Posted 21 March 2023
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Three Muslim creatives share their experiences and advice on observing Ramadan

As Ramadan starts this week, many Muslims will begin observing the holy month – including those who are working in the creative industry. We chat with three Muslim creatives who share their experiences and tips on how to navigate the industry and communicate your needs. And if you aren’t a Muslim creative but have peers who are, the creatives also share some ways you can support them during this all-important period.

Every year, hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide observe Ramadan. For a month, they fast during daylight hours, taking pre-dawn meals – or suhoor – and abstaining from food and drink until they break their fast, known as iftar. They also do multiple daily prayers, or duas, during the holy month. For many of those observing, other parts of their daily lives go on as usual during this period – including work, education and family duties.

The creative industry counts many practicing Muslims among its workforce, who will be observing Ramadan while working varied roles in the industry – some of which involve differing work schedules or on-set jobs that may require physical exertion, such as in fashion and film.

If you’re just starting out or in your first full-time role, it can sometimes be a struggle to convey any needs or seek understanding from peers and employers. With that in mind, we speak with three creatives who have observed Ramadan while holding down full-time, in-house and freelance roles, to hear their experiences and advice.

Lamisa Khan, community and culture executive at The Digital Fairy and co-founder of Muslim Sisterhood

Lamisa is the community and culture executive at women-led digital marketing agency The Digital Fairy. She is also one of the three co-founders of Muslim Sisterhood, a creative community and production agency that centres the experiences of Muslim women. They work with brands and organisations to meet the needs of Muslim consumers.

Image by Jeeba Marri

How do you think the industry can better support Muslim creatives observing Ramadan?
I’m very privileged to work in an environment that accommodates my personal and professional needs, and I know that that’s not always the case. A lot of people in the creative sector aren’t knowledgeable about Ramadan or Muslims more broadly speaking because we’re severely underrepresented. The industry as a whole can also be quite hedonistic and not always considerate of those who don’t participate in certain western social norms.

The onus shouldn’t just be on Muslim individuals to take up space or make people understand us. Companies need to do a lot more to actively support their employees in the workplace by learning about their cultures. But please don’t ask your Muslim co-worker to give you a PowerPoint presentation about Ramadan during Ramadan – they’re usually Muslim all year round. The same goes for brands asking Muslims to come and talk to them during Ramadan – it’s very inconsiderate. (You can also just use Google.)

“Please don’t ask your Muslim co-worker to give you a PowerPoint presentation about Ramadan during Ramadan – they’re usually Muslim all year round.”

It can help to have more flexible or compressed work days during different hours. Ramadan is such an important time for spirituality and spending time with family and community, so it’s made easier when you’re at home. When you’re not eating or drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset, commuting to work can be really demanding and exhausting. We sleep late after completing evening prayers and wake up just before sunrise to eat suhoor which is our sustenance for the day, so our sleeping patterns change.

It’s really sweet when non-Muslim people fast with you just to experience it; I think it makes you more compassionate and you realise it’s actually not as hard as you think. But also, you can eat and drink around us – we won’t burst into flames, I promise.

What advice would you give to anyone observing Ramadan for the first time at work?
Be honest about how your body deals with fasting. At the end of the day, fasting isn’t a choice for Muslims – it’s a prescribed duty that we have to fulfil, if our health permits. I always remind myself that my career is for this dunya (world), but my religion is for the next and as such, the latter is a priority.

People don’t know what your needs are until you communicate them. So it’s important to proudly embrace your identity and speak openly to your colleagues about your faith. I actually did a short presentation to my company about Eid and Ramadan so that they could learn more about my religious culture. Yes, sometimes you have to hear “Not even water?!” but I don’t think that’s such a big deal, if it helps people understand you.

Ethar Aiem, creative manager, Connect Management

Ethar is a creative manager at Connect Management, a talent agency based in London. Having been at Connect Management for nearly two years, Ethar mostly works on a mixture of designing pitch decks and managing the company’s website and social media.

How did you go about speaking to your workplace about fasting during Ramadan?
Communication is key to creating a more accommodating work environment, and it’s important to advocate for your needs in a respectful and professional manner. I recently spoke to my manager and found a schedule that works for me. I normally work from 9:30am to 5:30pm with an hour lunch in between, but since I won’t be eating I’m able to work through this and leave at 4:30pm. While this isn’t a huge change, it’s realistic and works for me. You could always ask to work from home or do half days. However, this may affect your pay.

