Ramadan Business Etiquette in the Era of Covid

It’s currently Ramadan, which runs from April 13 to the evening of May 12, 2021. If you’re Muslim, you’ve probably been looking forward to this time to reflect on life, but if you’re not, it may not be something you are thinking about. But if you’re working with someone observing Ramadan by fasting, some etiquette issues will help make it a better time for everyone.

I wrote about business Ramadan etiquette a few years ago, but when I went to tweet the article, I wondered if Ramadan in the Covid-era required any special attention. I reached out to Nehad (Neesy) Mohanna. Mohanna is an American Egyptian Muslim who spent 20 years as an engineer in the corporate world, working in the U.S. and Egypt, and now owns her own health and wellness business in Switzerland.

It’s all about boundaries.

The biggest issue in Covid times is not whether to invite your fasting co-worker to lunch (although she says her advice still stands — invite the person and let them decide if they want to come or not), but how to set boundaries.

With no offices to go to, strict start and end times went away, and many people became more flexible to accommodate time zones. Take a meeting at 5:00 a.m.? Sure. You do it in your jammies and go back to sleep for a couple of hours. Take another meeting at 9:00 p.m.? No problem. It’s all about being flexible.

But during Ramadan, those early morning and late-night meetings to accommodate other time zones mean you run into trouble. 

Where Mohanna lives, sehri, the pre-dawn meal, must be finished by around 6:10 a.m., and iftar, the post-sunset meal, is around 8:15 p.m. During the rest of the year, it’s not a problem to take a meeting, but during Ramadan, Muslims will want to be free at those times. For good reason! If someone pushes back, be understanding. You’d want to have dinner, too, if you literally hadn’t eaten all day.

Remember to ask.

Mohanna says she doesn’t know a single fasting Muslim who isn’t happy to talk about why. But don’t, she cautions, expect a lot of woe-is-me talk. She looks forward to Ramadan and sees it as a time of discipline and reward. Doing something hard gives great results.

So, ask how she’s doing, but don’t be surprised when she’s happy about it. Rather than guess what your Muslim colleague is doing, go ahead and ask what is appropriate and what is not.

There may be napping involved.

Depending on where you live, sunrise can come awfully early and sunset awfully late, which means that fasting Muslims may not be getting enough sleep to eat. Mohanna schedules time for a nap, and others may as well. It’s certainly an easy accommodation to let someone who is already working from home take an hour snooze — especially if they are working early or late.

The key points are to let people set their boundaries, ask questions rather than make assumptions, and respect everyone’s needs. 

Come to think of it, that shouldn’t be the case just during Ramadan.

And to all my Muslim readers, Ramadan Mubarak!

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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