Celebrations are part of the shared human experience, and understanding the why or how behind a celebration is to build a bridge of connection; a connection to the journey of an individual, their family, culture, and sometimes more broadly, a part of the world.
As mobility professionals, we’re challenged to be master bridge-builders, because part of providing meaningful support to our customers is knowing their story. It helps us anticipate their needs in their new environment and connect them to the resources to make their journey as seamless as possible. Building these connections is also necessary to develop a collaborative, cohesive team; these mutual understandings are what allow us to bend and flex to the unique needs of our team members, which translates to greater agility and responsive service to the customer.
As Weichert’s Director of Global Compensation Services, Jill DeRosa knows a thing or two about supporting a dynamic team and the importance of storytelling in this leadership position. With the month of Ramadan upon us, she seized the opportunity to learn more about the holiday and what it means to the members of her team. We are grateful that she brought us along on her journey:
With three members of our Global Compensation Services observing Ramadan, I was fortunate to find a great place to start my learning, with Muki Gegre, Sandra Rifai, and Arwa Khat as my teachers. Observing Ramadan — the holy month — with fasting is one of the five religious pillars of the Islamic faith. The other four are professing or committing to one’s faith, praying five times a day facing Mecca (in Saudi Arabia), making a pilgrimage to the Great Mosque of Mecca (if you are physically and financially able to), and giving Zakat (sharing your earnings or donating to charity).
The Ritual of Fasting
The intent of fasting during the month of Ramadan is to empathize with the feelings of those less fortunate — notably, hunger and weakness – which also serves as a reminder of the importance of giving Zakat to support the impoverished. The fasting ritual generally begins between the ages of 9 and 12, with younger children often opting to fast on select days until they get used to the practice.
When fasting, one abstains from eating or drinking from an hour before sunrise until an hour after sunset (around 5:20am to 7:20pm in NJ, or about 14 hours). Because Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, it starts about 10-11 days earlier each year, which means it will occur during every calendar month in most of our lifetimes. The timing changes throughout the month with the change in the daylight hours and depending on the season in which Ramadan falls that year.
Because the first meal of the day (suhur) must be consumed and completed an hour before sunrise, you’re challenged to awaken your inner early bird in order to fuel your body for the day. In many small, predominantly Muslim towns, a Mesaharaty walks the streets playing a drum about an hour and a half before sunrise as a wake-up call to eat suhur. After sunset and evening prayers, you can have your second meal of the day (iftar) before heading off to bed.
Particularly for families with children, there is a need to mentally prepare for the month of Ramadan and have open conversations about the significance of the practice. At the heart of it is the reminder to commit to your faith, reconnect with the community and family, and have gratitude for what you have.
Muslims pray five times per day, ideally facing Mecca, but there are additional special prayers during the month of Ramadan. The evening prayers are most respectfully prayed at the mosque with an Iman, or the Hoca, leading the prayer. After prayers in the mosque or public gathering places, the community will gather to eat their iftar together.
The Spirit of Giving
Giving Zakat happens all year long but is more prominent during Ramadan. The recipient of the Zakat is up to the donor and generally starts at home. Traditionally, you don’t give Zakat to your parents or kids since you are expected to support them. Outside of the family, however, you are free to decide where your charitable support goes.
The mosques generally will ask for Zakat for specific causes during Ramadan. This year, for example, much of the donations of Turkish American Muslims are being collected and sent to Turkey to support those impacted by the earthquakes from earlier this year.
Decorations during this time are typically crescent moons and lanterns, or fanoos, as they are called in Egypt. Common greetings include Ramadan Kareem, or May Ramadan be generous to you, and Ramadan Mubarak, or have a blessed Ramadan.
The largest celebration associated with Ramadan takes place at the end of the fasting period, and is known as Eid Al-Fitr, also referred to as the Festival of Sweets. Typically, the day begins with prayer at the mosque, with the following days spent visiting elders, family, and friends. This is a time to practice gratitude and feast with those you love after having shown great strength over a long period of fasting.
In a Muslim country, it is common for everything to pause for prayer times – year-round – with the workday shifting over Ramadan to allow workers to sleep longer to shorten the fasting window. In Egypt, it is commonly accepted for people on the side of the road or highway to give out snacks and bottles of water when it’s time to break the fast.
Differences can also be found in the ways communities celebrate and observe. In Michigan, for example, there are Suhoor festivals on the weekends, which are large gatherings between iftar and suhur (around 10:30 pm to 3:30 am). These gatherings can encompass full football fields, complete with food, music, and heat lamps when Ramadan occurs during colder months. Similarly, outside of Chicago, some communities host late-night barbecues where Muslim families can come together and the children can play — like an American 4th of July barbecue.
Despite these nuances, the overall themes remain. Ramadan is a time of reflection, testing your own abilities, showing generosity and kindness, and reclaiming your faith. Whether you are spending your days and iftars at the mosque or in your own community, you are surrounded by people who share similar commitments and values, and with whom you raise your families and create memories through shared celebrations. It is a time to be reminded that you are but one small cog in the wheel of life.
Build That Bridge!
As well as developing a deeper understanding and respect for my own team members’ practices over the month of Ramadan, this journey has served as a reminder of the critical importance of cultural competence in supporting mobile talent. This includes an understanding of cultural practices and celebrations, like Ramadan.
If you’re supporting an assignee moving to a country over the month of Ramadan, it’s possible that they may be anxious about whether their host office will have a dedicated space where they can pray or if the colleagues in their host country will be accommodating to their prayer times. Or perhaps they are unsure of the location of the closest Mosque and whether they can connect with the local Muslim community.
Knowledge is the first step to offering proactive support and guidance – it’s what will help you anticipate these questions and concerns and connect assignees with the targeted resources that can help drive smoother transitions and exceptional employee experiences.