressions further marginalize those who may already feel marginalized, and they have a significant “othering” effect, regardless of intention. Whether employees are aware of it or not, microaggressions do happen during Ramadan. We know it’s not on purpose, but some questions and comments are inappropriate, such as:
- Do you try to sneak a cookie in or take a sip of water?
- You’re starving yourself, and it’s bad for your health; what’s the point of it?
- So do you get extra points with God because you fast?
- Don’t you feel like you’re missing out on Happy Hour?
- Wow, you must eat all types of unique food (not sure what is considered unique)
- Why do you wear a Hijab during Ramadan only? (It’s nobody’s business)
- How come you’re not fasting today? (It’s nobody’s business)
- Not even water or gum?
- Omg, I don’t know what I would do if I was forced to fast! (Again, it’s not forced)
- Maybe you shouldn’t fast if you’re presenting to the client
Offer Flexible Hours and Frequent Breaks
It’s no surprise that our sleep schedule is a little out of place during this month. Speaking for myself, I wake up at least an hour before dawn to make myself a filling breakfast and hydrate. There are times that I log onto work right after while I still have the brainpower to get some work done.
Managers should consider offering flexible working hours and allowing employees to log off a little early if needed. Also, let them know that it’s okay to take frequent breaks. Everyone is different. Some can power through work resiliently, while others struggle a little bit, and that’s okay. We don’t expect any special treatment while fasting, but be mindful to check your employees preferences for meeting hours. Regardless, showing your support and how your organization can help where needed is very much appreciated.
In the end, we don’t want to be treated differently. Simple ask your Muslim employees if they need any support during this month and encourage managers to do the same. You can share these tips with your employees as well so they know how to support their Muslim colleagues.