Muslim professional at work (CC: Adobe Stock Images)
Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset. This can be a challenging time for members of the Muslim community who work in environments where they are the minority. During the month-long fast, they abstain from eating and drinking as those around them continue their regular 9-5 routine. The average work day oftentimes consists of breakfast, lunch, snacks, and water cooler conversations of which they cannot partake.
If you are an inquisitive person, like me, you likely have a lot of questions for your Muslim colleagues. “How do you stay energized?” “Is me eating my lunch in front of you offensive?” “Not even water?!”
These are just a few of the questions I was asking the only Muslim member of my team as she began fasting for Ramadan. She explained to me how Ramadan is a season of mindfulness, charity, and sacrifice that provides her the mental clarity to continue living a grateful and compassionate life. She described how she made it through the day without food or water, to go home every night to prepare iftar (the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan) for herself and her husband.
I was inspired by her commitment and resilience as I found it difficult to imagine myself being able to do what she does with the grace she did it with. She did not complain. She withheld from eating the breakfast tacos we got after our weekly company-wide meeting. She watched as we scarfed down ice cream on the first hot day of the year. She was consistently tempted but never gave in. Could I do that? I doubted it, but decided to find out.
I proposed the idea that she and I lead a voluntary company-wide day of fasting, not only to appease my curiosity but to gain a sense of understanding that went beyond questions. The email went out and our colleagues signed up to commit to a day-long fast from sunrise to sunset. There were many lessons to be learned from our fast. Here are a few that resonated with me most.
Office snacks are a lesson in self-control and focus
Looking at our office snacks hour after hour nearly drove me insane. When I was doing tasks that required all of my focus, I felt the need to be eating something. I wanted a grab a pack of almonds or a bag of chips (I was leaning toward chips that day) to help me get through sending all of my emails. I smelled food being prepared in nearby restaurants waft through our windows, but had to resist running out the office to the places where I am regular lunchtime patron. Instead, I put my head down and got back to work. I don’t think I’ve ever practiced that much self-control in my life.
Be mindful about how you use your energy
From my midday walk to afternoon debates with my colleagues — it all felt a little more draining on an empty stomach. Just about everyday I end up in a debate surrounding a random topic with my colleagues. Being the intellectual individuals that we are, we don’t back down. During our fast the debates began and finished in minutes with a disappointing “let’s agree to disagree.” We realized that with a limited amount of energy it is important to budget how we use it. Being mindful about how you use your energy is not something any of us really took into consideration before the fast.
People are a source of energy
As a team, we decided that we would break our fast together at sunset. This meant we were fasting together from 9 am until 8:15 pm. At some point we ran out of things to distract us and began a game of charades. While participants guessed what was being acted out, you saw the energy in the space increase. Though we were all hungry, we fed off each other’s energy and were able to forget that we hadn’t eaten since 4 am, and in some cases, the night before. A gathering of people can provide the positive energy needed to pass the time.
Reflection brings forth realization
Just before sundown we came together as a group to reflect. Though we were all keeping one eye on the clock in preparation for the impending meal, we were excited to share what we learned and to hear our shared sentiments. We all realized that what our Muslim colleague did every year for Ramadan was an admirable form of sacrifice. Her patience and poise was something we all struggled to exemplify on a day-to-day, let alone during the day we fasted. At the end of our reflection we challenged ourselves to be conscious of our differences and celebrate them more often; sharing our differences makes us a stronger team.
Allyship is an important form of inclusion
This is by far the most important takeaway. Fasting tested every part of me, but having a group of people to do it with made it a lot easier. I cannot imagine doing it on my own with nobody around me to empathize or talk to about it. Hearing a harmony of growling stomachs in meetings throughout the day provided a sense of unity surrounding a shared goal.
Fasting for a day in observance of Ramadan allowed us to live out our belief in the importance of diversity and inclusion. We learned an important lesson in allyship that will not only contribute to the work that we do, but how we live our personal lives everyday.
Matching team henna for Eid