Sunday, May 17, 2020

Etiquette and Ramadan

It is best to wish your Muslim counterpart a “Ramadan Mubarak” (Blessed Ramadan) or a “Ramadan Kareem” (Generous Ramadan) at the start of this holy month. Moreover, since fasting is observed as a religious sacrifice, it is also proper to wish Muslims a “Seeyam Ma’boul” (an Accepted Fast) throughout the month.

Understanding Your Muslim Colleague During Ramadan

Islam is an Abrahamic religion, founded by Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century A.D. Followers of the Islamic religion are called Muslims. As a community, Muslims are quite diverse; their ethnic background includes Arabs, South Asians, Southeast Asians, Africans, Europeans and Americans. Muslims comprise about one fourth of the world population.

In the professional world, to recognize the nuances and commonalities within such a varied community, it is vital for non-Muslims to understand and appreciate the fascinating rituals and cultural traditions which Islam is based upon. In particular, to empathize with your Muslim teammates during celebrations such as Ramadan and Eid El Fitr, following are nine tips to help you better connect with them.

1. What’s So Special About Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth Lunar month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims observe fasting (Sawm) from the break of dawn (Fajr) till dusk (maghrib). The sanctity of this period is linked to the fact that the Qur’an’s revelation to Prophet Mohammad began in the month of Ramadan. Hence, throughout this period, Muslims focus on spirituality, self-reflection, prayers and recitation of the Qur’an. Moreover, as the rewards of all good deeds accomplished during Ramadan are multiplied, Muslims then engage in more acts of kindness along with more compassion towards the less fortunate and devote more time to charity work. Furthermore, fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Therefore fasting, for an exemplary Muslim, is a religious duty.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, the usual three meals per day are replaced with two: one eaten before the Fajr, called Suhoor a
nd another meal eaten at sunset, marking the break of the fast, and called Iftar. While fasting, Muslims must avoid moral misconduct, refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and even abstain from physical pleasures. For Muslims around the world, fasting teaches self-awareness, discipline, self-control, patience and compassion.

2. Not all Muslims Practice their Faith in the Same Manner

Although observing the fast during Ramadan and practicing daily prayers are expected, some Muslims may not observe these rituals according to Islam. This shall not be viewed negatively for it is common to have non-observant believers in all religious faiths.

Therefore, should your Muslim colleague be not fasting, avoid inquiring about it. Reasons could be personal or may vary following an illness, a pregnancy condition, or traveling purposes. As a team leader or a coworker, don’t presume how your Muslim counterpart is expected to practice her/his religion. Remember that almost no one likes to be told how to observe her/his religion. Therefore, refrain from asking about prayer preferences or details about fasting rituals and wait rather until your Muslim colleague initiates the need to do so. Only then can you look for ways to provide them with a private room for praying, or review their work schedule and discuss alternative timetables for the fasting month.

You might also get across a Muslim female colleague showing up to work without wearing any makeup or possibly covering her hair during the holy month. There is no need to speculate about these temporary lifestyle changes. The conservative appearance simply reflects a modest attitude throughout the fasting period when conversations are toned down, while spirituality and humility are further emphasized. Moreover, Muslims at work may also practice cross-gender physical and social distancing, for hygienic reasons, respectfully avoiding halitosis. These are all plausible behavioral changes you might encounter during the Ramadan period. However, keep in mind that they may vary according to your Muslim counterpart and the culture of the organization.

3. Happy Ramadan vs. Ramadan Mubarak

Non-Muslims making good wishes for Ramadan oftentimes think of it as a religious holiday similar to Easter. In some ways that is true. As the Lent observance during this Christian holiday ends with Easter Sunday celebrations, so does the Fasting of Ramadan end with Eid El Fitr holiday. However, since the latter is not originally a Western tradition, greetings for this occasion must be expressed and addressed in ways appropriate to Islam. Therefore, it is best to wish your Muslim counterpart a “Ramadan Mubarak” (Blessed Ramadan) or a “Ramadan Kareem” (Generous Ramadan) at the start of this holy month. Moreover, since fasting is observed as a religious sacrifice, it is also proper to wish Muslims a “Seeyam Ma’boul” (an Accepted Fast) throughout the month. As fasting ends with Eid El Fitr, the best wishing terms then are, “Eid Mubarak” (Blessed Holiday) or “Eid Fitr Sa’eed” (Happy Eid Fitr), which are said once the Eid is declared by the religious leaders at the end of Ramadan and the start of Shawwal month. Certainly, Muslims are grateful for “Happy Ramadan” wishes, but using the right terminologies is not only an indication of your cultural intelligence, but also a highlight of your impressive soft skills!

Moreover, for Muslims, no relation is taken to the next level if the basic values are not met. Muslim communities are founded on trust, honor, respect, integrity and social bonding. Interfaith awareness is therefore key with potential Muslim prospects, whereby well wishes for Ramadan are opportunities to build professional relationships wisely and reinforce existing ones respectfully.

4. Variable Date of Ramadan Each Year

The Islamic Calendar comprises twelve months, follows a lunar cycle and is shorter than the Gregorian one. Unlike Christmas, Ramadan holiday migrates through the seasons and falls 11 days shorter each subsequent year. Accordingly, Ramadan period for the year 2021 is expected to be around April 13. Moreover, when the month of fasting occurs in the winter time, the days are shorter with an earlier sunset, so the breaking of the fast becomes easier.

