Over three-and-a-half million Muslims make up one percent of the population in the United States, and most of them are currently fasting during this holy month of Ramadan. During this month, the religious minority must navigate their daily lives without food and water in predominantly non-muslim environments. This can be difficult for many Muslims, as most schedules don’t allow for the flexibility they need while performing this religious practice. Many Muslims hesitate to ask for accommodations as they fear it might cause people to question their work ethic, which can be amplified by the stigma against Islam. As the month comes to a close, we at CAIR Austin/DFW want to advocate for the importance of religious accommodations during Ramadan and throughout the year, so we interviewed Shaykh Tahir Patel in Austin about his opinions on this issue.
This interview has been modified for readability
Could you explain to Non-Muslim employers what it is like to fast in Ramadan?
Generally speaking, Muslims eat the pre-dawn meal (suhoor), but there are others who cannot eat so early in the morning, so they suffice on a couple of dates or some water. Every fasting person's experience differs based on what they have for this pre-dawn meal. Some maintain energy levels throughout the day, and others start the day off satiated and then get hungry and tired after a few hours.
This is all in addition to the fact that Muslims pray a Ramadan-special late-night prayer called Taraweeh, then sleep for a couple of hours before waking up for suhoor and heading out to work/school. This leads to many Muslims’ sleep schedules being changed.
Do you think trying to fast a day will help understand the Muslims' experience in Ramadan?
It may help, but not necessarily; as during the process of fasting over thirty days, our bodies are going through various changes. Some people start off the month very strong, and others start off the month not being able to handle their fasts that well but get better over time. It depends on the person and again what they consume for the pre-dawn meal and also the breaking of the fast at sunset. Staying hydrated is also key when one is not fasting.
In conclusion, fasting a day might help you to realize what it is like for Muslims when they fast. And of course, all are welcome to join us and experience it!
What are some examples of religious accommodations that Muslims need during Ramadan?
If the work hours fall when prayer times occur, the Muslim employee should be allowed to pray their mandatory prayers, especially the afternoon Friday prayer (Jumu’ah). Apart from that, if the work hours occur at sunset, they should be allowed to take a break to open up their fast and pray their post-sunset prayer (Maghrib).
Another accommodation for students would be that they should not be required to take on strenuous exercise or physical activities which may cause them to need immediate hydration, as this would cause them to nullify their fast. If possible, they should be excused from physical education or at least difficult activities that could potentially tire them out.
Some Muslims refrain from asking for accommodations at school or work during Ramadan and feel it gives a bad impression of their faith and work ethics. What are your thoughts on this mindset?
It’s unfortunate that someone would think and feel that they are not able to express themselves. I believe this is a reflection of some segments of our society and its perceptions. Sometimes these sentiments are preconceived, and all it takes is for a Muslim to speak up. When we speak up, we find that many people are very understanding and accommodating.
Another suggestion for this particular situation is the employer could also reach out to their Muslim employees proactively, this would be met with gratitude and also could be a big reason for Muslim employees to stay with their company. Muslims are always trying to prove themselves to their peers and superiors that they are just like everybody else when it comes to work performance etc., so it is possible that they don’t want special treatment because of the fear of the unknown and what others’ reactions would be.
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Interviewed by: Amna Siddiqui