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Employee voices: The significance of Ramadan to me as a Muslim

Workplace Culture

By Ryerson employee Sakeena Mihar shares the significance of Ramadan, how it's observed and seven ways you can support colleagues observing Ramadan and fasting.

Three Muslim women at the launch of the Ryerson Muslim employee community network.

By: Sakeena Mihar, Web Content Strategist, Administration and Operations Communications; Co-Chair of the Muslim Employee Community Network

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and as a Muslim, this is one of the sacred months that I look forward to every year. This is the month when we fast — abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset.

The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar (which is different from the Gregorian calendar), so Ramadan falls on a different month and day each year. This year Ramadan is expected to start mid-May when the days start getting longer.

How do Muslims observe Ramadan?

Muslims are not a homogenous group. With a population of 1.8 billion people around the world, the significance of the month and spiritual practices vary depending on geographic region, religious sect and individual preferences.

During Ramadan, Muslims generally fast from sunrise to sunset. That means that for Muslims who are fasting, it’s common to wake up before dawn, usually between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. to eat a meal and prepare for fasting. At sunset, we often break fast by eating dates with water or milk, followed by a meal.

In addition to fasting, Muslims continue to pray five times a day. Ramadan has special night prayers called “Tarawih.” Since Muslim prayer is based on movements of the sun, Tarawih starts around 10:30 p.m. and ends before midnight. During the last 10 days of the month some Muslims will intensify their night prayers, often staying up the whole night to observe the holiest night of the year, which is called called “Laylat ul Qadr” translated as the Night of Power or Destiny.

"Eid-al-fitr," which many know simply as Eid, is the festival at the end of month of Ramadan. Eid is very similar to many other cultural festivals, where we celebrate with friends and family with lots of gift giving and food.

Why is the month important to Muslims?

Most Muslims use this month for self-reflection, increased spirituality and self-discipline. The act of fasting also creates empathy for people without food security or access to clean water. Many Muslims also increase their charitable activities during this time. It sounds overwhelming and hard for many, but we look forward to this month as a time of celebration where communities and families come together.

 

Most Muslims use this month for self-reflection, increased spirituality and self-discipline.

Interesting things about Ramadan

  • There is debate about when Eid falls. This is due to a difference of opinion on how this date is determined. As it is based on a lunar calendar, some wait for the actual sighting of the new crescent moon to determine the Eid day, while others base it on astronomical calculations.
  • Be warned: A fasting person’s breath may stink! It is the human body’s natural, detoxifying reaction to fasting. As such, you may find your fasting colleagues standing at a distance or covering their mouth when speaking to you.

Seven ways to be supportive of your Muslim colleagues during Ramadan

  1. Flexibility with schedules where possible: If you’re a leader and it’s possible operationally, consider offering a few work-from-home days and a later or earlier start time during Ramadan. Check out the guidelines on flexible work arrangements on the HR website for support setting this up.
  2. Be mindful of vacation days: Eid will fall in mid-June this year and may be on a weekday, which may mean taking a vacation day for some Muslim employees. Alternatively, leaders could approve compensating time off (CTO) hours if applicable. For support with this, check out the Accommodation of Religious Observances Policy and Procedure
  3. Double check before planning events that may fall on a holiday: The religious observances calendar on the Human Rights Services website includes a forecast of important religious holidays that are worth considering when planning your schedule or events.
  4. Space considerations: Finding a private space to pray on campus can be challenging for Muslims who pray five times a day. Two of these prayer times (depending on the season) will fall within work hours. It’s not uncommon for many of us to scramble to find space, usually booking an available meeting room or using someone’s office for privacy. If you have access to private space, offer to share this space for prayer if you are able to do so. We often end up praying in hallways, stairways or empty classrooms if we can't find a private space which can feel awkward and uncomfortable.
  5. Be considerate if you come across someone observing “wudu”: This is the ritual purification washing done by Muslims before prayers. As much as possible, I try to use a single-stall washroom for privacy. If I don’t have access to one, it’s not uncommon for me to use shared washrooms. Although this may be an unusual sight for some, it’s appreciated when you divert your gaze out of respect for privacy during this practice.
  6. Napping during breaks helps re-energize: During Ramadan lack of sleep at night means finding time during the day to rest is very useful. You may find some of us resting during lunch break by napping in the staff and faculty lounge. I know I’m looking forward to some shut eye in the new space this year.
  7. Be considerate of choices: Don’t assume all Muslims fast. Reasons for not fasting can include health, travel or personal choice. If you know someone is indeed fasting, please don’t ask “not even water?” - we won't be drinking water or liquids during the day. I don’t mind if my colleagues eat in front of me but I might ask them to reschedule coffee meetings.
 

By increasing awareness of important issues, we can increase inclusion for Muslims at Ryerson so we can bring our whole selves to work.

Throughout the past year, we’ve been able to work with the Ryerson community to launch the Muslim Employee Community Network. One of the goals of the network is to share knowledge with the Ryerson community at large. By increasing awareness of important issues, we can increase inclusion for Muslims at Ryerson so we can bring our whole selves to work. 

Additional Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about Ramadan, here are some additional links: