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Celebrating Ramadan at Work


If you work in a large, international organization with a diverse population, chances are a portion of your workforce will be practicing Muslims. This will mean that for an entire month part of your community will refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sundown[i].

 

 

Oh my God, you’re not eating??

 

If you walk around the typical office on any day of the week, you will likely see an abundance of food everywhere. Food and drink is pushed at employees actively and passively, from goodbye coffee-and-cake events for leavers, cupcakes for birthdays, Monday Muffins for the early birds, chocolates in a bowl in the lobby, after work drinks on Fridays and coffee-coffee-coffee. Food is an inescapable part of office life.

 

Your Muslim population is necessarily subjected to all this during their working day, too.  They will be there at Monday Muffins and Taco Tuesdays, wishing their colleagues well for their goodbye parties, politely declining the cinnamon buns, since non-attendance isn’t an option. When they don’t actually eat or drink, they will often having to explain themselves over and over again.

 

Generally, the reaction from the non-Muslim is one of shock followed by pity. “Oh my god, you’re not eating?” To which the Muslim colleague may laugh, shake her head and assure the host that they needn’t worry, that they are just fine, are not about to faint, and are actually enjoying this very special time of the year.

 

 

What’s Ramadan?


Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for practicing Muslims. About 93% of Muslims fast during Ramadan[ii]. That adds up to about 1.6 billion people worldwide[iii].

 

It’s a time to detach from earthly pleasures, physically and spiritually purify, donate to charities, pray and celebrate with family and friends. Imagine a combination of Christmas by night mixed with Lent by day, on steroids, celebrated every day for 30 days. It’s intense, spiritually cleansing, and full of warmth and food once the sun has gone down.

 

It’s also hard; in Northern Europe those long days mean 19-hour fasts without caffeine or nicotine. 

 

Some families wake up at 4am to have a big, very early breakfast to give them the energy they need for the rest of the day. It’s called suhoor. To the typical outsider, this feels like a kind of neat sleepover midnight secret-snack event.

 

The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a three-day holiday called Eid Al-Fitr (or “Eid” for short). This is a time to party, attend services, give gifts and eat during the day.

 

 

Five ways to make Ramadan cool for everyone

 

1. Send a greeting

 

The month begins with the greeting of "Ramadan kareem!". If you have control over your company or team social feeds, send out a (digital) card for those who recognize it, and for those who don’t to raise awareness. This message goes out on the first day of Ramadan. Check your calendars since this is different every year.

 

2. Educate your workforce

 

At the same time, slip in a bit of information to those who are not on the inside. What’s Ramadan? What is it, what does it mean, how is it expressed and why, how long does it last, and, by the way, here’s why not everyone will be wolfing down the slices of pepperoni on Pizza Fridays for this month. Explain why we put away the food temporarily (see point 3), what “to go” options might be available (see point 4) and why it matters.


 

3. Remove superfluous office food

 

In the spirit of our generosity let’s make a few small changes for a month. We can all do without the excessive amounts of food we have lying around every surface of our offices. As a courtesy, in solidarity, encourage your teams to put their chips and chocolates in a drawer and the baskets of candy bars in a closet just for a little while. And certainly, don’t force food on people who don’t want it. Sort of like a giant Instagram challenge; we’re all the better for it.


4. Easy “to go” bags for events

 

For events that involves food, there’s a great way to have your cake and eat it too (literally). Offer small “to go” bags with a little note, perhaps, that might say something like “Take Me Home, Eat Me after Sunset!”. This way, your faster can politely take a pre-packaged baggie and enjoy it with their families when the time is right. That cinnamon bun will taste great for 4am suhoor.


5. Celebrate the end of Ramadan with snacks

 

Eid is a great opportunity to have a little social event at the office. It can be low-key. You can offer dates and nuts in the pantries for anyone who wants them with a little card that lets people know what just happened and why it matters.

 

 

There are so many other holidays!

 

Nothing drives engagement at work like being seen. When the dominant culture makes minor adjustments to the normal routine out of respect for the rituals and patterns of the few, the engagement effect ripples into the full community. As we learn about the lives of others, we encourage and even participate.

 

A few small actions make a loud-and-clear statement that your culture is one of curiosity, respect and celebration of rich diversity. Actions speak far louder than the words on the company website.


And don’t stop there. Depending on the cultural makeup of your community, you will likely have many other holidays to celebrate; from Chinese New Year, Diwali, Hannukah, Bastille Day and much more. Get to know your workforce – who they are, what they celebrate - and weave in a few of these to spice up the year.

 

Finally, involve your teams. Anyone who wants to the on the Diwali Committee should be invited to plan the event, develop the communications and find the perfect treats. After a while these sub-committees will be inspired to run the events themselves. Viral, organic employer marketing will be a natural result.

 

Fiona Passantino is the author of this article. Contact us if she can be of any help to your organization.


[i] Arab News (2016) “A beginner's guide to Ramadan”. Accessed March 19, 2023  https://www.arabnews.com/node/935516/islam-perspective 

[ii] Ghani (2013) “Most Muslims say they fast during Ramadan” Pew Research Center. Accessed March 20, 2023. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/07/09/global-median-of-93-of-muslims-say-they-fast-during-ramadan/ 

[iii] Puri-Mirza (2020) "Ramadan - statistics & facts" Statista. Accessed March 20, 2023. https://www.statista.com/topics/3796/ramadan-2017/ 

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