Diversity, HR & Ramadan

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As a Human Resources Professional and a former Muslim, I get many questions about how to handle the limitations of Ramadan for Muslim employees. When I was working full time and tried to fast during Ramadan, it was next to impossible for me. There were doughnuts at the morning meetings, lunch meetings catered by my favorite restaurants, more lunch meetings with clients and dinner mixers. You could also forget trying to pray five times a day in the middle of these and other obligations as a senior level manager! Today with the increased awareness of the Diversity that exists, Muslims are not as ready as I was to quietly go through the day to fast or pray. Ramadan can present a challenge especially for Human Resources and employees that is confusing. Those outside the Muslim faith don’t quite understand the issues or the flexibility in a religion that looks quite inflexible on the outside. Some try to compare this to the Lenten season, but not all Christians practice fasting for Lent and even then, many Catholics give up meat on one day. Christian fasting is also different as there is no set day. Christians can fast anytime, however they like. It is a discipline to draw them closer to God – not to fulfill any religious obligations. Furthermore, Christian fasts do not make up any meals. If you give up a meal, it is gone.

I describe Ramadan fasting as a flipping of day with night. Meals are not eaten during the day (no water or liquids either). However, at night, you can eat or drink to your heart’s content. We would get up before sunrise and eat a breakfast. You can then eat again after sunset. It’s the daylight hours that present the challenge. I have written other blog posts on this topic: Ramadan Demystified and the Christian’s Guide to Ramadan.

So… what is an employer to do?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion (or lack of religious belief) in hiring, firing, or any other terms and conditions of employment. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says:

“In addition, the Act  requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of applicants and  employees,  unless  doing so would  cause more than a minimal burden on the operation of the employer’s business. A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion. Flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments  lateral transfers, and exceptions to dress or grooming rules are examples of accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs.”

*”Undue Hardship” on Employer = costly, compromises safety, decreases efficiency, infringes on other employees’ rights or requires others to pick up their task of burdensome work.

*Undue hardship also may be shown if the request for an accommodation violates others’ job rights established through a collective bargaining agreement or seniority system.

*Prohibits religious harassment of employees, such as offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices (hostile or offensive work environment) or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

Of course, the EEOC guidelines are to be followed, but a good rule of thumb is to practice Diversity awareness and allow employees to openly have a conversation about what is Ramadan and why it is practiced – if they are willing. This way, it will not become a taboo topic where people are walking on eggshells or ignoring it. In addition, allowing a little flexibility in hours is not only kind but appreciated by all employees (granted in retail sales, call centers and manufacturing, that is more difficult to do).

The same kindness should also be shown to others who have differing religious beliefs- including Christians. I find now as a Christian, it is the flip side of the coin, where people are not willing to share their Christian faith for fear or repercussion – a man I know did not even feel he could put a cross in his office without being ridiculed.  Religious accommodations can be made, but decisions should be made with respect to overall productivity and efficiency of the organization. If all employees on the team are willing to pitch in, then it will become a win-win for everyone – especially if others want to take a religious day off for their practice in the future.

Open dialogue, questions to reach an understanding and a willingness to help — these are all hallmarks of organizations that are open to diversity and create a culture of learning.

 

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Ramadan 2018: Demystified for Christians

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image by: crossroads on a mission

Well… it’s that time of the year again. No, not Mother’s Day, not graduation, not Father’s Day but RAMADAN! Millions of Muslims all over the world celebrate this time within their communities, leaving the rest of the world wondering what the fuss is all about.

Most Muslims will tell you that Ramadan is “Fasting” and is one of the five pillars of Islamic beliefs. The truth of the matter is that Ramadan includes FEASTING! Many don’t realize that the fasting Muslims do during Ramadan is only during the daylight hours. The feasting lasts all night long with parties and food galore. There is a sense of jubilant celebration that you made it through yet another day of not eating or drinking.

When Christians think of fasting, they believe in not eating or drinking for the day and night. There is no “make-up” of the meals missed. In Islam, only the day and the night are switched! The fasting looks to be severe to the rest of the world because they are working and abstain from drinking water. Some Muslims cautioned me that I should not be brushing my teeth during Ramadan because technically, I would be introducing toothpaste and water into my mouth (not allowed). I was told to “dry brush” – of course, being a teenager at that time, I was appalled at that suggestion and chose to ignore it.

