78 : Ramadan at Work

Ade hosts a special episode centered around Ramadan on today’s show! She lists a few ways to support your fasting co-workers and helpfully breaks down a handful of terms and phrases associated with Ramadan that you might hear this month.

Ibrahim Abdul-Matin’s book Green Deen can be found right here on Amazon!



Ade: What’s up, y’all? This is Ade, and you’re listening to Living Corporate. So for those of you who have heard of Ramadan but have never had a co-worker or friend or family member who goes through that process every year, or maybe you do but you don’t quite know what it means or you have questions as to what happens, this one’s for you. So what is Ramadan? Ramadan is fundamentally two things. One, it is a period that varies from year to year–because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar–that Muslims go through in order to fulfill a tenet of the faith. During this month, it’s not just about fasting, although that’s a significant part of it, from sunrise to sunset. Muslims refrain from eating food and drinking water, but there are also other components of this month that go beyond fasting. So it is also a time of prayer, of spirituality, of reflection, and also of community. Every night when you break your fast or in the morning [?], there is a process in which you spend time with your friends and your family members. Generally it’s not uncommon that you’re also going through this process alone, which isn’t the greatest experience in my opinion. So if you’re alone during Ramadan, I hope you’re able to find a community near you. So you might have heard your coworkers say that they are tired if they’re fasting during this month. That’s because, in general, people will wake up around 4:00 a.m. in order to, you know, eat and drink some water, get settled for the day, and pray the morning prayers, and also are staying up pretty late in the evening to break their fast, to commune, to gather their family and friends, but also go to–if they are–I think this is a Sunni Muslim thing only, but if they’re Sunni–if [?] is listening, please drop a line. Let us know if I’m wrong. I’m not quite sure, but Sunni Muslims go through this thing called [?]. It’s late night prayers essentially. So while fasting itself is obligatory, you don’t necessarily have to fast to also observe Ramadan. There are people who can’t fast, who are either sick, or–traveling’s a big one, or breast-feeding, or for people who have periods. You don’t fast during your period. But there are also other components of the month that are special. So you–like I said before, you get to experience these late night prayers. You are also supposed to be–it’s this internal time of reflection where you’re supposed to be experiencing humility, and you’re supposed to be a little bit extra–an extra sprinkle of patience. I mean, imagine that you’re going 16, 17, 18 hours without eating or drinking water, which is actually a bigger deal than you might realize. But you’re going through all of these things, and you’re also trying to empathize with people who, you know, Ramadan is their daily life. You’re attempting to extend yourself to others, to be more patient, be kind, be more humble. All of these components are an inherent part of Ramadan. You’re also supposed to restrain yourself, right? Like, you don’t get to have a lot of the physical pleasures that you experience, and so how does this, you know, reflect on who you are at work? Well, I know for myself I’m a pretty caffeine-reliant person, so imagine me at work at 9:00 a.m. meetings when I’m expected to perform at my best and I don’t have, you know, my drug of choice, caffeine. I don’t have–I haven’t had water in a very long time. My head hurts. I’m probably tired. So part of Ramadan for people who are in Corporate America, in corporate spaces, and in, you know, just general is that you’re spending a lot of time setting expectations before and during Ramadan. I know that I had a conversation with my team leads and my manager saying, “Hey, Ramadan’s coming up. During the month on Fridays, I will not be here. I will be working remotely so that I can, you know, have that extra time to make it to [Jamaat?] prayers, or I will be, you know, a little bit crankier during the month. You know, not taking my frustrations out on people, but I’ll be a little bit less perky essentially. I won’t have water, I won’t have food, and I certainly will not have caffeine, so be patient with me. And I also am a little bit more diligent during this month with writing everything down, because part of what fasting does is it affects your concentration, it affects your mental acuity, so I try to be extra diligent with that as well. And just being able to say, “Hey, these are the things that I’m experiencing. Thank you in advance for your patience and your support throughout this. This is what I need. This is what I don’t need. It’s really okay for you to eat in front of me in meetings. I’m not gonna be mad, and I’m not gonna Hulk smash anything.” Setting those expectations I think makes them easier on everyone around you. So let’s talk about–I’m doing this all by myself so it feels a little odd, but let’s talk about what it means to be a supportive co-worker or supportive friend for those who aren’t Muslims, aren’t going through Ramadan. I also know that there are people who are non-Muslims who like to show solidarity with their partners or their friends or their family members by fasting along, and y’all are dope. So what does it mean to be supportive? I would say if you are in a leadership position, if you are in a management position, I would start by making some concessions. Allow maybe people to work a few extra days remotely this month. I would, you know, not schedule a whole ton of intense meetings, particularly near the end of the day. Closer to the beginning of the day is better, and that’s because, you know, if I ate at 4:00 a.m., 12:00 is still a good time to talk to me. 3:00 p.m.? Eh, okay. 4:30 p.m.? You’re definitely pushing it, you know? Again, think about this as this person’s had not as much sleep as they typically do, they’re under–they’re working with much less mental