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Fasting in the Workplace: Inside My Modern Ramadan

This blog post was written by Hala Baig, a member of the Client Happiness team.

For 11 months out of the year, my routine is usually the same. I commute by train to my job in San Francisco and buy some coffee before heading into my office building. Once I’m in the office, I stop by the kitchen to grab a yogurt and other morning snacks on the way to my desk. Like most people, I break for lunch a few hours later.

But for one month out of each year, you won’t catch me at the coffee shop, or in the kitchen, or any of the neighboring restaurants near our office because I, like 1.5 billion other practicing Muslims in the world, am fasting in observance of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year. It is the month the Qur’an (the central religious text of Islam) was revealed. However, it’s not at the same time every year as the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar phases. The exact beginning and end dates are not confirmed until there is visual confirmation of the moon. The day after Ramadan is over is known as Eid-al-Fitr (festival of breaking of the fast), where friends and family come together to perform a special prayer and celebrate a successful month of fasting. This year, Eid-al-Fitr was celebrated on Sunday June 25 or Monday June 26—and you may have heard your Muslim friends saying “Eid Mubarak!”

During Ramadan, which lasts nearly 30 days each year, many Muslims abstain from eating anything or drinking anything (even water) from dawn to sunset. This year, for American Muslims, it meant fasting for 16 and a half hours a day as Ramadan hit during the longest part of the year. Some Muslims also shy away from worldly distractions like Netflix binge-watching, music, and more. Instead, that time during Ramadan is replaced by prayer, acts of charity, and introspection. It is not an easy task, but every year I look forward to taking on the challenge.

For some Muslims, Ramadan brings a sense of uneasiness if they’re in the workforce. The questions and confusion when you’re skipping lunch and disappearing to perform one of the five daily prayers during the day can be tough.

No one is immune to frustration, but I have always used the time leading up to and through Ramadan to answer questions and provide context with patience and understanding. In a world where multiculturalism is growing rapidly, educating others is part of creating a welcoming culture of diversity and inclusion both in and outside the workplace. And I believe this openness has served me and Earnest’s culture at large very well.

For example, my manager has allowed me to adjust my schedule to accommodate the time I spend awake eating suhoor, or a pre-dawn breakfast, before my fast begins around 4 a.m. Instead of being invited to lunches and coffee runs, my colleagues have adjusted and simply ask me “You wanna go for a walk?”

In fact, for the last two years, I’ve had colleagues fast for the day alongside me to get a sense of what it’s like—this has been one of the most meaningful acts of inclusion I’ve ever felt at any job. At a time when being an openly practicing Muslim in the United States can be dangerous, Earnest has made our space warm, inviting, and adaptable to all my needs.

So even though I have my fair share of coffee-headaches, awkward mid-meeting stomach grumblings, bouts of hangriness, and that one time we were surprised with ice cream sandwiches for the company—and I just stood in the back and played “The Sound of Silence” in my head as I watched everyone run past me to grab one, I wouldn’t trade my Earnest Ramadan for anything else, anywhere else. 

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Earnest is a technology company using software automation, smart design, and exceptional service to restore trust in the lending industry and help clients take control of their finances.