Around the world, 1.8 billion Muslims will be united in prayer during the holy month of Ramadan. As we all know, the UK and the world is in lockdown as a result of corona virus.
This means Ramadan is going to be a very different experience this year.
Here’s more about Ramadan and how you can support your Muslim colleagues during this time.
During Ramadan (23 April – 23 May), Muslims join their families to break their fast at sunset and go to Mosques to pray.
The pandemic has changed priorities with curbs on large gatherings for prayers and public Iftars (meals to break the fast).
Ramadan is a sacred period for Muslims and a time for prayer, reflection and abstaining from food. With more than 3 million Muslims living in the UK, the impact of Ramadan reaches many workplaces and communities.
How should employers handle this in these unprecedented times?
Whilst fasting and prayer is an individual experience, Ramadan is also a time for family celebrations, community and communal prayer.
Mosques are closed and large gatherings are banned. In some countries, strict curfews are in place. Families are discouraged from travelling to each others home to break their fast (Iftar) together.
Even shopping feels different, having to queue and seeing people 2 meters apart wearing masks and gloves. Feeding a hungry family during a lockdown can be also be a challenge. There is a shortage of food or essentials in some countries. Not forgetting the avoidance of stock piling so others would not suffer or go without food.
Speaking to Muslim friends and colleagues this year, Ramadan feels more subdued this year.
Some traditions will continue in the community and are much needed during these difficult times.
Throughout the year, Muslims carry out charitable good deeds (Zakat, is one of the 5 pillars of Islam). During Ramadan charitable giving, feeding the homeless or vulnerable such as the elderly is to be applauded.
Volunteers are working tirelessly but are having to adapt by wearing masks, gloves and maintain social distance.
Employers have responded quickly to the impact of Coronavirus. This includes the impact on the bottom line and employment, as well as health and mental well being.
Have employers also considered religion, belief and cultural implications?
When I worked with businesses in the Middle East, I knew they would have 2 or 3 short breaks for prayers during the day. Friday was a non working day in Saudi Arabia and Sunday was the first day of the working week.
Global businesses learn to adapt to different cultural contexts. For example, when to hold meetings. Or avoiding last minute requests during public holidays when no one will reply to your urgent email.
In the UK, some workplaces have become quieter during the past four weeks. The only positive of lockdown is that many more people are working from home.
This flexibility enables Muslim employees to manage prayer times and energy levels. This is important due to not eating or drinking any water during daylight hours (sunrise to sunset).
Technology has been used for team meetings but is also being used for virtual social gatherings, communal prayer and Iftar. The end of Ramadan is marked by EID celebrations but who knows if lockdown will be eased by then.
Employers could review their people policies. Explore how they may impact on home working or those delivering essential services.
Some flexibility and understanding goes along way in creating belonging in the workplace.
How is your business going to support employees who are fasting during Ramadan?
Particularly if they are a front line worker or doing a physical role or on their feet all day. Have you thought about other religious or culturally significant events in the calendar? For example, Passover, Eid, Navaratri, Diwali, Vaisakhi, Christmas, Hannukka and many more. I’m just giving a few examples here, too many to cover.
Employers have a great opportunity to connect with their teams. To not only celebrate the diversity of their employees and communities but raise awareness and promote inclusion, too.
No matter, what your religion or beliefs are. We have all spent a month reflecting, being more charitable and for those who are religious, praying for those who are suffering or have lost loved ones.
We have all had a small insight into Ramadan and the benefits of a month of prayer, reflection and abstinence. I am sure we are all looking forward to lockdown being lifted. Once lifted, we will be able to break bread with our families, friends and colleagues once more.
Hope in humanity, unity in our community and together we will get through this crisis. Inshallah
Be safe, be well, be healthy.
Dipak Arya is a Head of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I).
He has worked with Muslim communities in the UK and helped many organisations in driving their D&I approach across public, commercial and not for profit sectors.
He has helped organisations to understand the religious and cultural needs of patients, customers and employees.
As a Head of D&I he has worked with organisations operating in the UK, Europe, USA, India, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Turkey.