by Saiyyidah Zaidi-Stone (MC2011)
Its just over one month to the start of Ramadhan, the 9th month in the Islamic calendar, where Muslims fast for about 30 days. This year Ramadhan is due to start on 20/21 July 2012 and will require fasting Muslims not to eat or drink anything from dawn to dusk. This can have an impact on individuals ranging from boosts of activity during irregular parts of the day through to irregular working patterns. The question is how can you accommodate your Muslim employees and not disrupt ‘business as usual’? This article introduces you to the Working Muslim Guide to Ramadhan and provides a brief summary for how you can support your Muslim employees at work, and respond to requests in a pragmatic way.
Fasting is the third pillar of Islam (the others being declaration of faith, prayer, charity and pilgrimage) and is an important tenet for Muslims. Fasting is not just limited to avoiding food and drink, perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the yearly lesson in self-restraint and discipline that can carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim’s life such as work and education. In addition, many Muslims see Ramadhan as an opportunity to ‘reset’ the system- to think about how they will change their diet, re-charge their spirituality, increase community activity and charitable donations.
Given the diverse nature of the practice of Islam, you will find some Muslims are very strict and protective of their fasting and others will not fast at all- my advice is do not generalise, but assist all your Muslim staff by supporting their choice.
A typical day
The typical day of a fasting Muslim in the summer starts at about 2.30am when they wake for the shuoor (pre dawn meal). After this meal and morning prayers many Muslims will go back to bed at about 4am and then wake for the usual routine of getting to work; others will continue to spend time in worship and then take a ‘powernap’ before leaving for work. The day is then a typical working day except without the coffee! Lunchtime might be spent going for a walk, praying or reading. The afternoon will consist of usual activities. After work people tend to go home and have a short nap and then get ready for the meal to break the fast, get ready to go and pray taraweeh in the mosque and then get home at about 11.30pm. Some will stay up til the pre dawn meal, others will take another few hours of sleep. If at all possible a short nap in the afternoon will help to regulate the body (recent neuroscience research shows that a 60-90 minute nap with REM sleep improves both physical and mental regulation for all humans)- appreciating that this is not always practical, but does have very positive impact on our productivity over a 24 hour period.
There are many special activities that take place in Ramadhan- with the daily taraweeh prayer being one. These prayers include long recitations from the Quran and this year they will start at about 10.30pm and finish around 1 hour later. They are not compulsory but are highly recommended and the majority of Muslims will partake in them usually at the mosque so they might not get home until late, then having to wake early in the morning for the meal before dusk means that the usual sleeping pattern is out the window. It is good for employers to be mindful of this when arranging early morning meetings or dealing with requests to work half days.
Recently there has been a lot of research about the impact of fasting on performance- this is no surprise given the Olympics are just around the corner with the dates for Ramadhan overlapping the Olympics. I believe the majority of 3500 Muslim athletes will observe the fast; however a couple will fast after the Olympic having been given personal special exemptions. Some athletes will not participate at all, similar to the decision by Michael Edwards, a devout Christian, in the 1991 Olympics where he did not participate in a Sunday race.
Generally research shows fasting will have an impact on performance, however it depends on the individual and the results are conflicting. For athletes who have events in the morning their performance is unlikely to be affected as they will have had a meal a few hours earlier and the energy will still be in their systems, for those with events in the afternoon or evening it might be an issue. If we take this and relate it to the typical working day it pretty much matches performance for many people regardless of whether they are fasting or not- most people work better in the morning, then the mid afternoon slump hits in (especially if you have a large lunch!), and evening working can be unproductive. The point in all of this is that it is individual and really does depend on your physical and mental make up. Awareness is key, and knowing how fasting makes employees feel will enable you to manage levels of productivity so output is hardly affected. As a manager I suggest you look at service needs and see how you can support any requests for temporary changes in work patterns or leave.
What can I do?
Employers can let their workforce know that you are aware of Ramadhan- this itself is a huge help and takes away the stress for employees wondering how to raise requests for annual leave or a change in working pattern. Most importantly for you it removes late or unusual requests.
I suggest that you look at the Working Muslim Guide to Ramadhan for Employers and provide copies of the Employee guide to your Muslim employees so that they are able to plan ahead. Based on past experience, it is reasonable to allow a temporary change in working hours, subject to business continuity; consider requests for annual leave reasonably; and be mindful of breakfast or lunch meetings. Last year these guides were downloaded by over 3000 people in a single day! This year, the guides are available in English, French and Spanish. To get your own free copy of the guides go to www.workingmuslim.com. If you would like assistance with developing your own guide or a presentation on Ramadhan in the workplace please email email@example.com
Bringing together professional practice and academic research to create innovative, efficient solutions is Saiyyidah’s strength. Having spent over 15 years in local government she now works with the public and private sector negotiating PPP contracts, implement change and enable individuals and organisations to flourish. To contact Saiyyidah please email firstname.lastname@example.org