Arfah Farooq is cofounder of Muslamic Makers, a community of Muslims in the creative and technology industries. They've recently released an ebook for employers on how to support Muslim colleagues during the month of Ramadan. Here are her top tips:
Learn about the impact Ramadan has on your colleagues.
The biggest challenges that come with Ramadan are not being understood; feeling out of place; and being discriminated against for your beliefs. That, alongside being tired, lacking focus and having low energy due to fasting, causes "The Ramadan Effect" — when Muslims feel unsupported and excluded from their workplace. Combat this by learning more about Ramadan and its asks; set expectations with the wider team for the month; and have regular check-ins with your Muslim colleagues.
Make time for one-to-one chats.
“How are you feeling?”, “how’s Ramadan going for you?”, “how are you managing your workload?” are all basic questions that go a long way. I recommend three check-ins, either in person or via email: one at the beginning to create a support plan, discuss their proposed working schedule and align on expectations; one in the middle to see how they are doing and whether they need extra support; and one near the end to schedule time off for Eid, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, if that’s possible in your workplace. These chats allow both parties to understand what can realistically be achieved in the month. It also helps with talent retention — we all want to work in places where we feel supported.
Offer flexible working hours.
Each person will have a specific preference of how they want to work during Ramadan. Some will wake up at sunrise for suhoor (a meal pre-fast) and start work then. Others will go back to sleep until midday and then work until iftar (the meal post-fast). Can you enable the team to work the hours that suit them best for the month? What needs to be done to make that possible? An example may be that they need to add their hours to a calendar so everyone has visibility. Preferred working hours may also change in the last 10 days — these are special nights where people pray throughout the night. Use your middle one-to-one meeting to figure this out.
Reduce the number of extracurricular activities.
Social activities, networking, training days, work events — whether remote or in person — are going to feel like a burden during Ramadan. They will often clash with iftar, evening prayers and time with the community. Instead, can your Muslim colleagues attend daytime events? Can training days be scheduled for the following month? Does that work social need to happen this month?
Everyone will be different in their tolerance for questions but I personally think it's acceptable to ask “why do you observe Ramadan?”, “what actually is it?” and “what do you do during this month?” What isn’t OK is pity. Please don’t say ”That must be very hard for you” or “not even water!? Poor you”. You also don’t have to hide food or drink around colleagues fasting. Observing Ramadan and fasting are choices we make and we are aware of their effects. As a workplace, having easily accessible materials about Ramadan for the wider team to access is great allyship.
Don’t ask why someone’s not fasting.
If you see a Muslim colleague eating or drinking — don’t ask them why they’re not fasting. There are many reasons people don’t fast and asking about it can create awkward and uncomfortable situations. For example, if someone has recently become pregnant, they won’t be fasting. Asking them why, when they may not want to share the news yet, puts them in a difficult situation. Periods, taking regular medication, being of a certain age, having dementia or travelling are some other reasons people do not fast.