stimulation, probably low blood sugar, and they’re also making an extra effort at this time to be extra patient and extra kind. So meet them halfway. It’s cool. So what are some ways you can support your co-worker at work? I think that, for most people, it’s relatively easy to notice the ways in which you can support your co-workers, because it’s just about being considerate. Let people work a few extra days remotely if possible. Yeah, just be flexible with their schedule, because it’s often easier to come into work earlier than it is to stay later. Don’t plan any extra meetings or make meetings extra long, because your concentration is pretty much shot throughout the month providing a space for people to reflect and pray if it’s possible, because even if they’re not ultra-externally religious over the course of the whole year, Ramadan is an extra special time, and it is a time during which most people that I know personally just take some time to reflect and to just kind of self-check, and it’s really nice having a space where, you know, you can retreat while still also being accessible at work. So that’s nice. Also, it’s okay to still have food-based events. I know that we have birthday cakes for co-workers and things like that. Sometimes there are, like, potlucks during the month, and nobody [?] would ever ask you to stop that during the month of Ramadan. Just because I’m fasting doesn’t mean that everybody else needs to. In fact, it’s really great if there’s–if people are having birthday cakes and they’re like, “Save me a slice for later,” ’cause I have, like, cake to look forward to, and who doesn’t like having cake to look forward to? I’m generally going to say also that it’s okay to ask how people are doing. It’s okay to ask, you know, how people are holding up, what they’re experiencing. It’s not okay to say things like–that are condescending or dismissive in general, because, I mean, these are just basic rules of engagement when it comes to working with people, but it’s not okay to minimize people. Like, “Yeah, I fasted.” Like, “I’ve been intermittent fasting,” or “I’ve been doing this intermittent fasting for a couple of weeks now. I know what you’re going through,” because truth is, yes, you have been fasting for several weeks, and not to minimize your experiences, but just to say that we are not experiencing the same thing, and it’s okay to recognize that. In 2019 I’m gonna give up saying “um” so frequently. Thank you so much for your patience, y’all. And definitely allowing time to celebrate after Ramadan’s done. So Ramadan ends with Eid–I think this year it’s supposed to end on the fourth or the fifth of June. We are not sure because, again, lunar calendar, and there’s a whole thing. Go ahead and–I encourage you to look into Eid and the end of Ramadan and what that means. Yeah, allow your co-workers to take time off to celebrate the end of Eid. It’s often a time of celebration with family members. And think about it. People look forward to this time of year. It’s this incredible time where you are exercising more discipline than you’ve shown during the year. It’s like–for me personally I describe it as, like, a spiritual reset, when throughout the year I experience things and life gets more and more overwhelming or I surround myself with things that are not necessarily edifying, and there are things that are often toxic that you don’t realize are toxic around you and in your space, and you just get to release all of those things through the things that you read and the things that you recite over the course of the month. I say all of that to say that this is a month of particular thoughtfulness and introspection, and at the end you get to celebrate all of it with friends and family, and your–like, because this is gonna be during the summer. There’s gonna be, like, a huge barbecue, and you get to, like, hang out with friends, people you haven’t seen in ages. There are often, like, marriage announcements during Eid, or people get married during Eid. Like, there’s just, like, a whole ton that goes on, and it would suck if you spent all of Ramadan looking forward to Eid, not necessarily because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing, but you’re looking forward to Eid, honestly, at the end of Ramadan. It’s a ton of fun, and you don’t get to take that time off. That blows. So if it’s at all possible, certainly allow your coworkers or friends that time off to fast. Now, I think the final thing I want to touch on on what you can do as a co-worker to be supportive is I certainly think that because it’s okay to ask questions, I would say that, you know, schedule some time after the month of Ramadan is over to grab coffee and say, “Oh, hey, I recall that you did this thing. What is that about?” If you’re not asking during Ramadan because of all the reasons I just spelled out, because there’s nothing–there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, and I actually also think that it’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m kind of uncomfortable with this, and I don’t know if you’re comfortable with this, but I do want to ask you XYZ questions,” ’cause that’s how you get an understanding, I think. Just to recap what we talked about, allow flexibility with your friends and co-workers. That’s not to say that we expect that, you know, you doing our work through Ramadan, ’cause Ramadan is so hard, but just allow some flexibility. Allow people to come in a little bit early if they need to. And there’s some people maybe who prefer to come in later. That’s cool too. I certainly think that it would be better to get a sense as to who’s gonna be fasting and all of those things beforehand, and if they’ve been doing their due diligence, most people will generally call out, “Hey, Ramadan’s coming up. Things are gonna be a little different for me. It’s not you. It’s me. I’m gonna be avoiding certain situations. It’s not you. It’s me.” Your co-workers who will often go on smoke breaks with you, probably not gonna be going on those smoke breaks. That’s probably one of the things that they’re gonna give up during daylight hours. It’s not you, it’s them. People are in general often not gonna