· Features

How HR can help Muslims during an unusual Ramadan

Ramadan has always been a communal event, impacting approximately 1.8 billion Muslims globally. During the coronavirus pandemic, it is therefore going to be a very different experience.

Ramadan is a month of fasting for those physically able to fast, from sunrise to sunset, where Muslims abstain from food and drink and sexual relations.

It also involves controlling oneself by abstaining from anger, rudeness, lying, cheating and practising patience and self reflection to effectively reset the body physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Fasting is one of five pillars of faith including the belief in One God and His final Messenger, Muhammed, praying five times a day throughout the day, giving money to charity and performing the pilgrimage to Mecca if one is able to do so. Many of the pillars have a communal aspect of bringing worshippers together as one in their belief in the oneness of God.

Ramadan is considered a sacred month during which the Quran, the literal Word of God, was revealed to Muhammed (peace be upon him).

During this month, Muslims who are physically able to, would normally open their fasts collectively with family and friends or at mosques with other members of the congregation. The mosques would be typically packed with worshippers engaged in communal prayer during the evening into the early hours of the morning.

Due to coronavirus, mosques are currently closed. Many will be affected by COVID-19 and those with symptoms may not be physically able to fast this year nor would they be required to.

The sense of isolation will be more notable for Muslim worshippers who have always enjoyed the communal elements of Ramadan but being at home allows for more time to spend in self reflection, contemplation and spiritual awakening through reading the Quran and prayer.

Many Muslims in the workplace will be fasting and with the fast starting approximately 4am and lasting until approximately 8pm, it will mean many Muslims will be fasting whilst working.

This year, many Muslims will be working from home whereby some aspects of the fasting element will be easier without the commute, but there is a lot an employer can do to engage and support its Muslim workforce.

Sleep deprivation is likely to be a factor more so than hunger and thirst, so as an employer if you are able to offer flexible working you can support your Muslim employees by enabling them to rest when required. This will in turn help them to stay productive during their working hours.

Your business can also accommodate its Muslim workers by having online meetings later in the day rather than the morning. However, these would have to take place no later than 6pm as this would be nearing the end of the fast. This flexibility would also help them to pray during the working day.

As an employer you might need to remind your Muslim workers to take regular breaks away from their screens as they will not be stopping during the day for food, coffee breaks or comfort breaks like their colleagues.

During the month of Ramadan, the 27th night is especially sacred as it was the night the Quran was first revealed and is described as the Night of Power. Many Muslims choose to spend this night in worship so are very likely to need to catch up on their sleep the next day. They therefore may request time off the next day.

Ramadan this year will start 23rd April (depending on the sighting of the moon) and lasts for 29 or 30 days. It ends with a celebration called Eid ul Fitr that begins with a communal prayer and time spent with family and loved ones. Expect holiday requests during the last 10 days of Ramadan and especially for the Eid day celebration.

Employers need to comply with the Equality Act 2010 ensuring no one is disadvantaged in the work place due to their religion or belief. Employers are not legally required to grant leave requests on religious grounds but some flexibility can greatly increase morale, yet of course all requests will need to be balanced against business needs.

Having this conversation early can help you to be adaptive, ensuring your business is able to deliver whilst being a great way to engage with your Muslim employees.

Being conscious that your business clients, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders may also have fasting employees can ensure that all parts of your business are considered to ensure that the business can continue to work effectively.

Having a proactive, inclusive approach sends a clear message to your Muslim employees that they matter and that you care.

Shakil Butt is founder of HR Hero for Hire, and former HR and OD director at Islamic Relief Worldwide