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Muslim Holidays for Small Business Employers

Posted by Tamara

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim religious calendar, the holiest month because it is the one in which the prophet Muhammad received his revelation. Devout Mulsims mark the month with special observances that may include fasting, time off for religious observances and self-assessment.

In 2010, Ramadan begins on August 11 and lasts one lunar cycle.

Some Dos and Don’ts for employers:

  • Don’t assume that an employee is Muslim based on his or her appearance, and don’t ask what religion an employee is unless the employee requests an accommodation based on religion.
  • Don’t assume that every Muslim employee will fast during Ramadan. Levels of observance vary in any religion. Consider that some Christians go to mass daily, while others go just twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. Different Muslim groups have different traditions, and adherence to those traditions varies.
  • Do realize that many Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. Devout Muslims do not eat or drink anything (even water) and also avoid anything taken by mouth such as chewing gum or smoking. At sunset a small meal is eaten, traditionally dates and water. After dark, there is no limit on eating and drinking non-alcoholic beverages. Meals eaten after dark often take on a feast-like quality, especially later in the month.
  • Do realize that many Muslims attend evening prayers called the taraweeh, held in a mosque during this period.

Ramaden ends with the celebrating of Eid ul Fitr, the festival of fast-breaking. This is a major holiday in the Muslim religious calendar, similar to Christmas for Christians. The first day is spent at the mosque, followed by three days of feasting and socializing when gifts are exchanged.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs. That may include unpaid time off for Eid ul Fitr.

Depending upon the situation, other accommodations might include:

  • Allowing Muslim employees to skip business lunches or rescheduling to a morning or afternoon meeting where food is not served
  • Allow a 10-minute break for prayer and a snack at sunset
  • Schedule meal breaks after dark for employees who work in the evenings

Despite these accommodations, an employer can expect the same level of performance from a Muslim employee fasting during Ramadan, as the employer expects of any other worker in the same job.


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