11 Suggestions to Create a more Islam-friendly Workplace

Praying at the Cape Town International Airport (Jan 2019)

Does your organization have equity policies and practices to help you become a more welcoming, inclusive workplace? Do these policies and practices address how to be a faith-friendly workplace? With Ramadan just around the corner, now is an excellent time to revisit how your company/organization can support or become better at supporting faith identities, and though this is not an exhaustive list, here are eleven suggestions to become an organization that is more inclusive of Muslim employees.

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On Mosquing (Day 2 Ramadan 2015)

Wedding Day, Houghton Masjid (April 2015)

Wedding Day, Houghton Masjid (April 2015) Photo Credit: SP from SA

Yesterday was the second fast of the month and so far I’ve been praying at home. Partly because my local mosque didn’t have a women’s section when I was growing up and partly because I’m not very good with crowds and heat, it’s always just felt more familiar and comfortable to pray at home. And so although there are facilities at the local mosque, the past two nights I’ve waved goodbye to my husband and family as they leave for tarawih (nightly Ramadan prayers), before praying on my own while they are away.

But it’s winter in South Africa so heat isn’t an issue, and I was up early and ready to go, so when everyone headed to the masjid for Fajr (the dawn prayer), I jumped in the car.  Including myself, my mother in law and another woman there were three of us in the female section of the masjid at Fajr, and it was a beautiful, beautiful experience. The imam recited Surah Yaseen, my favourite chapter from the Qur’an, and it felt so comfortable to be starting the day praying and hearing a beloved and familiar Surah. It made me want to be more familiar with the Qur’an as a whole and to read and listen to it more often so that more chapters and verses become beloved friends, and to make dua this Ramadan that this takes place.

My mind was on duas because along with the heart softening experience of beautiful recitation, being in the mosque was a tangible, physical reminder that Ramadan is a time of supplication. It is a time of raising your expectations and knowing and trusting and believing God is Capable of all things. Our local masjid in Joburg is the Houghton West Street Masjid, and last year in Ramadan, before I had ever met my husband, I discovered the masjid when a teacher in Toronto tweeted a link to a recitation of the 99 Names from the Houghton Masjid Soundcloud page.  A couple of weeks later the same teacher posted their recitation of Surah Rahman (another chapter of the Qu’ran) and through Ramadan and afterwards as well, the same recitation of Surah Rahman, the 99 Names, and prayers on the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him posted on their Soundcloud page became things I would turn to time and time again for solace and comfort and reflection.

Many months later when I met my husband (a story for another time!) and learnt he is from South Africa, I admitted that I didn’t know very much about the country, but there was a masjid that I loved from afar. There are many, many, many masjids in South Africa, and so I didn’t think this particular one would be familiar to him, but to my great surprise, he shared that in fact, that very same masjid was his neighbourhood mosque, and that he loved their recitation of Surah Rahman too. A few months later, we were married in that very same masjid, and though wedding events and receptions can seem a bit of a blur, our nikkah (wedding ceremony) is very clear. Each time we drive past, or the few times I’ve been to the masjid to pray since then, our wedding day comes to mind, and yesterday’s Fajr prayer was no different. It brought forth memories of arriving at the masjid with my family beforehand, of navigating my long dress and train up the masjid stairs in heels (a new experience) to the female section upstairs, sitting as close as possible to the partition to see down into the mens section and hear the beautiful words and reflections of the ceremony, hugging friends and family and new faces afterwards, praying Dhuhr (the midday prayer) and praying and sitting on layers upon layers of material, making my way down the steps carefully after others left, and praying supplications in the moments before seeing my husband for the first time. Every time we visit the masjid, the anticipation and joy and gratitude of that day comes to life.

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On Finding the Way Back (Day 1, Ramadan 2015)

Shipping Container converted into cafe -Freedom Cafe, Durban (June 2015)

Shipping Container converted into cafe -Freedom Cafe, Durban (June 2015)

Ramadan is a time of immense transformation where we reassess, re-prioritize and recognize the most important things in our lives. One of the most important aspect is to understand what we are doing here. Allah asks us in the Qur’an, “Where, then, are you going?” This is a question we have to ask ourselves in Ramadan – as individuals, as a family and as a society. This is a time to get close to Allah. (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf)

Today is the first day of Ramadan and I am in South Africa. I’ve been married for almost 2 months, but still, this city, this country, and the other parts and people of my new life feel very very new. There are moments and days where everything familiar feels just so far away, and in the midst of all the changes and adjusting, Ramadan is a welcome guest, a dear friend, someone who knows me, a familiar face, an anchor point. I am ever so glad the month is here.

This morning after we started our fast I checked whether Vancouver and Toronto have started Ramadan as well, and seeing the announcement in both cities brought that special Ramadan feeling of yes, the month has begun. I called home to send my parents greetings and prayers for the month, and my heart felt full. Though I am physically far from family and friends, knowing that we are all fasting and reading Qur’an and making supplications for each other and for loved ones who have passed away makes me feel connected and close.  Because along with prayer, Ramadan feels special because of the memories we create during its days.  For me, the month brings forth memories of board game mornings after suhoor (morning meal) with my sister when we were younger, meals conducted over whispers when my brother was very little so we wouldn’t wake him, childhood stories from my dad at suhoor time that I’ve heard a million times but never tire of hearing, my grandfather starting each fast with roti and a mango that would last him throughout the day, the sound of Qur’an in the house, the sound of my dad and brother’s footsteps returning home from tarawih and cups of tea before we slept and the morning meal came in again.

