Graduate civil engineer Mo Kamara shares misconceptions around the Holy month of Ramadan and shares tips on increasing inclusivity.
Ramadan is one of the five key pillars of Islam.
Muslim communities embrace and observe it as part of an act of worship to Allah.
During the period of fasting, Muslims devote themselves to their faith and rekindle their relationship with Allah by not eating or drinking during daylight hours.
There are many common misconceptions about Ramadan.
Let’s name a few.
‘Every Muslim must fast’
Fasting isn’t for everyone!
Here are a few examples of people that are exempt:
- those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating
- the elderly
- people with intense hunger and thirst
- people who are travelling
- those with sickness and compulsion, where you are forced to do something against your will
However, those in the above categories can still participate through donating to charities, mosques, or those in need.
‘Brushing your teeth or having water in your mouth could break your fast’
Brushing your teeth with toothpaste and water is completely fine when fasting.
If in the event you accidentally swallow some water, your fasting is still valid.
With no food and water for a long period of time, it’s natural for your breath to start changing.
During this month, I often carry a bottle of mouthwash with me to the workplace and use it every hour along with a splash of water to freshen up.
‘Fasting is a great way to lose weight’
True and false!
This all depends on the individual and the meals they tend to eat.
If you eat substantial amounts of food during the eating window, and depending on what you eat of course, you could end up gaining weight.
Whereas, you could still have the same number of meals, but if they’re nutritionally balanced and absorbed in less quantity you could still maintain the same body weight.
‘It’s rude for non-Muslims to eat in front of those who observe fasting’
The truth is those fasting often have more food and drink within the short window they have than those who aren’t fasting.
Fasting is all about self-control, reflecting and reinforcing their relationship with God.
So, it’s fine to eat in front of those fasting but it’s also okay to ask them. Everyone’s different!
‘Ramadan is only about abstaining from food and drink’
The key to Ramadan for all Muslims observing the month is to be the best versions of themselves spiritually, mentally, and physically.
Muslims are encouraged to abstain from habits such as gossiping, foul language, smoking, drinking alcohol, partying, relationships that are deemed forbidden, etc.
Some may find themselves going back to previous habits while others don’t – a reminder that humans are imperfect and a work in progress.
Ideally, this month is seen as a chance to reflect, redeem and start afresh.
‘It’s all about being too serious and no fun’
I agree that our usual routine changes during this month. However, that doesn’t stop most Muslims from doing what they enjoy doing when fasting.
You could do any of the activities you like when you’re fasting or after breaking your fast – if you can.
The highlight for me is participating in a Ramadan charity football tournament, where the money goes to support those in need.
Yes, we play for countless hours without drinking – shows you the wonders of the human body!
What it’s like to observe Ramadan while working
For many Muslims, observing Ramadan in the workplace could prove to be challenging.
Not because of abstaining from food and drink, but mainly due to the lack of awareness of those who aren’t fasting.
This could present a space of discomfort mainly for those fasting and sometimes those who aren’t.
My experience every year has been pretty much the same.
Explaining to the same people you’ve worked with for years what Ramadan is and the dos and don’ts.
Unfortunately, repetition is the master of skill, and you can only make a change if you’re willing to be patient and consistent with your message – eventually it will happen.
I encourage those fasting to be openminded and step forward in raising awareness by letting their employer and colleagues know the significance of such a month.
Doing so creates an inclusive workplace for all.
What can you do if you’re fasting?
Always consult your doctor prior to fasting if you have a medical condition such as diabetes or hypertension.
Let your line manager know that you’ll be fasting prior to Ramadan and discuss any support you may require.
Drink plenty of water during the periods you’re not fasting to keep hydrated and to reduce the risk of fatigue.
You could also integrate fruit and vegetables with a high-water content into your morning and evening meals.
What happens at the end of Ramadan? Eid!
You’re probably wondering what happens at the end of Ramadan?
The end of Ramadan is known as Eid al-fitr.
Muslims celebrate the end of the fasting period by honouring Allah for giving them strength and courage during this important month.
During Eid, mosques hold congregational prayers indoors and outdoors, bringing Muslims together to celebrate this special day.
The highlight of this day is Muslims wearing their best clothes, excited to see each other at the prayers.
Along with taking pictures with family and friends, cooking traditional meals and giving gifts to children as part of the celebration.
If you know someone that celebrates this day, be sure to wish them Eid Mubarak or Happy Eid.
What support could employers and colleagues give?
Have open conversations with your team(s) to understand who’s fasting and what you can do to support them.
Recognise that some individuals may be quieter than usual or have less energy.
Educate your team(s) on what fasting entails and how it can impact individuals, in order to create a supportive, inclusive environment.
You could consider adjusting deadlines around Eid.
Inclusive language to encourage
|“You poor thing, it must be so difficult for you!”
|“I have so much respect for your commitment to your faith.”
|“Oh, how come you’re not fasting like the others?”
|Say nothing at all. No one should have to justify their reasons for not fasting.
|“If you’re not eating, do you want to just work through your lunch break to get this finished?”
|“I appreciate you are not eating, but please ensure that you take regular breaks throughout the day.”
|“You can have some, I won’t tell anyone.”
|“I respect your commitment during this period of great significance to yourself and your religion.”
|“Not even water! Isn’t that bad for you?”
|“I understand that Muslims fast from dawn until dusk, therefore when the sun sets, they can eat and drink.”
|“You’ve lost a lot of weight!”
|Remember that this is a time for spiritual reflection and a serious matter, not for weight loss.
Why is it important to spread awareness during the month of Ramadan?
We live in a world where change is inevitable, and the industry is forever changing.
With time we’ve witnessed how diversity in the profession has helped shaped our homes, workplace, and lifestyle.
Therefore, taking the time to raise awareness during the month of Ramadan should be seen as one of the ways of strengthening culture in the workplace.
Along with encouraging and reminding others that though we may all come from different backgrounds, our beliefs and culture is what makes us collectively diverse.