updated on 19 April 2022
This LCN Feature outlines some practical and emotional steps law firms can take to support Muslim employees during this period.
Reading time: 10 minutes
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a holy month of fasting, prayer and reflection. During daylight hours, practising Muslims won't eat or drink and will abstain from bad habits such as smoking, swearing, gambling and gossiping. They also use this month to reflect on their purpose and service in this world, both personally and professionally.
The combination of fasting and long working hours, especially during hot days, can be challenging for Muslims observing Ramadan. This Feature outlines some practical and emotional steps law firms can take to support Muslim employees during this period.
Flexible working hours
The pandemic has presented the opportunity for employers to accommodate flexible working. Law firms should consider implementing flexible shifts that allow fasting employees to work from home and occasions they have to be in the office – being flexible about the time an employee starts and finish their shift. Such flexibility can help to maintain productivity levels at their usual work rate (if it doesn’t impact deadlines and work is completed within their contracted hours).
Not all firms will be able to accommodate flexible working; those unable could reallocate shifts to adjust to employee’s preferences where possible. For example, modifying the work rota to enable an employee to finish early to beat the rush hour and prepare iftar (evening meal after sunset) to break their fast with loved ones. Maab Saifeldin, Flex Legal trainee solicitor currently on an in-house secondment, says that this is especially helpful to female Muslims who are usually tasked with cooking iftar and setting the table at home.
Kingsley Duru, paralegal and future trainee at Clifford Chance, highlights the importance of employees being able to work from home to preserve their energy during Ramadan. He suggests the implementation of mindfulness from managers who allocate work projects – they should consider that a fasting employee could benefit from a flexible or extended deadline. Kingsley says: “Law firms could also provide dates and fruits in the canteen for its employees to break their fast or take home to eat during iftar.”
Arsh Raza, real estate paralegal at Addleshaw Goddard, encourages employees to communicate with their line managers: “I’ve been allocated tasks with tight deadlines which would have normally been attainable. However, after explaining I’m fasting and its effect on my work rate, I was met with understanding and empathy – it’s just a case of raising awareness and encouraging these sorts of dialogues!”
Anonymous first-class LLB graduate from City, University of London agrees with the importance of empathy from employers: “Law firms should be accommodating by allowing employees to work unconventional hours if there are no strict deadlines. Maintaining flexibility is key during this period.”
Similarly, Shameka Choudhury, an LLB graduate from the University of Kent, believes working from home is a valuable opportunity for Muslim employees : “Fasting ends at different times each night, depending on the individual so allowing a Muslim to work from home is considerate.” Law firms that implement flexible working hours during Ramadan are therefore making a difference to create an inclusive workforce.
For tips on how employers can counter Islamophobia read this LCN Feature: ‘The fight for gender equality continues’.
Although not legally binding, it’s within an employer’s control to provide reasonable adjustments like offering employees a safe space to pray at work. A prayer room provides a quiet, intimate space for Muslims to be alone with Allah. Giving access to a prayer room (or facilities) in the workplace demonstrates an intentional commitment to diversity that increases employee morale. This is also a practical decision for any employer because Muslims tend to pray two to three times out of the five prayers in the office.
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Maab explains how she would often use her back support pillow and coat to take a nap during lunchtime to help her re-energise for the rest of the day. She also mentions having previously fasted in a workplace that didn’t have a prayer room, which meant she had to sleep in her car during her lunch break.
A former Ashurst LLP employee comments: “All workplaces should offer a safe space to pray, not just for Muslims but for all faiths. This is an important step towards diversity and inclusivity. It’s imperative to remember that prayer is an obligatory action outside of Ramadan so the prayer room will be used even when Ramadan is over.”
Shameka also supports the implementation of prayer rooms at work “to accommodate praying and allow Muslims to take a nap when they feel exhausted”. She explains that commuting to work and talking with employees at length can be tiring: “Personally, it wears me out, so I usually need 30 minutes to myself to recharge and rest.” Maab agrees and suggests that employers can support Muslims by reducing the duration of their lunch breaks from one hour to 30 minutes.
Employers should be mindful of the challenges of fasting in the workplace or while working from home. This will come from a place of understanding, empathy and compassion. During Ramadan, Muslims pray Taraweeh (a lengthy special prayer) which follows into the late hours of the night and then wake up to have Suhoor (breakfast) at around 4am. While some may try to sleep intermittently throughout the night, others struggle and may stay awake for lengthy periods causing fatigue, lack of focus and low energy throughout the day. According to an associate at CMS, "Fasting in the workplace can be difficult because the lack of water can dry out your throat and talking to people all day can leave you parched."
