going to work

A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Accommodating Muslim Holidays in the Workplace

A Note From Michelle: 

I asked Muhammad Shamoon, our Off-Site SEO expert at STIR, to help myself and the rest of the TeamSTIRs to understand the various Muslim holidays. We quickly learned that we needed to build some flexibility in our weekly team meetings and 1:1 check-ins to allow for his prayer times and manage his energy levels during fasting. We strive to be supportive and ensure a lifestyle career for each TeamSTIR. But, alas, I personally have a lot to learn about other cultures and religions.

Thank you, Muhammad, for your patience and generosity of time and spirit when explaining things to us. And, thank you for writing this thoughtful article. 

You are a blessing to STIR Clients, TeamSTIRs, and STIR.

Creating an inclusive and supportive work environment is essential to fostering a harmonious and productive team. One way to achieve this is by understanding and accommodating the religious holidays of all team members. This article aims to provide a comprehensive insight into the main Muslim holidays and offer suggestions for accommodating them in the workplace.

🌙 Understanding the Islamic Calendar

Before diving into the holidays, it’s important to understand that the Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles. This means that the dates of Muslim holidays shift each year by approximately 10-12 days in the Gregorian calendar. Consequently, Muslim holidays can occur in different seasons over the years. Keeping this in mind will help in planning around these important dates.

The Main Events: Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him), and Ashura

Islam has four major holidays: 

  • Eid al-Fitr
  • Eid al-Adha
  • Eid Milad Un Nabi
  • Ashura

Each of these holidays holds great significance for Muslims and serves as an occasion to come together, celebrate, and reflect.

Ramadan: A Month of Fasting and Reflection

While not a holiday itself, Ramadan is an important month in the Islamic calendar. It’s a month of fasting, introspection, and increased devotion. Muslims observe fasting during Ramadan, refraining from consuming food and drink from dawn until sunset. They also engage in nightly prayers and charitable acts while focusing on personal growth.

Eid al-Fitr: The Sweetest Time of the Year

Eid al-Fitr, also called the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” marks the end of Ramadan. Can you imagine not eating or drinking from dawn to sunset for an entire month? 

It’s tough, but we pull through, and the reward is a huge celebration.

During Eid al-Fitr, Muslims dress in their finest clothes and celebrate with communal prayers, feasting, giving gifts, and visiting family and friends. 

It is also a time when Muslims engage in acts of charity, providing for those less fortunate. There’s also an endless supply of delicious food, 

It’s a sweet time, both literally and figuratively.

💰 Charity: Giving Fitra (Zakat al-Fitr)

A significant aspect of Eid al-Fitr is giving Fitra or Zakat al-Fitr. Fitra, a type of charity, is offered to the impoverished and the needy before the Eid prayer, enabling them to join the celebrations.

This custom highlights the significance of compassion and generosity towards the less privileged members of society.

💕 Eidi: Sharing Love and Affection

Another tradition of Eid al-Fitr is giving Eidi, which involves giving money or gifts, usually to children and younger family members. 

Eidi can be in the form of cash, new clothes, or other presents. It’s a way for older family members to express their love and affection for the younger generation.

Eid al-Fitr is a time of gratitude, celebration, and acts of generosity, reflecting the values and spirit of Islam.

🐏 Eid al-Adha: A Celebration of Sacrifice and Generosity

Eid al-Adha, or the “Festival of Sacrifice,” commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim (Peace Be Upon Him) to sacrifice his son, Prophet Ismail (Peace Be Upon Him), in obedience to God’s command.

Qurbani: The Act of Sacrifice

Central to the celebrations of Eid al-Adha is Qurbani, the ritual sacrifice of an animal (usually a sheep, goat, or cow). 

The sacrificial animal is divided into three portions:

  1. One for the family
  2. One for relatives and friends
  3. One for the less fortunate 

Each portion further emphasizes the importance of sharing and compassion.

Communal Prayers and Sermons

Muslims gather at mosques or open prayer grounds on the morning of Eid al-Adha to perform the special Eid prayers. 

These prayers are followed by sermons that often emphasize the importance of sacrifice, faith, and charity in each person’s life.

Feasting and Visiting Loved Ones

After the prayers and the act of Qurbani, families and friends come together to enjoy festive meals, often featuring the meat from the sacrificed animal. 

We’ll also visit the homes of relatives, friends, and neighbors to foster a strong sense of community and connection.

Acts of Generosity and Charity

Eid al-Adha is also a time when Muslims are encouraged to be generous and mindful of those in need. 

Along with sharing the meat from Qurbani with the less fortunate, many people donate to charities, volunteer their time, and engage in other acts of kindness. 

