As Ramadan has drawn to a close, I’ve been reflecting on how the pandemic and consequent lockdowns have changed how agencies approach supporting their staff, particularly during the sacred time of Ramadan.
Working from home was a blessing for me through my fast this year and I believe the lockdown has taught us a great deal about understanding flexibility and blend. These values have allowed me to offer my best self in both important aspects of my life, my religion and my work, and moving forward I hope that these values are upheld by businesses for many Ramadan’s to come.
Before exploring these values in depth, I would like to share a bit about the celebration of Ramadaitself. Ramadan is celebrated during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. It’s based on the lunar cycle, and as a consequence Ramadan migrates throughout the seasons. We fast from the beginning of sunrise to sunset (around 2am to 9pm at the moment) which means abstaining from food, water and drink throughout the day.
One of the reasons to fast is to experience the thirst, hunger, and weakness of those who don’t have luxuries we take for granted, such as unlimited supply of clean water from a tap and food from the supermarket whenever we need it. At the end of the fast we have cold water to quench our thirst and delicious food to indulge in, so we have light at the end of the tunnel and something to look forward to that keeps us going throughout the day.
However, those less fortunate than us don’t have that. What we feel during our fast is just a little taster of their experience and it makes us feel so grateful for the things that can often be taken for granted. For a small period of time, we are putting ourselves in their shoes, and it puts life into perspective. It is incredibly humbling and reminds us to think about the bigger picture, what is really important in life.
Of course, there are exemptions for those for whom it would be dangerous to fast. Children are not required to fast before puberty; however, they are often excited by the celebration going on around them and want to join in for shorter periods of time. My children have been taking part with their own miniature fasts, but health comes first.
It’s because health comes first that the values of understanding, flexibility and blend are so incredibly important at this time.
There’s so much more to Ramadan than just fasting, such as giving to charity and other acts of kindness, but yes fasting is an important part of the celebration. Until you’ve experienced it, it’s difficult to understand how fasting effects the body and mind. Fatigue makes it difficult to concentrate or focus and it might be uncomfortable to speak for extended periods of time with a dry mouth. Not only is your body weary from lack of food and drink but often you will also get less sleep due to the timings of Suhur and Iftar, the beginning and ending of the fast. Working from home has been a blessing for me this Ramadan. Things that seem small, such as the commute to work, can be extremely tiring when fasting and I have found it a massive relief to not need to worry about traveling and the impact that will have on my body and mind.
Flexibility is absolutely key during Ramadan, particularly at work. I believe the past year or so has taught us all a great deal about flexible working and the necessity of flexibility as a whole. It’s incredibly helpful for those of us who are fasting to have flexibility in our schedules to allow time to pray and time to begin and end the fast etc. Some people may find they want to come into the office earlier, for example, as they are already awake due to Suhur, but then may prefer to leave early due to fatigue as a consequence in the afternoon. The opposite may also apply.
My work is very important to me, as is my religion, and having flexibility during Ramadan means I can offer my best self in both aspects of my life. We have all experienced an unusual blending of work and personal life throughout the pandemic. We all have different things going on in our lives and Ramadan is yet another reminder to think of those around us and provide them with support and kindness, remembering that they are neither just work colleagues or just parents etc, but both.
Ramadan is the most special time for my family, my community and me. It’s a time to reflect and work to be a better person. A time to help others and a time to grow closer with God. There are so many beautiful things about the celebration of Ramadan – the community and the giving, the special time dedicated to family, the lack of judgement; the knowledge that everyone’s journey is a personal experience shared between them and God alone.
Ramadan is yet another reminder to think of those around us and provide them with support and kindness. Following Ramadan, I hope you can reflect on how you can offer a bit of flexibility and care to those around you, including your employees or colleagues.