How Anyone Can Be More Inclusive in the Office During Ramadan

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Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims commemorate the Quran being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad—can affect the work lives of people observing it.

This year, Muslims in the U.S. began observing Ramadan on the evening of May 15, and for many it involves “sawm,” or fasting. The Eid al-Fitr holiday to celebrate breaking the fast will fall between June 14 and 16.

I recently came across a fantastic Twitter thread by Nashwa Lina Khan—who calls herself a “perpetual student and sometimes writer”—that highlights many of the ways co-workers, managers, and companies can better support those who observe Ramadan. The thread blew up, leading many who saw it to chime in with their own thoughts and tips.

I reached out to Khan to hear more of her story. She shared several suggestions for how we can all be more inclusive in the office during Ramadan, including:

If You’re a Manager, Talk to Your Employees

Khan starts off her thread with a story about the first time she sat down with her own bosses to talk about Ramadan.

“This was something entirely new to me. In other jobs and situations, I’d never bring up Ramadan, in fear of seeming like a burden,” she told me. “There have been rare instances where someone has been mindful and aware of Ramadan but the conversation on what would be best for me as a Muslim observing the month has never occurred.”

But she’s glad she brought it up: “I love talking about my religion, and Ramadan is an exciting time for me as a Muslim to reconnect with my faith and feel gratitude for all I have.” And being able to be your whole self at work is crucial to having a strong relationship with your team and ultimately for enjoying your job.

She recommends that managers who know there’s a Muslim observing Ramadan on their team initiate a conversation on how to best support them, even if it’s after the month has started. It’s never too late to bring it up. Be empathetic and proactive by taking the time to try to understand your employees’ needs.

Be Flexible

Some days your employees may need to work from home, come in late, leave early, or take the day off to observe Ramadan. Be aware that your direct report or co-worker may not always be available or might be working fewer hours than usual, and adjust their (and your) workloads and meetings accordingly.

While Khan considers herself lucky to work for such a supportive and flexible company, she knew she had to come armed with suggestions for how her team could help her out.

“My employers didn’t really know how to support a Muslim fasting. I let them know I could come in early and work through lunch,” she says. “That perhaps on days where I had no meetings, working at home would be best as the commute would be a waste of time. I also let them know of nights I would be busy with commitments related to Ramadan.”

Because everyone works and observes Ramadan differently, listen to your colleague’s suggestions and make sure you’re both comfortable with the plan you’ve put in place.

Be Cognizant of Food in the Office

Ramadan involves fasting from sun-up to sun-down, which means your colleague may not be able to participate in food-sponsored events during the work day. Make sure you’re giving them options to feel included.

One example Khan gives is when her team ordered in cupcakes from a nearby bakery. “Although I was fasting I was given a cupcake for later. Although the gesture may seem small, I appreciated the thought and not being pressured to eat it in the moment,” she says.

Khan also received many other tips via Twitter for how people can include their teammates during Ramadan. Many suggested planning events that didn’t involve food at all.

“Again, this is perhaps a conversation that can be had between management and Muslim employees because we are all different. Shifting events could be even more isolating for some individuals, or like me they might not care if people eat around them,” she adds.

She also emphasizes that “many Muslims in non-Muslim countries have observed a number of Ramadans in places where people eat—we are used to it! What we don’t want is pressure to drink water or eat. We’re adults and we can have bodily autonomy in such situations.”

Finally, she says you shouldn’t be surprised if your Muslim co-worker isn’t fasting. Not every Muslim fasts during Ramadan, and those who do don’t necessarily do it all month.

Educate Yourself

Take the time to do your research so you understand what Ramadan is, how to talk about it in the workplace, how your colleague is observing it, and the nuances of how it may affect their work. This is an incredible way to be an ally.

These are some great resources Khan recommends:

  • “How to Talk to Muslims During Ramadan” by Sarah Hagi of Vice
  • “A Muslim Canadian’s Guide on How to Talk to Muslims During Ramadan” on CBC Radio
  • “Even Water? Why (and How) Muslims Fast During Ramadan” written by Khan herself on JSTOR Daily
  • “No, Not Even Water: A Guide to Ramadan for Non-Muslims” by Rashida Yosufzai of SBS News

Our diversity and inclusion group at The Muse also recommends listening to the episode on “How Ramadan Works” from the podcast Stuff You Should Know.

Every workplace is different, but being respectful and reading up on Ramadan can make your colleagues who are observing it feel more at home in the office.

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