This spirit of giving reflects the core values of Islam and reminds everyone of the importance of compassion and empathy.

Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him): Celebrating the Birth of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)

Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him) celebrates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). 

Muslims worldwide observe this day with special prayers, gatherings, and events to honor the life and teachings of the Prophet. 

It’s an annual celebration on the 12th of Rabi-ul-Awal, a month in the Islamic calendar. 

This is considered the greatest celebration of Muslims.

🕋 Commemorating the Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) Life

Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him) by commemorating the Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) life, his teachings, and his exemplary character. 

Devotees often recite poems, sing hymns, and share stories about the Prophet’s life.

🤲 Acts of Charity and Kindness

Following the Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) example, Muslims are encouraged to perform acts of charity and kindness during Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him), further promoting goodwill and unity within their communities.

🍬  Sweet Celebrations and Processions

Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him) is a festive occasion, and one of the ways that people celebrate is by distributing sweets, chocolates, refreshments, and drinks among their family, friends, and neighbors. 

Sharing joy and blessings is an essential aspect of the celebration, as it fosters a sense of unity and happiness within the community.

During Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him), Muslims also hold processions called “Juloos” to express their love and devotion to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). 

Participants carry green flags, play Naats (poems in praise of the Prophet) on loudspeakers, and walk through the streets, often accompanied by trucks filled with sweets and treats to be distributed among the crowd. 

These processions are a vivid and lively expression of devotion and are integral to the Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him) festivities.

The processions can sometimes cause traffic jams and congestion in certain areas, so it’s essential to be aware of the routes and timings of these processions to plan accordingly.

🎇 Streets and Buildings Sparkling with Joy

Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him) is a time when streets and buildings burst into life –  adorned with twinkling lights that reflect the joy and happiness of this special occasion.

As the birthday of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) is celebrated, the vibrant, illuminated streets exude a warmth that brings people together, creating a sense of unity and connection.

Just imagine walking through a cityscape glittering with countless fairy lights, where every corner you turn reveals a new and enchanting display – this is the magic of Eid Milad Un Nabi (Peace Be Upon Him)!

Ashura: A Day of Remembrance

Ashura, observed on the 10th day of Muharram, is a day of remembrance for Muslims. 

It holds different significance for Sunni and Shia Muslims, but for both, it’s a day of reflection, prayer, and acts of charity.

🌙 Fasting and Prayer

Some Muslims choose to fast on Ashura, while others engage in prayers and acts of worship. The day is significant for spiritual reflection and fostering a closer relationship with God.

🤲  Acts of Charity and Goodwill

Ashura is also a time for Muslims to perform acts of charity, helping those in need and promoting goodwill within their communities.

🍲 Making and Sharing Haleem

One tradition associated with Ashura is the preparation and sharing of Haleem, a slow-cooked stew made from meat, lentils, and wheat. 

This hearty dish is often made in bulk and distributed to friends, family, and people experiencing poverty as a symbol of unity and compassion. Sharing Haleem on this day is a way to honor the spirit of sacrifice and devotion.

🥛 Distributing Flavored Milk, Juices, and Desserts

In some cultures, it’s customary to distribute desserts and flavored milk juices with jellies and vermicelli to friends, family, and neighbors during Ashura. 

These sweet treats serve as a reminder of the importance of sharing joy and blessings with others, particularly in memory of Hussain (May Allah be pleased with him). 

Additional Muslim Observances

In addition to the four major holidays, there are other significant observances in the Islamic calendar:

🌃 Laylat al-Qadr: Known as the “Night of Power” or “Night of Decree,” Laylat al-Qadr is believed to be the night when the initial verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). It falls during the last ten days of Ramadan and is considered the holiest night of the year.

🌷 Rabi al-Awwal: The third month of the Islamic calendar is significant for many Muslims because it’s believed to be the month of the Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) birth.

🐎 Isra and Mi’raj: This observance commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) miraculous nocturnal voyage of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) from Mecca to Jerusalem and his subsequent ascent to the heavens.

How to Accommodate Muslim Holidays in the Workplace

Now that you’re familiar with the main Muslim holidays and observances, let’s dive in and explore how we can accommodate Muslim holidays together –  without making it feel like you’re studying for a test on Islamic culture. 

It’s About Accommodation, Not Assimilation

Before we get into the details, let’s clarify this isn’t about forcing anyone to observe Muslim holidays. 

We’re simply asking for a little flexibility and understanding so that our Muslim friends and colleagues can observe their special days without feeling left out or pressured to skip them. 

Remember, we foster a more inclusive, supportive, and diverse environment when we accommodate each other’s needs. 

Plan Around Holidays

When possible, avoid scheduling important meetings or events during these special days. Keeping an Islamic calendar handy or using online resources can help track the shifting dates of these holidays. 

