Photo by Fauzan My on Unsplash.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a time for fasting, prayer, charity and increase devotions for Muslims throughout the world. Lasting 29 to 30 days (depending on moon sightings) most Muslims are obliged to fast between sunrise and sunset. When Ramadan occurs in the summer, this may mean going without food or water for up to 16 hours – which, without due preparations, could impact on health and wellbeing. This year Ramadan is expected to run between 23 April and 23 May. Here we share some of the guidance that TfL has created for its managers and staff to help those observing Ramadan to stay safe and well. It may also be useful advice for people who are fasting for other religious, cultural or health reasons.
Ramadan and the potential impact on health and wellbeing
During Ramadan, from sunrise until sunset, Muslims are obliged to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations. Most Muslims will take a meal (suhoor) before sunrise and then break their fast at sunset (iftar). Some Muslims are exempt from fasting including young children, pregnant women, seniors and anyone with a serious health condition. The end of Ramadan is celebrated by Eid ul Fitr, expected to fall on 24 May this year (subject to confirmation of the new moon sighting) when Muslims traditionally enjoy festive meals and social gatherings.
Fasting impacts people differently. Some people report feeling more energised, whilst others may experience possible side effects such as dehydration and broken sleep, leading to symptoms of fatigue such as distraction, mood swings and tiredness. These effects will vary depending on an individual’s personal circumstances as well as environmental conditions, such as the weather.
Advance preparation is critical
Education is key to ensuring line managers are equipped to support all their staff during Ramadan. TfL provides managers with a faith calendar and educational materials in the run up to Ramadan so they can prepare themselves and their teams. Activities which promote an open and diverse culture and help people of all faiths understand what Ramadan is about, are helpful. Some examples:
- TfL’s Diversity & Inclusion and Occupational Health teams have worked with the TfL Muslim Network to develop Ramadan guidance.
- Members of TfL’s Senior Leadership Team were invited to participate in Ramadan 2019, by fasting for one day and breaking their fast at East London Mosque.
- TfL’s Muslim Staff Network have written blog posts on Ramadan, and shared out dates, which are commonly used to break fasts.
- At one of TfL’s depots, employees have started a countdown to Ramadan and are using posters to raise awareness among the wider team.
- In Abellio Buses, drivers also have an informal self-help arrangement, supporting each other in break times or on their Facebook group, throughout Ramadan.
TfL’s Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, Samina Zaman offers some other suggestions:
- Consult all faith groups in advance – a staff workshop to identify issues and solutions can help create an open culture.
- Encourage staff to share their personal experiences of fasting or hold an iftar (breaking fast) event involving all staff (before sunrise, so outside normal office hours).
- Use a range of communications channels to ensure no staff are excluded (operational staff may not have access to email).
- Provide staff with access to health and wellbeing guidance.
- Remind staff about other relevant procedures such as fatigue management, especially those working in safety critical roles. It is key to capture this as part of standard H&S risk assessments.
- Plan for staff to recognise Eid ul Fitr with their Muslim colleagues.
TfL also encourages managers to understand the needs of individuals to help them work safely while they are fasting. Not everyone finds it easy to talk about, so TfL provides guidance for managers to raise the subject sensitively in one to one conversations.
Preparations should also include ensuring there’s space to pray. That’s not always easy in an operational environment. Where space is limited solutions could include allocating a room as a temporary space for prayer or providing information on nearby mosques.
Taking a flexible approach
TfL’s guidance to managers suggests they anticipate and accommodate leave and flexible working requests from Muslim staff during Ramadan and Eid if they can. This may involve some forward planning especially in locations with more Muslim staff. Where possible, flexible rostering for operational staff and smart working (such as changing working hours) for non-operational staff can help with long fasts and prayer times. Other options include planning more strenuous tasks for times when energy levels are higher, rescheduling for after Ramadan, or sharing tasks with non-fasting colleagues. If it’s possible ensure meetings, events or training days that require additional travel take place outside Ramadan. It’s important to consult all staff to ensure this works well.
Practical advice for those who are fasting
TfL’s Ramadan advice includes helpful advice for those who are fasting to help them take responsibility for their own wellbeing during Ramadan, for example:
- If you have an underlying health concern, consult your GP before you fast.
- Ensure suhoor includes plenty of complex carbohydrate that will release their energy over a long period to help keep energy levels stable during the day.
- Hydrate well during non-fasting hours.
- Avoid fizzy drinks and fast food which cause peaking and troughs in energy levels and can affect levels of attention.
- Use break times, even if you are fasting. Consider taking a short walk to get some fresh air and rest, which could help overcome any feelings of tiredness and lethargy.
- If you feel disorientated or confused, drink some water. Islam doesn't require people to harm themselves in order to fulfil their fast. If a fast is broken, compensate by fasting later.
- If you feel unwell, seek help.
To find out more about TfL’s guidance for Ramadan, please contact Samina Zaman on (firstname.lastname@example.org).