Lessons from Ramadan: how to be a better ally
Over two billion Muslims around the world have been observing the holy month of Ramadan, including over four million Muslims in the UK alone, yet every year I sit back and ask the same question; Why isn't this a bigger deal in non-Muslim circles?
I grew up in a Sikh family and attended a school which was fairly diverse but didn't have many Muslim students or teachers. The only thing we really learnt at school about the religion of Islam is that they pray often and face towards Mecca. It wasn't until I got to University and started speaking with people that were part of the Islamic Society that I realised there is far more to this religion than what the school books or newspapers were saying.
In my adult life, I've met many Muslims through work and social circles, and although there are similarities between the majority of Muslims in terms of their core beliefs, there are also cultural nuances that can define the way they dress and behave. There are Muslims in virtually every country in the world, yet often we hear one particular label used to define each and every single one of them. It’s usually those that are most ignorant about the religion that seem to have much to say, but when you speak to those who practise the religion wholeheartedly you see a different narrative.
A few years back, I worked in a department that was split across two major cities, one which had a lot of diversity and another which had virtually none. I stood up with my Muslim colleagues to celebrate Ramadan through a Zoom presentation and a collective charity fast. The Zoom presentation went down really well, but there was a noticeable absence from my non-Muslim colleagues including the leadership team. The fasting went down a treat and I gained a whole new appreciation for Muslims who not only do this each year, but do so quietly without causing a fuss. We also managed to raise hundreds for the local children’s charity which was fantastic.
The biggest mistake I made during my one day fast was announcing I was going to do this on Twitter. What happened next was shocking, but not surprising. I was bombarded by Islamophobic comments and abuse from users all around the world. For me, I was literally just delaying my meal for a few hours, but to others, it felt as if I was showing respect towards people that they believed didn’t deserve it. There is so much hate around the world against Muslims and even at the time of writing, Muslim houses are being destroyed in one country, holy Masjids are being attacked in another, with countless hate crimes towards women who wear head coverings in other countries. If you look at large corporations that have wished Muslims Ramadan Mubarak, you don’t have to scroll down far in the comment sections to see the hate.
Raising awareness about Ramadan, Eid and Islam in general at work may not seem like a big deal, but it’s key to creating a truly inclusive culture in the workplace. Muslims are often the first to be thrown under the business, and the ease with which this can be done is nothing short of disturbing. However, if all inclusion champions stood up together against this negative narrative, then we can make the world a kinder, fairer place. This month I tried fasting again, albeit very quietly, and the intake was much better from non-Muslim leaders. We got together in the evening after we had all broken our fast and one Muslim colleague said; “If you told me 10 years ago I’d be speaking about my religion at work, breaking my fast with colleagues, I would have never believed you.”.
For many Muslims, the workplace can be a shelter from the real world, a place where they are accepted for who they are, so let’s work together to become more visible allies and stand up to hate.