Ramadan is the holiest time of the year in Islam. Muslims around the world, as well as in Australia, fast from sunrise to sundown for thirty consecutive days, until the celebration of Eid al-Fitr (the name differs per each country’s tradition) marks the end of Ramadan. 

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars in Islam. Yet, this month is about a lot more than not eating or drinking. For Muslims it’s a time of spiritual purification, and bettering.  It is also a time to reflect on their lives and show gratitude for what they have and help those who are less fortunate. As the saying goes, “Ramadan is a time to starve the stomach to feed the soul.”

This test of self-discipline is indeed a challenging time for many and it can present a lot of potential difficulties to face in the workplace. As an employer or manager, you may want to prepare for this special time in advance. To help you with that, we’ve created a list of considerations and tips that will make your multicultural team’s life easier during the month of Ramadan. 

When is Ramadan?

To begin with, it’s important to note that the Muslim calendar does not align neatly with the Gregorian calendar. Ramadan will fall on different dates each year. Be sure to check the correct dates each year and update your company calendar accordingly. 

What are some misconceptions in other cultures regarding Ramadan traditions?

A common misconception about fasting is that Muslims are forced to fast and starve themselves. In fact, this is not the case. Muslims choose to fast not only to practice their beliefs but also to practice self-discipline, mindfulness and gratitude for what they have.

What are some challenges Muslim employees may face observing Ramadan while at work?

  • The first thing that comes to mind is obviously physical challenges resulting from fasting. The human body naturally adjusts to abstaining from food and water for the day, but it takes time. At the start of Ramadan in particular, people may experience lower energy, headaches and fatigue. These physical effects can disrupt concentration throughout the workday. It becomes especially difficult to continue doing tasks later in the day. 
  • In addition to that, it may be challenging to avoid the temptation of having food around – that requires effort and greater self-discipline.
  • Mental challenges: feeling “odd” around non-Muslim colleagues, dealing with questions and attitudes, having to explain their behaviours.
  • Lacking private space at the office and additional breaks in the schedule for prayers.

What are some positives or opportunities that have come about at work during Ramadan?

  • Even though some people may face misunderstanding or even ignorant questions and comments, Ramadan can also be the time for mutual learning and cultural exchange. It’s key to keep an open mind to other cultures and traditions, and be genuinely curious about their ways.
  • If approached wisely, it can also be an opportunity to revisit and improve the workplace experience and corporate diversity & inclusion policy.

What can you do, as a non-Muslim manager, to optimise workplace experience during Ramadan and Eid?

  • Be mindful and considerate to those colleagues who are fasting. 
  • As energy levels and focus can significantly decrease, schedule the most important tasks and meetings earlier in the day.
  • Avoid late events, as well as events that involve food, such as lunches or coffee meetings.
  • Allow additional breaks for rest and prayers.
  • Ensure the availability of rooms where people can pray. It’s not uncommon for Muslim workers to have to seek privacy in places like storage rooms and pantries. An inclusive workplace should be accomodating.
  • Offer multicultural leave exchange. Allow your multicultural employees to take leave around Eid-al-Fitr, in exchange for other public holidays. This way they’ll be given an equal right to celebrate their traditional holidays, without impacting their annual leave.
  • If possible, customise the work schedule for your Muslim colleagues. They may prefer coming right after suhoor (break of fast at the sundown), working through the lunch break and leaving earlier. Discuss a timetable that works for both parties – your multicultural team will appreciate a flexible approach to their 9 to 5. 

What can you do as a Muslim employee to optimise multicultural workplace experience?

In the workplace, it’s a two-way street. The employer and the team can help you facilitate your Ramadan experience. But it’s also up to you to educate them. Open your hands to others who are not Muslim, to explain what Ramadan tuly means in a spiritual and also practical sense. It’s important for all people to learn from each other, and that’s how we can build bridges of understanding and collaboration more effectively with colleagues.

Final note

Accepting other traditions is a great way of bringing different cultures and religions together, people of different faiths or no faith to stand together in the spirit of cooperation and cultural understanding.

Ramadan is a perfect time to do that, to show the true face of Australian multiculturalism, strengthen our diversity, and show our unity.

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