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‘It’s not just about fasting.’ Here’s how to support Muslim colleagues this Ramadaan

Phumi Ramalepe , Business Insider SA
 Apr 14, 2021, 11:23 AM
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  • Ramadaan commenced this week.   
  • There are a couple of ways you can show respect during this holy month for Muslim colleagues.
  • This may include changing your meeting schedule.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Like millions around the world, South African Muslims started this week to observe Ramadaan, during which strict fasting is observed from dawn to sunset.

To support your Muslim colleagues during this time, here are some of the things you need to know and ways you can show respect:

Be sensitive in how you speak about Ramadaan   

"There are just some things that you should just not say to colleagues who are fasting," says Naeema Dudan, who works at the mobile journalism network Hashtag Our Stories.

Things like: ‘I don’t know how you do that. I would be so hungry.’

“I think that is insensitive because you’re obviously doing this for religious reasons. Saying that invalidates it a little bit. It’s not just about being hungry,” she adds.

Ramadaan is the Arabic name for the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It's a holy time during which believers fast during daylight hours and strengthen their relationship with God through intensive prayer, charity and self-reflection. 

But don't be afraid to ask questions

Your Muslim colleagues most likely appreciate your interest in talking about Islam. Feel free to ask your Muslim colleagues questions if you need clarity on something, says Dudan.

“I think the biggest thing is that if you have questions, ask. A lot of the time, people are willing to educate you about anything."

This applies to wanting to know about fasting times and what Muslims can and can't do during Ramadaan.

One of the most common questions is whether those who fast can at least have some water, says News24’s political editor Qaanitah Hunter.  The answer is no.

The idea is to abstain from life’s pleasures and give full devotion to their faith and being closer to God, says Hunter.

Consider changing meeting times 

Since Ramadaan observers do not eat for the most part of the day, Hunter says it's considerate to set up meetings earlier during the day given that energy runs out as the day wears on.

Managers can privately ask their direct reports if they would like any special accommodations

This may include earlier starts to the working day, and flexibility around prayer times.

Wishing a coworker 'Blessed Ramadaan' isn't offensive 

Many Muslims use "Ramadaan Mubarak" to greet each other, which is the Arabic translation.

You can also say "Ramadaan Kareem," which means "have a generous Ramadaan".

Don’t feel guilty about eating in front of fasting colleagues

People who are not fasting should not feel guilty about eating in front of their Muslim colleagues.

Hunter says “the notion that you can’t eat in front of someone [that’s fasting]” is not a problem at all. “Obviously not to entice someone with food would be nice,” she says.

But don't make jokes about your colleague not having coffee or eating lunch, either.

This one goes without saying, but even small quips can be very offensive. 

Don’t publicly expose those who are not fasting

Sometimes, not everyone can fast. This applies to Muslim women who are menstruating and include many other reasons why Muslims don't fast, like during illness or travel. If you notice a coworker who normally fasts but is abstaining, it's best not to nudge them unless they bring it up themselves.

Ramadaan will end around May 13 - 14, depending on when the new moon once again appears, to indicate a new Islamic month. 

Additional reporting by Allana Akhtar and Marguerite Ward 

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