In addition, the start of an Islamic month is indicated by the sighting of Hilal (the crescent moon) and lasts till the next new sighting of the moon. The precise timing is announced by the Mosque Leader or the Moon Sighting Committee. The fasting period always ends with the celebrations of Eid El Fitr, consisting of family gatherings and important festivities enjoyed for a few days at least. Given the holidays of Ramadan, asking for a day off from work, yet undecided about the date itself, is very common. For no one can tell the exact date until one or two days before the sighting of Hilal. Therefore, it is best to anticipate the imminence of a short break for Muslim team members around the holy month of Ramadan and organize the office schedule accordingly.

5. Being Inclusive

During Ramadan, life for the rest of us continues as usual, professionally. We sleep all night, have breakfast in the morning and go to work all energized. Typically, we may also schedule business meals with clients or other team members as well. Although there is no written law stating that we shouldn’t do otherwise, while Muslim colleagues are fasting, we could avoid planning lunch or dinner meetings, given the circumstances. If such business meals are crucial for the closing of a deal or a preference initiated by the client, then the fasting colleague may choose to skip it discreetly. However, whenever possible, it is best to empathize with Muslim coworkers during that particular month and consequently omit the meals when conducting meetings.

Occasionally, organizations offer snacks during office meetings, such as cookies or cakes. Once again, out of consideration for our fasting counterpart, it may help to skip generous hospitality during the Ramadan period. Companies must not feel obliged to adhere to such adjustments. However, these kind and thoughtful gestures go a long way, as they reinforce trust and nurture relations among peers.

6. Being Flexible

As humans, we get empowered physically by nourishment. Hunger brings down our energy level and this in turn reduces our concentration and overall productivity throughout the day. This explains why some may fall ill while fasting, from time to time, and may be required to eat then. Should this be the case, it is not the call of a non-Muslim team leader to suggest the breaking of the fast. In this event it is up to them, as Muslims, to make that decision, based on their health situation, religious values and personal convictions. Whenever your fasting colleague feels or looks tired, be patient and caring, show warmth and find solutions together. Getting enough sleep is crucial for physical health and mental well-being. Therefore, you could propose late morning shifts for them, enabling them to have enough rest before coming to work or even skipping the lunch breaks to leave the office earlier. It may even be appropriate to have them work from home at times, depending on their responsibilities or job description. The essential part is to realize the need for flexible work hours and make the necessary adaptations to cope with this particular situation.

7. Being Courteous

Some job descriptions require employees to work past sunset, which marks the time when fasting is broken. It is customary to eat dates to revitalize the body with sugar and minerals, along with drinking water to replenish it with hydration. Show sympathy to the Muslim employees in your team when the sunset hours are nearing: after fasting for the whole day, people need a break to boost their workplace effectiveness. It might also be a kind gesture to offer complimentary dates or dried fruits along with water or fruit juice to everyone, while initiating a few minutes pause for the whole team. This encourages more bonding among peers by sharing that special moment together, to better understand the concept of fasting and realize the importance of it. Moreover, as Muslims celebrate Eid El Fitr with their families, empathizing with them is not only considered a thoughtful act but also an occasion to foster a healthy work environment and to promote collaboration based on humane interactions.

8. Being Invited to an Iftar Meal

Oftentimes Muslims like to invite friends over for an Iftar meal. If you get invited, then consider it as an honor and accept it graciously. Punctuality is crucial at iftar meals. Arrive on time or even about ten minutes earlier to prevent delays in breaking the fast, keeping in mind that your host hasn’t eaten since sunrise. Once you’re there, make sure to follow suit to smoothen things up. So, when you’re offered dates with water, juice or sometimes Arabic coffee, accept it for you are there to share the experience, even if you haven’t fasted like your host. Once seated to eat the feast, it is well mannered for you to pass on the food to Muslims at the table first, or even wait for the host to initiate the start of the meal before you begin to eat. Since it is highly unlikely to serve alcohol at an iftar meal, avoid therefore jokes related to alcohol and Islam, and surely refrain from offering wine bottles as a gift to the host. Instead try to offer desserts to be shared at the meal, or sweets such as assorted dates or stuffed dried fruits which are greatly consumed during that month. As iftars are communal meals, expect to meet family members as well. Keep your conversations friendly yet respectful, your language decent and your comments appropriate. The aim of fasting during Ramadan is for spiritual renewal and not for dietary purposes. Hence, it’s best to shy away from comments about weight loss or physical appearance. Even if your intention is sound, eschew comments such as “You look much better ever since you’re fasting!” Iftar meals are completed with abundant fruit platters along with lavish and flavorful desserts, sometimes followed by tea. At this point the hospitality of iftar comes to its end. Thereby don’t overstay and leave before the start of the night prayer. It is best for you to thank your generous host for the feast you were served and initiate your departure gracefully.

9. Cultural Intelligence about Ramadan

Not everyone at work is necessarily exposed to Islam. Managers or company leaders must ensure that team members are acquainted with Ramadan practices. Employers must encourage diversity within organizations, fostering an inclusive work place environment, and endorsing cultural awareness trainings for employees. Non-Muslims must respect the sanctity of this holy month showing their Muslim counterparts empathy, patience and compassion.

Organizations prosper, managements succeed and employees thrive when all values and differences, including religious traditions, are respected and accommodated. This is so, surely not with the aim of spreading or imposing a certain belief over another, but rather for harmonizing the team, creating a tolerant culture and motivating employees to keep their identities while feeling safe and respected for who they are and what they represent as individuals.

Meet our newest contributor, Irma Vartanian Balian, founding Director of ProtocolWise ™. She has lived in North America, Europe and the Middle East. Her rich cultural background, her commitment to excellence, along with her expertise in Protocol and Soft Diplomacy, equipped lrma to provide valuable advice to her clients while putting them at ease. Irma trains leaders, corporate teams, diplomats, individuals, families and professionals, both regionally and internationally with assurance and professionalism.

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia©️ Etiquette Encyclopedia 

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