DiversityInc Digest: Ramadan



Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

DiversityInc Digest provides you and your employees facts and tips on Muslim culture in light of the start of Ramadan, which began June 5 and ended July 5.

[Included in this digest — a supplement to our Meeting in a Box series are Fast Facts on Ramadan, which answers some common questions your employees may have about the holiday; Muslims in the News, which features two stories about happenings in the Muslim community in the U.S.; Muslims in Popular Culture, which gives information about well-known Muslims in the media; and Additional Resources, which can be accessed by anyone who wants to learn any additional information.]

Fast Facts on Ramadan

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims. During this time, observers of Ramadan are seeking forgiveness for their sins.

Who celebrates Ramadan?

Ramadan is celebrated by Muslims, or followers of Islam — the world’s second largest religion, following Christianity.

Islam is, by definition, “the religious faith of Muslims, based on the words and religious system founded by the prophet Muhammad.”

In comparison, a Muslim is, by definition, “an adherent of Islam.”

How is Ramadan observed?

Observers of Ramadan fast from dawn until dusk. A pre-dawn meal is called “suhoor,” and a shutterstock_430464154post-dusk meal is called “iftar.” Iftars are often large feasts celebrated in large groups of communities or families. Traditionally, fasts are broken with a date. Fasting is supposed to represent more than the physical act of not eating but intends to cleanse the soul. The holiday also serves as a period of self-reflection and bringing attention back to God.

In addition to fasting, Muslims also abstain from impure behavior and thoughts. This includes drinking, smoking and engaging in sexual activity.

Muslims believe prayer should be performed five times a day. During Ramadan, they are often even more encouraged to meet this goal.

At the end of Ramadan, a large celebration called Id al-Fitr takes place. Id al-Fitr begins the day after Ramadan ends and lasts for three days. Communities and families celebrate the end of the holy time together and often engage in feasts, prayer and gift-giving.

Is anyone exempt from fasting?

Pregnant or nursing women, travelers, children who have not yet reached puberty, the sick and the elderly may all be exempt from fasting during Ramadan. If possible, it is expected to make up missed days during the fast at another time in the future.

When does Ramadan take place?

This year, Ramadan began on Sunday, June 5 and ended on Tuesday, July 5. Ramadan does not begin and end on the same day each year because the Islamic calendar is lunar-based, following the phases of the moon.

How could Ramadan affect my employees and/or coworkers?

Here are a few tips and best practices to keep in mind during the month of Ramadan:

Be aware of potential side effects of fasting. During this time, some employees may experience low blood-sugar levels and/or be more tired.

Allow for flexibility, if possible. For instance, some employers may let employees observing the holiday work through their lunch hours. Also, if possible, accommodate for employees who will try to engage in the required prayer five times a day. This includes allowing time for breaks and trying to provide a quiet, private space for prayer.

Photo: Shutterstock

Consider Ramadan when scheduling events or meetings. Try not to center mandatory workplace meetings around food. If this is not possible, be respectful that Muslim employees in attendance will not be eating. Arif Patel, president of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey, also suggested trying to avoid evening meetings or gatherings.

Don’t avoid conversations about food. Patel said that this is not necessary, but understand that Muslim employees will likely not participate in the discussion.

Take discussions as an opportunity to learn. If you invite a Muslim employee to lunch, for instance, they will likely not be offended but will simply tell you they’re fasting. Patel added that this could be a chance to have a conversation about Ramadan and to further cultural-competence.

Use your employee resource groups to educate workers about the culture. This would also be a good time to teach employees how to recognize Ramadan. Appropriate greetings include “Ramadan Mubarak,” or “blessed Ramadan”; “Happy Ramadan”; and “Ramadan Kareem,” or “Generous Ramadan.”

Muslims in the News

U.S. Census Bureau Considers Translating Questionnaire into Arabic for 2020

U.S. Census questionnaires may be offered in Arabic for the first time in 2020. Spoken by 1.1 million people nationwide, Arabic is commonly spoken by the country’s Muslim population, which is estimated to be 3.3 million. In 2010 the Bureau offered assistance to Arabic-speaking participants.

But even since then, the Arabic-speaking population has grown. Between 2010 and 2014, this subset has increased by 29 percent. Not including English, Arabic is the seventh most spoken language in the United States.

Choosing to translate the questionnaire into Arabic will pose several challenges unique to the Arabic language:

  • Unlike English, Arabic is read right to left
  • A respondent’s “official name” or address may have several translations between Arabic and English
  • Arabic does not have capital letters
  • The current layout has individual blocks for letters, which will be problematic for respondents who are accustomed to Arabic script

In addition, the Census Bureau is also considering adding an option for “Middle East/North Africa” under questions regarding ethnicity.

The Bureau has not yet made a final decision.

Olympic History: First Hijab-Wearing U.S. Olympic Athlete to Compete

Ibtihaj Muhammad will make Olympic history this summer — before the games even begin. Muhammad, 30, will be the first U.S. Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab.

Ibtihaj Muhammad
Ibtihaj Muhammad

Muhammad, who currently ranks No. 7 among the top saber fencers in the world, won a bronze medal in Athens, Greece at the Women’s World Saber Cup on Jan. 30. While the Olympic team for 2016 will not be officially announced until April, this win gave Muhammad enough points to secure her spot on the team.

Muhammad began fencing at age 13 in high school. Fencing uniforms cover athletes’ heads, which is part of the reason Muhammad’s parents introduced her to the sport, the athlete recalled in an interview with BuzzFeed News.

“My parents were looking for a sport for me to play where I wouldn’t have to alter the uniform as a Muslim woman,” she explained.

Muhammad enjoyed a variety of sports in high school and said her parents were always supportive of her — but also made sure she took competitions seriously.

“Most parents tell their kids before matches to do their best, or to have fun,” Muhammad said. “My mom always said the same thing: ‘Don’t waste my money.’”

Muhammad was eventually recruited for Duke University’s fencing team and stuck with the sport after college so she could be a barrier-breaker in the sport.

“It wasn’t diverse enough,” she said. “Being an African American Muslim woman, I can be that change.”


Muslims in Popular Culture

Muhammad Ali



Dr. Oz (Mehmet Cengiz Öz)


Surgeon, author, host of “The Dr. Oz Show”

Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson)


Rapper, actor, filmmaker

Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal


Former NBA player

Fareed Zakaria


Journalist, host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS”

Ellen Burstyn



Zayn Malik




Additional Resources

For information on Muslim discrimination in the workplace, visit the EEOC’s Questions and Answers for Employers: Responsibilities Concerning the Employment of Individuals Who Are, or Are Perceived to Be, Muslim or Middle Eastern.

For additional information on Islam, visit the Council on American-Islam Relations’ Islam Basics.

For the truth behind myths and misconceptions about Muslim people, visit the Anti-Defamation League’s Myths and Facts About Muslim People and Islam.


Sources: Pew Research Center; history.com; islam.about.com; Arif Patel, ISCJ

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