This means Muslim employees might be too tired to attend and lack the energy to network with attendees, which can create an isolating experience. Employers should be aware that Muslim employees will also feel uncomfortable attending events with alcohol present during this holy month.
How to be an ally
The best way to be an ally is to educate yourself on why Muslims fast during Ramadan. Ruqayyah Ahmed, third-year law student at City, University of London and co-founder of The Women in Law Society remarks: “It can be a little annoying as a Muslim to hear “What, you can’t even drink water?!” when you tell someone you’re fasting.” The soon-to-be law graduate welcomes thoughtful questions, but employees should refrain from asking questions that can be answered from a Google search.
Ghaydaa Hassan, trainee solicitor at Freeths LLP, believes that “allyship needs to take the form of positivity rather than pity”. She thinks actively engaging with educational content is pivotal, especially as Islam is not always covered in the school curriculum. According to Maleek Arab, trainee at Clifford Chance, "Colleagues/employees can be ally to Muslims colleagues during this period by checking in on their Muslim colleagues, encouraging rest breaks and coordinating workflows."
Interested in Islamic law? Check out this practice area for more.
This is reiterated by Maab who reminds us that Muslims abstain from swearing, smoking, lying, being negative and other bad habits. Colleagues can be supportive by encouraging them to continue to stay strong and refraining from their own bad habits, such as swearing.
Ruqayyah comments: “The most challenging aspect of fasting is a lack of education and unwillingness to accommodate – having meetings earlier in the day and not overloading fasting employees with extra work unless nobody else can do it. The best way to be an ally during Ramadan is to be understanding and well-educated – you can do this by asking questions but remember it’s not their responsibility to educate you on the basics.”
An anonymous paralegal informs non-fasting employees: “There’s no need to feel awkward about consuming food and water in front of a fasting employee. You’re allowed to have your lunch in an open space.” This is echoed by an anonymous LLB graduate: “We don’t actually mind if someone eats in front of us because we’re used to it. However, it can get awkward at work if there’s a networking lunch and attendance is mandatory.”
Employers can be a good ally by being mindful of fasting employees when organising work socials or networking events, specifically those involving food or alcoholic drink before iftar.
How management can help
As a first step, law firms can send a firm-wide email to raise awareness of Ramadan; those who have a prayer room can signpost new starters (who might be unaware) of its location and remind those who might have forgotten.
Line managers and team leaders can also educate their team about the holy month by raising awareness of key religious dates like Ramadan on the internal company intranet. Law firms should consider publishing resources or share information about Ramadan and how employees can be more accommodating during this period.
The last 10 days of Ramadan are considered significant as Muslims believe that the revelation of the Quran was around this time. Some Muslims may request time off during this period to spend time in dedicated worship and make the most out of this month. Therefore, law firms should consider resource allocation to allow its employees to fully experience Ramadan and celebrate Eid.
Employees and managers should take extra care to avoid assuming and passing any comment that all Muslims fast during Ramadan. For example, pregnant women or those on their period are exempt, including people with health complications.
Support and encouragement
The holy month of Ramadan is a beloved yet challenging time for Muslims across the globe so employees need to understand how they can help those celebrating and fasting. During this time, little things can make a difference – such as asking your Muslim employees if there’s anything you can do to support them or offering to go on a walk with them during lunchtime.
Shameka says: “The reality of fasting is that we’re taught to continue our day-to-day activities as normal but you’re likely to get lightheaded or feel nauseous from hunger and dehydration. So, having some encouragement from non-Muslims can make a big difference.”
Regular check ins
According to sifted, “The Ramadan Effect” is when Muslims feel unsupported or misunderstood at work. A sure way to counteract this is by having regular check ins with Muslim colleagues to ask how Ramadan is going for them and if they need help with their workload.
As an anonymous litigation paralegal explains: “Employers should check in on its Muslim employees to see how Ramadan is going for them. It’s a nice gesture for Muslims to see it coming from their employer”. Maab recently had her colleagues at work check in with her this month and says it made her feel “valued, seen and appreciated.”
Another paralegal and aspiring solicitor says: “Other employees can check in on their fellow fasting employees, greet them for Ramadan, and perhaps have a conversation about Ramadan. This shows engagement and understanding.”
Law firms know the value that all employees bring to the business and should recognise weak areas where they can do more. What might seem minimal, like providing access to a prayer room or sending a company-wide email reminding all employees it’s Ramadan, is an intentional effort that supports and celebrates Muslims in the workplace.
Christianah Babajide (she/her) is the content and engagement coordinator at LawCareers.Net.