go to happy hours with you or they’re not gonna do those things, and so I think part of–I think what I didn’t highlight is just finding other ways to be inclusive, to have social gatherings. If you have any client relationships, maintaining those or helping your co-workers maintain those client relationships in ways that aren’t going to exclude them, and by that I mean if you have lunch with your clients every third Thursday or whatever–I’m making that up–but if you have lunch with your clients, give your clients a heads-up. “Hey, Ali’s not gonna be coming,” or “Ali’s gonna be here, but he’s not gonna be eating. It’s okay. It’s not weird. It’s just Ramadan.” All of these different ways in which you can be allies to your co-workers in that way. And if they do say that they’re fasting and they slip up and say something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m so thirsty,” don’t offer them water. It’s coming from a good place, and I know that it’s coming from a good place, but being like, “It’s okay, you can break your fast 20 minutes early,” or whatever, if it’s close to the time of breaking fast. That’s not actually helpful, and although you’re attempting to be helpful, it’s not, like, a truly help–like, it doesn’t help my spiritual growth to say it’s okay to bend your will and your dedication to this thing because I can see you feeling the effects of it. If I didn’t know the consequences of my actions I wouldn’t be taking them, if that makes any sense. We also said try to insure your meetings are a little bit earlier in the day rather than later. Meetings that are later in the day are painful. I mean, everyone knows that you don’t–you don’t truly want to schedule meetings well into the afternoon in general in Corporate America, but it’s even worse when, you know, you’re running low on blood sugar, you’ve been probably up for a good, long while. It starts to take a toll, and I’m not at my best in those meetings. So I would caution against that as well, and certainly–especially if you have a larger contingent of Muslims on your payroll, when Eid comes around I would expect to cover–I mean, in the same way that you expect that during Christmas people are going to be taking time off and spending time with their family, or during Thanksgiving, it’s a similar concept in that we want to be with our families and celebrating, and it’s just nice to know that we don’t have to–we don’t have to, like, steal our spines to negotiate time off work for this. And it’s–you know, Eid is a big deal. It’s not just a one-day thing. It’s, like, a one, two, three, four day thing. Okay, it’s actually one to three days. Whatever, but [laughs]–I wish it were, like, a seven-day festival of fun and festivities. I say all of that to say that your friends and co-workers are really going to need that time off, so if you need to, like, swap schedules, if you need to plan a little bit ahead of time, if you need to create some succession plans and insure that there are overlapping responsibilities–people are taking care of those overlapping responsibilities, I would take care of that as well. And also, this is just a really good time to approach your co-workers with some empathy, because people may not necessarily disclose fully what their experiences are, and I’ve talked a lot about how this is a time of community and a shared understanding, but I also know that there are many people who are very far away from home for whom this is a difficult time, and Ramadan may not necessarily be the happiest time for them. So in that case, or not just in that case, but I certainly think this is a great time to experience or to share some empathy, to extend yourself a little bit, extend grace to others around you in the spirit of Ramadan. One thing I’ve heard of when my friend was–a couple of years ago for Iftar one day, her team threw an Iftar. She was the only Muslim on the team, and they were all curious, so they all fasted with her for the day. And, again, you don’t have to be super allies in this way, but they all fasted with her for the day, and then they broke their fast together, and that was just the cutest thing to me because one they didn’t have to, but they extended themselves for her, wanted to put themselves in her shoes, and two, to truly experience a new way of living a world in which they never realized existed until they had this co-worker and extended some grace to her. So I encourage that as well. Let’s see, do I have any final thoughts? Just some key phrases that you might be hearing over the course of this month. Ramadan Mubarak, which is, like, “Happy Ramadan.” Ramadan Kareem is another greeting that you might hear. Then conversely, at the end of the month when it’s Eid, you might hear “Eid Mubarak.” Let’s see. What are some other words? Iftar. Iftar is the breaking of the fast in the evening. So we typically do that by eating a date and drinking some water. And then suhur is your, like, morning breakfast. That’s what you eat before you start your fast for the whole day. What are some other key words or key terms? If you play music at work, throw on some Sami Yusuf. I love, love, love–I personally love Sami Yusuf’s music. That’s Sami Yusuf. Yeah, take some song recommendations, play some music. Zain Bhikha is a good one as well to just listen to at work if you’re in an environment where y’all play music during the day. Yeah, I think that’s it for me. I don’t have any book recommendations, although I should. I’ve been reading a few actually. Well, okay. There’s a book called Green Muslim. I don’t know what the author–I don’t quite remember the author’s name right now, but I’ll be sure to provide that information in the notes. Green Muslim, it’s all about being an environmentalist as a Muslim–or is it Green Deen? Goodness. My brain. See? It’s all about being an environmentalist as a Muslim and what it means to support sustainability, and so it’s a pretty good read so far, and I’m happy to share the name and a link to that in our show notes. Thank you again for listening. I hope this was not too rambly for everyone. Ramadan Mubarak, everyone. This has been Ade. Peace.

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