Fasting is hard in the best of work environments, whether in an office, an outdoor physical position, or in an indoor family environment – there is no perfect workplace that can avoid negative influences on your fasting. As for me, much of my fasting takes place in a fast paced retail environment, which means that this Ramadan I’m still working, unlike so many who are currently at home due to COVID-19.
Sometimes it’s hell, sometimes it’s not.
And I’m here to tell you that bosses and managers have a huge impact on our experience while fasting (and in life in general) at a majority non-Muslim work environment.
Let me share with you the five different reactions my managers have had towards me fasting and requesting to take a five minute break to break my fast at each sunset. I’ve found that the easiest way for me and my colleagues is to take my five minute break at maghrib [a prayer prayed just after sunset time], return to work, and then have my iftar meal [a meal that Muslims end their daily fast with at sunset in Ramadan] on my scheduled break. I let my manager know and he agreed with the schedule.
I’ll start off by offering a disclaimer; my main manager is great, very supportive, tactful and knows I won’t abuse the fact that I’m fasting and will need a few minutes here and there to collect myself. He grew up around many Muslims and understands why people fast. Early on, he said I could have my choice of shifts as the other Muslims in my workplace were not fasting. He also apologized profusely after assuming I wasn’t fasting after seeing them eating.
So it’s safe to say he was the most accommodating and considerate, he checks in with me to make sure that I have “eaten on time”, how I’m feeling and even sent me home early after one long shift. He has appointed me less physical tasks and has told me to be sure to pace myself. How can I not be grateful for this manager?
Manager Number Two is culturally Muslim, works extremely hard and then stresses herself out, will go to the moon for you, but won’t give herself a break unless absolutely forced to take one. She also only fasts on her days off. I get it. It’s a hard position for her. She approaches me from the heart; she’ll whisper to me “Are you fasting today?” and when I answer with “Yes”, she’ll smile and say “Good”, before telling me to take five when I need to. On the rare occasion she takes a break, we talk about when Eid will be, and our plans for the day. She’s a gem and I love her.
Manager Number Three is also culturally Muslim but isn’t practicing, is surprised I’m fasting at all, and told me once to break my fast with a mint without a break. I outright ignored it and told him to get me water and dates and I ended up breaking my fast with a customer, which was such a pure moment that I’m grateful for how it turned out. After this one conversation, he realized I was fasting “properly” and I was going to take the five minutes I needed no matter what he said. So, the next time, I told him I was taking four minutes to break my fast, and he tried to be supportive and said to take five minutes – lets just say I’m grateful that sarcasm doesn’t break your fast. Since then, he makes a point of asking whether I’m fasting or not (only to check I am fasting everyday) and what time I need to break my fast, and says “Good, take five minutes then.”
Manager Number Four is hilarious and we get along really well. Obviously he doesn’t know many Muslims (not sure he even knew that I was Muslim before Ramadan) and doesn’t know anything about Ramadan. I think Manager Number One filled him in. I tell him I need to take five minutes at 17.20 to break my fast and he replies with a half blank stare, and then a little recognition and says “Oh yeah, you’re doing… that thing…”, I crack up and say “yes”. And that’s his first and only reaction to the five minutes I take every day.
Manage Number Five’s reaction was while I was working at a different branch to my usual one; I mentioned to the manager 30 minutes before maghrib, I needed to take a five minute break to break my fast as I’m fasting. He responded in half shock as he obviously wasn’t expecting this from the white girl. Even a colleague named Suhaib, sat next to the manager was in shock too. They both clicked at the same moment, he turned back to the manager who said “Yes, you go when you need to, let me know if you need anything else”. I thanked him and got back to work. The best part of breaking my fast at work on this day was that on breaking my fast and returning to work, I saw a colleague praying in the break room. I then realized he had probably waited for me to leave the break room so he could break his fast and pray. It would have been a nice moment if we had iftar together.
Overall I’ve had positive and understanding reactions, and even if I hadn’t, legally workplaces need to accommodate religious requirements. But working with people who are understanding and kind makes a huge difference to what could be perceived as a difficult issue. I’ve been very fortunate to work with these managers, and I’m sure many workplaces have different receptions to people fasting and how they can accommodate them.
May Allah have mercy on those who make our fasts easier.