How to support your Muslim colleagues during Ramadan

Ramadan has started; here's how you can support your observing co-workers.

Reading the Quran

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic lunar calendar.

Photo: Ed Us/Unsplash

Raheem Ashrafi likes to manage the way he would like to be managed. So when Ramadan rolled around this year, the product manager at tech consultanting company Productive Edge took to LinkedIn to educate and share tips for providing a more inclusive and healthy work environment for Muslim colleagues.

Muslim tech workers are frequently put in the position of educating their colleagues about Ramadan and the necessary accommodations or considerations. But some say they appreciate it when leadership or HR recognizes and proactively provides awareness around it.

“I made that post because I was thinking, ‘Maybe I'll give some tips to other managers,’” he said. “I don't have any Muslim co-workers on my team that report to me, but I was just thinking [about] what would I have liked if I was on a team, and what I expected from my manager. So I came up with a few of these tips.”

Ashrafi shared that his company did send out communications to employees recognizing Ramadan in the following days, and he was pleased with the amount of awareness and resources it provided. He said it was clear that the company had done its own research about Ramadan beyond simply resharing his post.

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic lunar calendar, and marks the time in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. This year, Ramadan began on the evening of April 1. It lasts between 29 and 30 days (depending on the lunar cycle), and during this time millions of Muslims fast between dawn and sunset. Ramadan closes with Eid al-Fitr.

While some people don’t mind educating their colleagues about it, others would prefer that their leadership provide information. Asima Silva, a principal software engineer at Raytheon Technologies, said she feels comfortable sharing about Ramadan as a more senior employee, but hearing from leadership goes a long way.

“I've been in software engineering for almost 20 years, and 20 years ago the political climate wasn't so positive and open-minded with Muslims. So what I found originally, like maybe 20 years ago, is a lot of people didn't advertise they were Muslims. And it was difficult then. I think it has become much, much more open now,” she said.

Recently her team discussed wanting to have an ice cream social in April. Silva asked for a rain check. She didn’t immediately offer the reason why: that she would be fasting during this time. But she resolved that she would inform her colleagues if they asked. When they did, she took it as an opportunity to educate.

“If someone like myself doesn't take the opportunity, if asked, to talk about it, then the young college grads that are coming in are going to then feel like they also can't share,” said Silva. “So I think people who are in leadership positions or are in slightly higher-level positions can take the opportunity to share. Or in a company meeting, say, ‘Those who are fasting, happy Ramadan, let us know what you need.’”

Even a simple statement like that from leadership opens the door for others to feel comfortable with sharing and being open about observing Ramadan and fasting, she shared with Protocol.

Samad Jawaid, a senior software development engineer at Amazon, also said he believes awareness is one of the most important factors when it comes to supporting colleagues. But, in his opinion, communications from HR have the potential to come off as a bit heavy-handed.

“I don't think that's the right approach. For other religious observances, we don't really send out HR notes … I don't think I'd want HR for any one single religious observation to have communication. But if they did it for everything, that might be kind of cool,” said Jawaid.

He does see talking about Ramadan with more direct colleagues and in more casual settings as a great team-building opportunity.

“I do think it's cool if senior leaders do recognize that there are team members observing something. It is nice when, in a large Slack channel, somebody just mentions that this month it’s starting, and, you know, so and so is observing, or something like that. That is nice,” he said.

Here are a few ways you can best support colleagues during Ramadan.

  • Spread and promote awareness. As stated, simply wishing employees a happy Ramadan goes a long way, or you could say "Ramadan Mubarak," which means "Blessed Ramadan." It reinforces a diverse and inclusive work culture in which employees want to stay. Awareness can also look like managers being aware of who on their team is observing Ramadan, or HR sending out general communications recognizing the month if it feels appropriate. “I feel like HR’s responsibility is really three things: It's to inform, to educate and then also to advise accommodations,” said Ashrafi.
  • Be accommodating. This is often among the top pieces of advice offered for supporting colleagues. And though helpful, many colleagues often jump to the conclusion that it simply means not inviting a Muslim co-worker who’s observing Ramadan to lunch or coffee. Lunch meetings are still OK, said Jawaid. Instead, ask if any specific accommodations are needed.

    Silva said it is important to note that fasting does not make anyone less capable of doing their job. “When I say accommodating, I don't think any company should expect any less of our work,” she said. It’s more about recognizing the times in which someone will not be available because they are opening fast or participating in prayer.
  • Foster an environment of intentional flexibility. It’s important for managers to learn how to accommodate employees without hesitation, said Ashrafi. And remember: Just because more people are working from home, it doesn’t necessarily make stepping away from your desk when needed any easier. For hybrid workers, it’s helpful when leadership allows employees to choose which days they come into the office during Ramadan. Also, many Muslims observing Ramadan will need more time off toward the end, Jawaid said, as the last 10 nights are considered the most holy. Eid is the most important time to take off and be with family.
  • Respect boundaries, especially when it comes to scheduling times for meetings. If a colleague tells you when they’d prefer to schedule meetings, don’t ask them to budge.
  • Remember: The experience of observing Ramadan can be slightly different for everyone. Silva points out that while some people may try to fast and only do so once or twice, others will fast and some will even do the Shawwal fast (which occurs after Eid). “I think we need to show a diversity within the Muslim culture, too. And when we talk about opening iftar, we should use that opportunity to talk about how all the diverse cultures and countries open iftar. It's very different,” she said.

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