Law firms should ensure all employees are aware of what is involved for employees observing Ramadan and the potential impact in the workplace.
The holy month of Ramadan is a special time for nearly two billion Muslims all over the world.
Still reeling from the cancellation of holy pilgrimages to Mecca, saddened by the announcement that Hajj may be cancelled this year, the holy month of Ramadan 2020 will be spent in isolation and will undoubtedly prove to be a very different kind of experience for Muslims across the world.
All healthy Muslims who have reached puberty are obliged to fast but, among others, children, the elderly, the ill and frail, and pregnant or breastfeeding women are exempt.
During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims are obligated to fast from sunrise to sunset every day, abstaining from all food and drink – including water. It is common to have some food before sunrise known as Suhoor and an evening meal to break the fast at sunset called Iftar.
There are special nightly prayers held throughout Ramadan lasting one to three hours every night. These prayers are known as Taraweeh prayers and are in addition to the usual five daily prayers.
Ramadan is more than just abstaining from food and drink, it is exercising discipline and self-control in all aspects of one’s life including refraining from bad habits and behaviours.
It is a time of prayer and self-reflection, where Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an. Families and local communities come together to share meals together. Ramadan is also a time for giving to charity, which can involve both making donations and participating in charitable events.
The Islamic calendar is lunar, which means that days start at sunset. Ramadan typically lasts for 29-30 days and culminates in the celebration of Eid-Ul-Fitr.
Social distancing guidelines may appear to have dampened the spirit of Ramadan, with no congregational acts of worship outside of the home, no spiritual talks in the community, no breaking fasts with friends and family and no Ramadan bazaars with stalls selling food, drinks and clothes.
However, people of all faiths have always found ways of continuing to observe in times of crisis, and much of the essence of Ramadan can be maintained during isolation. There are already great initiatives underway all across the country.
Congregational prayers are being live streamed so Muslims can pray in their homes and virtual iftars with family and friends are already being arranged through the many online video calling facilities.
Many charities are running campaigns to fund foodbanks, providing food and water to those less fortunate all across the UK and overseas.
As employees observing Ramadan will wake for sunrise to eat and pray and will be fasting throughout the day, this may affect their energy levels – particularly towards the end of the day.
Employers may want to consider arranging lengthy or complex tasks for the beginning of the day or allowing flexible working arrangements throughout Ramadan.
I have always looked forward to Ramadan. It is a very special time to reflect on myself and my relationships with all those around me. This year, my local mosque is closed and there will be no congregational prayers. There will be no iftar dinners with family and friends. I am sad but also more grateful than ever before.
I hear news briefings report rising deaths on a daily basis. Behind every number is a family left grieving. I find myself praying more than ever before.
This year, I am looking forward to sharing my faith and my fasts creatively and virtually with neighbours, friends and colleagues, be they Muslim or otherwise. We as a family have signed up to live streaming of taraweeh prayers every night and am encouraging my not so tech savvy family to join virtual iftars.
The giving of charity during this month is very important to me. Charity is not only about giving money - it is an awareness of those less fortunate and helping your community.
For the month of Ramadan, I have signed up to help out with my local foodbank to distribute food packages to needy families. Thinking of more creative ways to help the community, I’ve signed up to sew scrubs for my local hospitals in West London.
Honouring my duties as an employee during Ramadan is also very important to me. I have been very fortunate as my employers have always been accommodating during Ramadan, and now more than ever. I have arranged flexible remote working, so that I can finish earlier and have some down time prior to iftar.
I have also arranged a skype call with my colleagues to explain what Ramadan is and how they can help support me and other Muslim colleagues during this month.
By the end of this holy month, I hope to not only have fulfilled my spiritual needs as a Muslim, but also as a productive member of a society that is going through the toughest, most unprecedented event in recent history.
May we all join together in making this Ramadan the most charitable yet. Stay home and stay safe.
Koser Shaheen, Law Society council member and chair of the Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division