Employer’s Guide to Ramadan

by Mar 31, 2021

During the Islamic month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset as an act of selfless worship in order to purify their minds and direct their attention to God. Islam teaches that fasting is done to show obedience to God, to increase spirituality and strengthen moral discipline, and to help foster empathy for those less fortunate. Fasting also allows one to deepen reflection and increase one’s own connection with God and the Holy Qur’an, which Muslims believe was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month.

Glossary of Ramadan Terms

Ramadan: The month of fasting; a period marked by abstaining from consumption of food and drink and spousal relationship from dawn to sunset and by increased prayer and charity.

Iftar: The meal served at the end of the day during Ramadan, to break the day’s fast. Literal meaning is “breakfast.”
Ramadan Mubarak: A greeting to wish people a happy Ramadan. Translation:“blessed Ramadan.”

Sawm: The Arabic word for fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Suhoor: the morning meal eaten by Muslims before the sun has come up during Ramadan.

Taraweeh: Optional congregational prayers performed nightly during Ramadan after the Eisha (night) prayer, typically held in a Mosque. Literally, it means rest and relaxation.

Zakat: Another of the five pillars of Islam requiring adult Muslims to pay 2.5% of their excess wealth to those in need. Although it can be paid any time during the year, it is more prominent during Ramadan.

Understanding Ramadan

In 2021, Ramadan begins approximately April 13 and lasts until about May 12. During this month, Muslims abstain from food and drink from pre-dawn until sunset. This period of fasting is obligatory for all adult Muslims who are physically capable of abstaining; those with illnesses or conditions that would be worsened by fasting are exempt. Muslims also mark this month with increased worship and study of the Qur’an, including prayers that take place late at night. At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a special prayer and a meal called iftar, which is often a gathering for family and community with specially prepared foods and activities. This makes Ramadan a busy time, which often results in disrupted sleep and moods.

Despite the challenges that Ramadan poses for American Muslims as a religious minority, it is a month of great spiritual benefit and introspection that Muslims observe as a result of God’s direct instructions in the Holy Qur’an.

You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God. [Holy Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 183]

Employees Needs

We understand that Muslim employees must maintain their required work duties during Ramadan. However, state and federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 25 O.S. § 1302 protect employees from discrimination on the basis of religion, including the failure to reasonably accommodate sincerely-held religious beliefs. We urge you to keep in mind some of the following:

  • Because the dates for Ramadan as well as the major Islamic holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha change each year, your employees’ time off or scheduling requests may change year by year. Several free calendars available to the public will indicate when these holidays may be anticipated so that these holiday absences can be accommodated. Avoid scheduling mandatory work events on Eid holidays.
  • Avoid planning any mandatory work events which involved food, such as business luncheons or Happy Hours.
  • Many Muslim employees are unaware that their religious holiday can be excused absences under federal law, or that certain reasonable accommodations can be provided during their fast. We encourage you to make your employees aware of their rights.
  • Note that religious practices vary; some Muslims may fast while others do not, and some Muslims may have disrupted patterns of fasting for personal reasons such as health concerns.
  • If you notice changes in an employee’s behavior during Ramadan, we encourage you to notify the employee and discuss options with them before resorting to serious disciplinary measures.
  • For employment circumstances where fasting might constitute a serious health risk, such as hard physical labor in very hot or cold conditions, we encourage you to contact the employees and speak with them directly. Some employees may be able to fast during another period, abstain only on weekends, or modify their hours of fasting.
  • Where scheduling flexibility is possible, consider that your Muslim employees may be more productive with a slightly modified schedule due to late nights and hunger.

Ramadan During COVID-19

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has changed some faith practices, but not religious commitments. While Muslim employees may not be physically in the office, the same anti-discrimination laws and principles apply.
  • Schedule breaks in long online meetings so that Muslim employees may take time to pray throughout the day.
  • Keep in mind while scheduling virtual meetings or events during the evening that Muslims will be planning to break their fast and celebrate Iftar.
  • For virtual meetings that must occur early in the morning, allow Muslim employees to attend with cameras off.
  • Despite the ongoing concerns regarding the COVID pandemic and the difficult reality that many holiday celebrations have been altered or all together cancelled, Muslim employees may still request time off from work to spend the day with their immediate family members in celebration.
Islamic Holidays: The Two Eids

The Muslim community celebrates two major religious holiday in a calendar year: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

Eid al-Fitr (EED ull-FIT-ur) signifies the end of the month of Ramadan, a period of religious observance marked by fasting, increased worship, and celebrations.  Eid al-Adha (EED ull-ODD-ha) marks the end of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Islamic calendar is based on a lunar cycle, so Muslim holidays change through the calendar year, moving forwards approximately 11 days per year.

  Ramadan Begins Eid ul-Fitr Eid al-Adha
2021 April 13 May 13 July 20
2022 April 3 May 03 July 10
2023 March 23 April 22 June 29


About CAIR Oklahoma

CAIR Oklahoma (CAIR-OK) is the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights advocacy organization. Our mission is to defend the civil rights and religious liberties of American Muslims.

CAIR-OK and other CAIR chapters work regularly with employers, HR professionals, and mangers to ensure that employers understand the needs and rights of their Muslim employees and are able to provide reasonable accommodations where needed. We have provided dozens of in-person workshops to businesses, agencies, and other organizations to teach the realities of Islam and Muslims in Oklahoma, dispel negative stereotypes, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Please consider our office a resource for your organization. We welcome hearing from you with any questions or concerns you have. We also encourage you to bring a workshop or seminar to your organization to reinforce in person the principles outlined in this booklet.

For more information on Islamic religious practices generally, please visit our website to find the Employer’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices or contact our office for a print version.