The Muslim holy month of Ramadan runs from May 17 to June 14 in 2018, which means that you may have co-workers who aren't eating or drinking between sun up and sundown. Considering the days are quite long in the northern hemisphere this seems like it could be a long and miserable day. How should you act?
To be honest, I had no idea. I've traveled a bit in the Middle East, but never over Ramadan, and my Muslim co-workers have been few and far between. So, I asked an expert: Nehad (Neesy) Mohanna. Mohanna is an American-Egyptian Muslim who spent 20 years as an engineer in the corporate world, working in the US and Egypt, and now owns her own health and wellness business in Switzerland.
If You Don't Know What to Do or Say, Just Ask!
"I don't know any Muslim who isn't happy to talk about Ramadan. Even my 11-year-old, who is fasting, is happy to answer questions!" Mohanna says she and other Muslims recognize that the whole idea of fasting for a month is completely foreign to non-Muslims, but asking questions isn't rude. She appreciates the questions.
And, some of the things she'll tell you is that only the healthy do it. If you're taking medication, are pregnant, or have some other medical reason not to fast, you're not expected to. Because it's only during daylight hours, she eats an early breakfast and a late dinner and gets a full gallon of water in during that time period.
She Would Love to Come to Lunch, but Someone Else Wouldn't. So Ask!
Mohanna is a social person who would love to come to that lunch with co-workers, even though she's fasting. Watching other people eat doesn't bother her, and it's not even a temptation. But, other people may not feel the same, so again, she suggests asking and gave me a phrase to use: "Would you be interested in joining us for lunch? We recognize this is Ramadan."
Don't assume that your Muslim co-worker won't want to join. Remember, a lot of business things get discussed over lunch, and excluding someone can cause hurt feelings and damage to the project--even if it's not officially a working lunch. Let your Ramadan observing co-worker make the call.
You Don't Have to Change a Schedule, but It Might be Nice
Mohanna's corporate job required a lot of travel and a lot of speaking. She appreciated it when her management allowed schedule shifts to limit the amount of traveling and presenting during Ramadan. Business critical things, of course, went on.
Another thing every fasting employee will appreciate is if you could skip the outside team building events. "Can we do the outside jumping off ladders after Ramadan?" she asked.
When she worked in Egypt, a Muslim majority country, most businesses--even the international one she worked for, shut down at 2:00 pm during Ramadan. Outside of Muslim majority countries, she says, this not expected or required. Business as usual, but slightly tweaked to make it more comfortable.
The general overall rule is to be polite and ask if you have questions. Don't make assumptions, however well meaning. Different people will have different preferences, and that's okay.
And to my Muslim readers, Ramadan Mobaraq!