Islam’s holy month of Ramadan begins April 23, kick-starting a season of devotion and celebration that will look drastically different this year amid a pandemic.
With many mosques closed in Atlanta to adhere to social distancing guidelines, Muslims around the city and state will miss Friday prayers and the traditional community iftar dinners where they break fast at sundown.
But many are already finding new ways to practice their time-honored traditions as Muslims around the world celebrate the revelation of God’s word, the Qur’an, to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.
During this month, which falls on a different date dictated by the lunar calendar each year, Muslims fast from dawn till sunset from water, food and tobacco to deepen their reliance on and remembrance of God.
“They look at it as a spiritual recharging month,” says Soumaya Khalifa, a cross-cultural consultant who in April has hosted two webinars focused on Ramadan in the workplace. “It’s like one has a bank account, and during that time they deposit a lot of ‘money,’ doing lots of good deeds.”
Now more than ever, especially as the state of Georgia controversially kick-starts sectors of the economy even before its own shelter-in-place order has expired, employers should work to show sensitivity to their Muslim employees’ observances.
As a baseline, the office or workplace should set aside a clean, quiet space for Muslims to pray during their breaks, along with a restroom where ritual ablutions (or wudu) can be done before the prayers. Supervisors should also educate other staff members about these designations, especially if the bathroom is a shared one. Imagine an employee walking in to see a co-worker with a foot in the sink, Ms. Khalifa said.
“They might think that the colleague has gone crazy or something, so being able to understand what they’re doing is important,” she said.
Open communication expressing a spirit of understanding is key. Ms. Khalifa noted that even Muslims who normally don’t practice their five daily prayers may do so during Ramadan, a time when good deeds, zakat (charitable giving) and acts of spiritual devotion are seen to be multiplied.
Employers should also be flexible with scheduling: Since Muslim workers won’t be able to eat, they might want to avoid lunch breaks with the rest of the crew. They may want to work breaks so they can break the fast in a timely manner. Muslims rise before dawn for their first meal of the day during Ramadan.
“It’s not the lack of water or food that is most impacting them, it is the lack of sleep,” said Ms. Khalifa, also a co-founder of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta.
Some definite don’ts: Dictating when (or that) an employee should pray, or assuming that those who practice Islam do so in the same way or are monolithic in their culture or food. Islam is marked by some of the greatest socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of any religious community in the U.S., she added.
Hesitant to point to specific companies “getting it right,” Ms. Khalifa said what’s important is continuous improvement and constant communication among the management and staff.
“If it reaches a certain level, there is a better level to which they can go.”
Diversity, after all, is not simply a goal for its own sake, she says. It’s a way to attract the best workers and productivity by keeping them feeling engaged and appreciated.
Learn more at www.khalifa.consulting.