I do respect Muslims who choose to keep their fasting private, but I think it’s also important to communicate this to your employer so that your needs are met during this month, and so that they can help create a more accommodating work environment.

“It’s important to let your employer know you’re fasting so that your needs are met during this month, and so that they can help create a more accommodating work environment.”

My coworkers’ reactions have been super-positive. Some have been shocked knowing that I’ll be fasting from sunrise to sunset, but they’ve been curious to understand more about why Muslims fast during this time.

I use the Pillars App to schedule and remind me of the prayer times. I have been doing this since joining Connect Management, so everyone is already aware about my prayer times, which won’t be too different during Ramadan. One thing that really helped me to not feel awkward about this has been asking if there is a prayer space available on my first day. I think that being transparent from the start really helps break that barrier.

Does fasting ever affect your productivity during the day?
On the days that I find it more difficult, I can feel super-tired and thirsty. This may be because I had a salty dinner the night before, or that I didn’t wake up before sunrise and have something to eat. When this happens, I take a few minutes away from my desk to help recharge. This may be going for a walk or sitting outside for fresh air. I also found that listening to a podcast while working really helps time fly.

“One thing that helped me was asking if there was a prayer space on my first day. Being transparent from the start really helped to break that barrier.”

What advice would you give to fellow emerging creatives who are observing Ramadan for the first time at work?
Here are some tips that may be helpful:

  1. Plan your work schedule around your fasting schedule. Try to schedule work that is more difficult during the earlier fasting hours.

  2. Let your employer know that you will be observing Ramadan, and discuss any adjustments that may need to be made to your work schedule or workload.

  3. Make sure to prioritise self-care during this time. Get enough sleep, and don't skip suhoor! Eat nutritious meals and stay hydrated after sundown.

  4. Be realistic about what you can accomplish during Ramadan. Set achievable goals for each day. Not just for work, but for religious goals. Remember Ramadan is only once a year, so take advantage of it and don't let it fly by without accomplishing any of your Islamic goals.

Ramadan while working can be challenging, but it’s important to prioritise your health and wellbeing during this time. Take care of yourself and set realistic goals; you can still be productive and meet deadlines while also observing your religious practices.

Mohammed Amin Swaleh, director and filmmaker

Born in London, Mohammed moved to Morocco at the age of nine before returning to the UK to study. Now based in London, Mohammed has been working in the film industry for eight years, mostly working as a director for music videos and commercials, with a passion for feature film narratives. For Mohammed, faith is timeless, deep rooted and intertwines with a love for stories.

What has your experience of observing Ramadan at work been like?
I have been very fortunate to work with some good people who are understanding and respectful of my faith. I feel like this is the case with most Londoners, but of course you do get the questions and statements every now and then: “You can’t drink water? Not drinking water can’t be good for you?”, or “Why do you put yourself through this?” And so on. For those who genuinely ask me without a comical tone of superiority, I try to answer as comprehensively as possible to shed light on something that is not very well understood.

“Faith is a thing of the heart and of feeling. It’s something I don’t need to prove – I already know it.”

In what ways has fasting affected or impacted your practice as a filmmaker?
Fasting during the month of Ramadan removes the toxins we build up over the course of the year, removes worn out cell parts and tissue mass, reduces cholesterol, improves blood pressure, recharges the body’s energy, increases cognitive ability, restores a healthy gut and has positive effects on emotional and psychological responses, among others. There’s a plethora of scientific studies that backs these up.

To give an example of one of these benefits: I remember I was writing my first feature film script, and was already a few drafts in when I got stuck. Something didn’t add up logically and I couldn’t find a way out of it. I remember visiting this every day for two weeks before Ramadan, but still I was lost. I decided to take a break working on this when Ramadan came, and focus on my spirituality. When the month ended I came back to tackle the same problem and sorted it within two days. My cognitive ability was through the roof!

All these benefits truly are great, and it’s easier to explain as they can be scientifically backed. But the most beautiful of all is the spiritual connection during this month. Faith is a thing of the heart and of feeling. It’s something I don’t need to prove – I already know it.

How do you think the industry can better support Muslim creatives observing Ramadan?
By educating people about why we do it so that there is a better general understanding and respect for it. To be respected and understood is all most Muslims want and would greatly appreciate.

Further resources

If you’re a Muslim creative or simply interested in knowing more about Ramadan, check out these resources:

Mention Lamisa Khan
Mention Ethar Aiem
Mention Mohammed Amin Swaleh