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Let’s talk about Ramadan

21st Apr, 2023

Being part of a diverse, multicultural company is rich and exciting. Many of us work with colleagues from different cultures and religions. This month some of our colleagues have been observing the religious event of Ramadan. We asked what this meant for them in terms of their daily routine, how did they adapt to working while they fast? We spoke to a member of our team who was fasting – as well as a member of staff who wanted to experience this very spiritual ritual with some really interesting observations and insights. 

Ramadan is the Muslim holy month. Throughout this month Muslims from all around the world fast (abstaining from all food and drink, even water) from sunrise to sunset for the entire 30 days. Fasting is believed to purify the soul and increase spiritual awareness. This is something I have participated in since the age of nine. As Muslims follow a Lunar calendar, each year the fasts move 10 days earlier. Those fasts about 20 years ago were much easier as they were only 9-10 hours long. The current fasts, starting on the 23rd of March and ending on 22nd April in London, are roughly from 5am until 7.30pm. Yes, that is 14 and a half hours without food or drink.

What are my experiences of Ramadan?

The first few days of the month whilst I am adjusting to fasting are usually the most challenging. I really feel the hunger and the thirst and can occasionally get headaches in the first five days or so. After this, I’ll get more used to not eating or drinking and tend to feel lighter. Around the halfway mark, I’ll notice my energy levels peak and I become more focused. The toughest part is the lack of sleep and feeling tired. Waking up at 4am to eat feels so unnatural but must be done to get through the day. I’ll return to bed for a few hours before waking up for work again.

Gemserv and my team are especially understanding and accommodating throughout this month. My team are conscious about eating around me and try to avoid having excessive conversations about food. This is surprisingly helpful and does help keep food off my mind. Although a conversation towards the end of the day about dinner plans is usually quite enjoyable and can help provide a few iftar ideas. Even though April is the busiest month for the finance team, I am supported by being given the option to work more flexible hours. That can be both coming in and/or finishing earlier or later. This is something I take advantage of by catching up on sleep a little more in the morning and sometimes missing the rush when leaving the office.

How my colleagues experienced Ramadan

I presented a staff stand up on all things Ramadan. This went down extremely well and a few people around the office even joined in the fasting. The interest, questions, awareness, and support were all particularly welcomed. My colleague Kristina Rafnson-Hall, Business Support Manager of our Birmingham office, shares her experience of fasting during Ramadan below.

Doughnuts or Dates…

I’m not generally one for things being ‘a sign’, though I do confess to still saluting lone magpies… anyhow, as I was doing a smash-and-grab at my local supermarket, I found myself having a staring competition with the oh-so shiny pink iced doughnuts. Yes, the ones with sprinkles. I blinked first and started to reach out, thankfully though, I was momentarily distracted by a bag of something that had fallen onto the floor. Moseying over to pop it back onto the shelf, I did indeed have a mini epiphany, there and then, down the baking aisle at Tesco.  I had just picked up a large bag of juicy dates…

Rewind back to that morning’s staff stand-up – Saadat had been elegantly explaining the traditions and beliefs around the religious holiday Ramadan, including how and why some Muslims break their fast (Iftar) with dates (intrigued and miss it? Google awaits). At the end of the wonderfully interesting and enlightening session, he extended a challenge for colleagues to experience a three-day micro fast. I started having a debate with myself…maybe I will…nope…yep…and so it went on.

Hitherto, I had not paused to think much more deeply about Ramadan beyond the headlines that most folk already know and generally trying to remember not to ask my colleague Mohammad what type of pizza he wanted.  So, having had my supermarket moment and, more seriously, having reflected on the morning – I decided I would be going all-in.

Rules – no eating between 8am – 8pm; drinking is allowed (though I suspect Saadat meant water and not Cherry Pepsi Max)

Day 1

Good grief – first of all I was running late so missed breakfast, not wanting to move the timeline, I ended up not eating anything until 8pm that evening (so 24 hours instead of 12). WHAT.  Counting down to 8pm was akin to how I imagine the atmosphere in the control room was at Cape Canaveral in ’69.  There has never been a more eagerly anticipated bag of dates.

Day 2

Up early – Yah, not making that mistake again. Obsessed over drinking water ALL DAY – trotting to the loo ALL NIGHT…

Day 3

Repeat Day 2. 

What was challenging?

  1. Experiencing the mother and father of all caffeine withdrawal headaches.
  2. Watching other folk around the office eat ‘Yankee Hottie’ fat sandwiches.
  3. Not swearing (I have a bit of a potty mouth).
  4. Falling asleep at 7pm which confused everyone in my house even the dogs.
  5. Channelling at least three of the seven dwarfs simultaneously…

What did you learn?

Quite a lot in 3 days actually…

  1. R.E.S.P.E.C.T!
  2. About Ramadan and more about the Muslim faith – I went down a Google rabbit hole.
  3. Being more altruistic – using some of my oat flat white and lunch money in places other than Costa.
  4. To reflect more deeply on others’ faith and beliefs… Thanks for telling me about the ‘Duaa’ Mohammad!
  5. Mindfulness – taking a beat…

Would you do it again?

Maybe I will…