Ramadan is the holy month of fasting for Muslims across the world, requiring abstinence from eating food and drinking water during daylight hours. The fast is both a spiritual and physical challenge – particularly so while working.
I'm often asked what it's like observing Ramadan in the workplace. The first few days are usually the most difficult, but it soon becomes part of my routine. Religion aside, it can improve patience, tolerance, and remind you of the importance of focusing on the bigger picture (usually because you don’t have the energy to get annoyed at small things!). So, even though it may provide a fair share of caffeine-shortage headaches, awkward mid-meeting stomach grumblings and bouts of hangriness throughout the day, perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the lesson in self-restraint and discipline that can carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim’s life. What makes the experience easier for me, however, is having a supportive working environment.
A recent study conducted by Muslim Census found that Muslims in the UK are twice as likely to stay at their current place of employment for five years or more if they feel their workplace is supportive during Ramadan. I'm grateful to be working in a team with supportive managers, and to have worked with other colleagues during my traineeship, who were inquisitive and understanding of my circumstances. Brodies has also created guidance for managers to help support those who may be fasting during Ramadan. Such actions not only create an inclusive environment for Muslim colleagues, but also build a culture that encourages colleagues to feel they can speak openly about their personal needs.
In the same census study, only half of the participants were “somewhat comfortable” or “very comfortable” in asking their employer for slight adjustments. My first experience of having this type of conversation arose last year during the NQ interview process, which consisted of a presentation and questions. As drinking water is not permitted during Ramadan, the prospect of conducting hour-long interviews, after a busy working day, was, I admit, daunting. However, the people engagement team at Brodies discussed what would work best for me and scheduled in morning slots. These adjustments made a significant difference and I'm grateful to have felt supported enough to have those conversations.
Another example of how a supportive working environment can be beneficial during Ramadan is in relation to annual leave. Eid is celebrated at the end of Ramadan. Since the Islamic calendar follows a lunar cycle, the exact day of Eid is only known for certain the night before. It could be an awkward conversation requesting leave where you can't be certain what date you're requesting, but in my experience, fortunately, my managers have been understanding and flexible with my annual leave requests around this period.
There are several other effective ways of supporting Muslims in the workplace too, and helping colleagues to understand beliefs, practices or traditions that are different from their own. I'm part of the Multicultural Colleagues network at Brodies, which has made significant moves in raising awareness in the firm about cultural events, including Ramadan. The network itself cultivates a supportive environment, and promotes open discussion on such topics.
As charity plays a key role during Ramadan, the network has also been raising money for poverty relief programmes in emergency responses, as well as distribution to communities across the world – and the amount raised has been matched by the firm.
Having a readily accessible space for prayer is important too in the workplace. I've heard stories of other working Muslims who have had to seek out changing rooms in shops near their offices, just for a space to pray. It's encouraging that Brodies has a dedicated space for prayer across all its offices, with religious texts and prayer mats available for colleagues – and it would be great if this became more widespread across the legal sector and business community.
The importance of a supportive workplace cannot be overstated, whether it's in relation to religious or cultural beliefs, or personal circumstances. I'm thankful to have had such positive experiences to date, and with a greater emphasis now being placed on diversity and inclusion in the legal sector, I'm looking forward to seeing how the landscape adapts.
Shumail Javed is a solicitor in Energy & Infrastructure at Brodies LLP