I spent last Ramadan in Toronto.  My roommate was Muslim, wore the niqab and was from Saudi studying English,  and we didn’t know each other before I moved in. It was my first time spending Ramadan with someone who wasn’t my immediate family.  We didn’t have a table so we spread out a long cloth on the floor for our daily suhoor and iftar (breaking of the fast), I made very simple vegetarian curries (a month of chickpeas and spinach!) with kitchri and yogourt, and I broke my fast with fruit salad/fruit chaat and lots of yummy dates. Despite the long Toronto days and having only few hours to eat, I’ve never eaten so simply or been so satisfied with my food. My roommate and I were from very different cultures and contexts, and we shared our Ramadan rituals with one another, though we generally ate and did things that were familiar and personally meaningful to us. The experience taught us that everyone has different goals, different challenges, and different things that they are working on and praying for, and even living in the same apartment, your Ramadan will differ from one another.  It was a month of cultural learning, though not radical cultural change, and one of the nicest Ramadans I’ve ever had.

I’m hoping that this year will be a special Ramadan as well, and a month of new memories, shared experiences, and new traditions. It’s winter, so the days and nights are very cold, and the daylight hours are limited, but God willing, this Ramadan is a month full of learning and growth. This year, there are a few things I’ve been thinking about as we usher the month in.

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(Day 3) Ramadan is the Month of Qur’an

The beauty of mosques (Dallas, Texas)

Grammar helps you take a word for word translation and make sense of it. For instance, the word al-Kitab is a written text. The word Qur’an means that which is recited abundantly, is read frequently. In the Qur’an we see that different pointing words are paired with these two words – this Qur’an, and that Kitab. And this makes sense. At any time our written text is in a fixed place, in our bookbag, our iPad, in our car. It’s possible that we will be far away from our written copy of the text (otherwise known as the mushaf).  But that which is read and recited, the Qur’an that is in the heart, that is always near, and we see that reflected in the pointing words used with these different words.

When we take a closer look we also notice the first place the word al-Quran is mentioned from the beginning of the Quran is in the verse about Ramadan. Before that the word that is used is al-Kitab. Because in Ramadan we recite Quran, abundantly, more than it is recited in the whole year. And so the first time we are introduced to this word is in this verse.

-Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda, Bayyinah Quran Intensive 2013

Today (Friday) is the third fast of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, in which Muslims worldwide fast from before sunrise to sunset for 30 days. It’s a month of reflection, prayer, personal transformation, charity and empathy, and a time that is much anticipated before it arrives. This year, there are two aspects of Ramadan I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of days.

1) Ramadan is a universally accessible experience.

For the past month I’ve been studying classical Arabic grammar in Dallas, Texas, and I returned to Vancouver the day before Ramadan began. The course was my first trip to the States, and over the month I learnt so much about mosques, the beauty of faith, Arabic grammar, the state of my own heart, and so much more. When it was possible, I tweeted reflections from our classes, and through messages and tweets I received that month, I realised that there were people across the United States and other parts of the world who were following our classes, and very much wished to be with us. Being part of such an incredible learning opportunity was a tremendous blessing and gift.

In contrast to that experience of traveling for a specific class, or other religious experiences such as the pilgrimage of Hajj or Umrah, it’s beautiful how Ramadan is something that is available to everyone. Regardless of time limitations or finances, everyone can, and is meant to change their routine, reflect on what they are doing, where they are going, and how they are personally striving to become better people.  It is a gift that we don’t travel anywhere to experience Ramadan, it is just there waiting for us, and I hope I can take advantage of this month and make the most of it.

2) Ramadan asks us to figure out how you fit spirituality in your daily life

At the Arabic course I was taking, we had class from 8-3pm everyday, and then returned back to the mosque from 7-11pm for additional classes and reflection time. It was beautiful to have that window away from my daily life and to take time everyday to study, read Qur’an, pray with others and make personal supplications as well. The challenge when you leave such an experience is figuring out how to maintain the spiritual habits and your relationship with the Divine you’ve started to cultivate while you were away. The challenge is translating the learning you’ve done into your character and your life. The challenge is actually becoming a better person.

Ramadan is the opposite. In the midst of one’s daily routine of commuting, going to work, preparing meals, and whatever responsibilities make up your day, you challenge yourself to fast, to set goals of developing a better character, and finding time to connect with the Qur’an, reflect on its meanings. You challenge yourself to do good works, to give in charity, and to spend ample time in personal supplication. It’s a month of practical spirituality. It’s a challenge because you are sleep and food deprived, but a critical exercise because the character development in Ramadan occurs as your life continues around you. As a result, the habits you develop in Ramadan are hopefully habits you can continue once the month is done.

During my Arabic class, I struggled with whether or not I should blog about our experiences – partly because of time constraints and partly because in recent months I’ve been trying to figure out whether writing is a beneficial way to spend my time. In the DFW airport on Monday though, I walked through bookstores eager for something for the flight, and realised I couldn’t find anything that spoke to my experiences particularly well, and had a long think on the way home about writing. This month, I’m going to God willing, try and spend some time sharing Ramadan experiences and reflecting on the course I just took – hopefully there is something here that is of benefit. Till next time.