Allowing for the option to swap holidays will create a more inclusive and understanding work environment. 

If you’re unsure about a date, just ask your Muslim friend or colleague. They’ll most likely appreciate your effort.

Be Flexible with Time Off

Just as employees might need time off for other holidays, Muslim coworkers may need a day or two to celebrate these special occasions with their loved ones. Providing flexible time off policies and understanding their importance will help create a more inclusive and understanding work environment.

Flex Those Flexible Hours

One of the most practical ways to accommodate Muslim holidays is by offering flexible working hours. During Ramadan, for example, our Muslim colleagues might appreciate the option to start their day a bit later or leave earlier, allowing them to balance their work and spiritual commitments more effectively. 

Spread the Cheer

Language has the power to connect us, and what better way to show support for our Muslim colleagues than by learning a few phrases related to their holidays? 

Join in the festivities by acknowledging these holidays with a simple “Ramadan Kareem,” “Happy Eid,” “Eid Mubarak,” or a respectful nod to the other holidays.

You can also send an e-card if you’re working remotely. This small but heartfelt gesture will show your colleagues that you’re rooting for them and their celebrations—just like fans at a championship game!

You could even surprise your Muslim coworkers with holiday decorations or sweets, fostering an atmosphere of celebration and inclusiveness.

The Great Eidi Swap

Eidi is a time-honored tradition of giving money or gifts to children and loved ones during Eid-al-Fitr. 

While you might not be handing out cash in the office (although that would be popular!), you can still spread the joy by organizing a team-wide “Eidi Swap.” 

Colleagues can exchange small, thoughtful gifts, fostering a sense of camaraderie and sharing in the festive spirit of Eid.

Be Mindful of Fasting Coworkers

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. It’s difficult, especially when the breakroom smells of fresh coffee and we’re passing the office snacks. 

Be considerate of your fasting coworkers by saving the treats for after sunset or providing a separate space for those who are fasting.

While they maintain their usual work responsibilities, a little thoughtfulness from our side can make their fast more comfortable.

Here are some ways to be mindful of fasting coworkers:

  • Avoid eating, drinking, or chewing gum in front of them, especially in shared workspaces.
  • Be understanding if they need short breaks or have low energy during the day.
  • Show patience and empathy, as fasting can sometimes impact mood and concentration.
  • Keep the noise levels down, as it might be harder for them to focus during this time.

The Ramadan Foodie Challenge

Our Muslim coworkers fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, so they are pretty excited about their Iftar meals. One way to share in their excitement and organize a team-wide “Ramadan Foodie Challenge.”

Participants can try a new Iftar dish and share their experiences, photos, or recipes! This fun culinary adventure will expose your team to new foods while creating a shared experience that fosters understanding and connection. 

This may be a gratifying bonding experience; however, it’s crucial to check with your Muslim team members before introducing anything like this to the team to gauge their feelings and comfort level with the idea. 

Encourage Cross-Cultural Learning

Creating opportunities for employees to learn about different cultures and traditions will contribute to a more inclusive and educated team. 

Organize lunch-and-learn sessions, invite guest speakers, or hold cultural celebrations where everyone can participate and learn from one another. 

Start a Friendly Countdown

Create a fun and engaging countdown for the start of Muslim holidays like Ramadan. This can serve as a lighthearted reminder for your team, giving your Muslim colleagues a sense of excitement and anticipation for their special time of year.

Be Sensitive to Prayer Times

During Muslim holidays and even throughout the year, Muslims pray five times a day at specific times. 

It’s critical to be sensitive to these prayer times and not schedule essential discussions or activities during these periods. 

Offering a designated quiet space for prayer can also be a thoughtful gesture that your Muslim team members will appreciate.

Watch the Menu

Now, we all love a good social gathering (who can forget that incredible lasagna from last month?). But when planning a celebration, be mindful of dietary restrictions. 

Muslim friends observe halal dietary guidelines, which means some foods are a no-go. 

To make sure everyone can partake, consider providing halal options or, better yet, encourage everyone to bring a dish that respects these guidelines. 

It’s a small gesture that’ll make a huge difference.

In Conclusion

By understanding and accommodating Muslim holidays in the workplace, we can create an inclusive and supportive environment for all team members, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. 

Embracing these differences, learning from one another, and supporting each other’s traditions will bring you closer together as a team for a welcoming work atmosphere.

As the world becomes more interconnected, cultivating a sense of connection and comprehension among all team members is crucial. 

Let’s continue to work towards celebrating our diverse backgrounds, gaining knowledge from one another, and building an inclusive work environment where each individual feels appreciated and included.

Happy accommodating!