What is Ramadan?

Picture by Gabriel Szabo/Guzelian
Picture by Gabriel Szabo/Guzelian

Thousands of Muslims across the North East are marking the beginning of Ramadan - but what is it? And how does it affect non-muslims?

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is a month of the Islamic calendar, and a very sacred time for Muslims who believe that during this time the Qu'ran, their holy book, was revealed through the Prophet Muhammad.

There are about three million Muslims in the UK, about 46,764 Muslims of which are in the North East, according to census figures.

When is Ramadan?

The dates of Ramadan vary each year in accordance with the lunar calendar, but varies from place-to-place around the word due to weather conditions and other influences on how the moon is seen.

This year Ramadan began today, Monday June 6, but in the Islamic calendar holy days and times begin on the sunset of the previous day, so Muslim's began observing the period from sunset on Sunday.

What do Muslims do during Ramadan?

Ramadan is one of the five 'pillars' of Islam during which many Muslims will start a strict month of fasting and will refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours.

They also undertake extra prayers as a means of becoming closer to Allah.

The make more regular visits to the mosque and generally strive towards self improvement.

According to the Qu'ran, the Prophet said: "Whoever does not give up false statements and evil deeds and speaking bad words to others, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink [or fasting]" - meaning that you must work on your whole person."

What is iftaar?

Literally meaning "break fast," iftaar is the time of each day when families and friends gather at sundown to eat after their hours of fasting.

Many eat with family, but there are also occasional special mealtimes at mosques, charity iftaars and rushes on halal restaurants.

Who is exempt from fasting?

The elderly, pregnant women and people suffering conditions such as diabetes sufferers are exempt, as are some elite athletes. But it is a personal choice.

Children are not expected to fast, although some occasionally join their parents on half-fasts.

What happens at the end of Ramadan?

Ramadan well end this year on or around Thursday July 7 depending on the sighting of the moon), culminating in Eid al-Fitr - one of the two major holidays of Islam.

Muslims gather in mosques for a prayer and worship, before spending the day with family and friends.

The appropriate season's greeting is "'Eid Mubarak" or "Blessed Eid".

How does Ramadan affect workers and employers?

There are an estimated 9,250 working Muslims in the North East, and businesses may receive requests from Muslim employees to work flexibly or take time off work.

With Ramadan falling in June this year, Muslim workers will not be eating or drinking for 16 hours each day - which may leave them suffering from a lack of energy and dehydration, and may feel tired due to waking up early to eat before sunrise or staying up later to pray. This is important to bear in mind for fellow workers and employers.

Some companies allow Muslims observing Ramadan to begin their working day later so they can catch up on sleep after waking up early to eat, or to begin their working day earlier so there is time to take a nap before the fast is broken in the evening.

Others have been willing to consider a later start or earlier finish in exchange for a shorter lunch break.

Muslim workers may also wish to have time off during the three-day Eid al-Fitr.

Do employers have to allow Muslim workers time off and flexible working during Ramadan?

Will Clayton, partner at Knights professional services, advises companies on how to deal with these requests under equality law and avoid making decisions which could give rise to claims of discrimination.

He said: "It is important that employees observing Ramadan are not treated less favourably than other employees because of their religion or belief.

"As an employer you should try to accommodate your employees’ requests as far as possible, however you are allowed to take into account the needs of your business when making your decision. You may refuse a request if there is a clear business reason as to why you can’t accommodate it."

He added: "A change in working patterns may actually benefit a business where employee energy levels and productivity might be affected. It’s important at the outset of any request to meet with the employee to discuss the needs of the individual and how they interact with the requirements of the business.

"However, if a request genuinely cannot be accommodated, it can be refused. To do so, you must show that you have considered the request properly and tried to identify ways in which it might be accommodated."