Shariah law dictates what a Muslim can and cannot do during Ramadan. There is great detail of who can fast (that means anyone seven years or older – including that a child of ten is beaten if not fasting), and who cannot – a woman on her period cannot fast, an insane person cannot fast, etc. The rules state that fasting during Ramadan involves abstinence from drink and food, sexual intercourse, smoking, anything that punctures the body like an injection, swallowing mucus and a long list of items (see link) that is permissible or not to a Muslim (including something called “cupping” where heated glass or a heated horn of an animal used to be put to the skin to draw blood like a suction in order to restore energy) from the dawn to the moment when a black thread is indistinguishable from a white one outside. That is the signal that the feasting time can begin and the fast is broken (called “Iftar” or “Iftari”).

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My own copy of the Sharia Law Book = last summer’s reading 😦

When I was a Muslim,  I didn’t keep many fasts. The most I kept were when we lived in Muslim countries. When we moved to the United States, our Muslim community used to fast together, so I wanted to join them. There was a great number of gatherings in people’s homes for the break of the fast – especially the first day. There is an intense suspenseful time of waiting right before the evening meal can be eaten – everyone’s eyes are on the clock, watching seconds tick by. We, the children were in a frenzy of anticipation and many Muslims drive like maniacs on the streets as they go racing home to their meals. Our kitchen counter would be piled high with food, tea and a sweetened drink called Rooh Afza. Dates and water would be set aside as that is the traditional way to break the fast.  When the time came or the muezzin’s call was heard from the mosque, there was chaos as the meal began with everyone grabbing dishes with their hands. When appetites were finally sated, our friends and family used to head for the couch to take a nap or to play cards or board games together. Again, fasting during Ramadan is simply a checklist. There was not much spiritual introspection for it, other than some who read the Quran during this month.

Christian fasting is different. The fast is not required or mandatory. It is a self-discipline that is revealed through prayer. Its intended to change the person who is fasting — not to change anyone else or (God forbid!) to change God’s mind. It is simply to quell an internal struggle one may be having with a number of things (anger, grief, lack of forgiveness, etc). Passions are not an issue for Islam. Fasting does not get rid of any of them, it only forbids them in the daylight hours. You can indulge in smoking, sex, and gorging on food or whatever you want at night. It is not a basis of righteousness nor is it about getting right with God. Again, it is simply a checklist to fulfill one of the pillars.

 

Christians might be surprised to learn that the Bible talks about fasting at least 77 times! Here is a wonderful article from Ligonier Ministry’s Donald Whitney called “The Discipline of Fasting.” He states that “But Christians are free to experience the blessings of fasting as often as they desire. Fasting expresses in a God-ordained way our belief that we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8) — so good that there are times we’re satisfied to feast on Him instead of the food that the Lord made for us to live on. Fasting is a temporary physical demonstration that we believe the truth declared by the gospel, namely that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Do you believe that? Do you fast?”

We need to share the Gospel with others who are bound by checklists and obligations. We have such a beautiful freedom in Christ that we are able to fast if we wish to or not fast if we don’t. There are many ways to fast and to become closer to the Lord. Let’s start by prayer during Ramadan for our Muslim friends and neighbors. Maybe this period of time will allow you to consider fasting in order to share the Gospel with others who have not heard about the Way, the Truth, and the Life that comes only through Christ (John 14:6). Amen.

A Christian’s Guide to RAMADAN

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I used to dread Ramadan as a Muslim… I knew I was supposed to look forward to it each year, but it was so much better to simply ignore it was coming and that I would be judged by how many fasts (“Roza” in Urdu) I would keep.  On the occasions I would fast, I would sleep all day, get headaches, try to brush my teeth because I couldn’t have water and even passed out from dizziness (I used to pass out all the time growing up).  I wrote another blog about fasting here last year.

All of that was worth the night time activities. Being one who enjoys having people over to our home, the evenings would be a time of celebration (we made it!) and we would feast, play board games and cards and eat full meals again until the wee hours of the morning before sunrise… only to do it all over again.

There was even a joke in our family-if you weren’t fasting and if someone asked you if you were keeping your fast, you should always say “yes, I keep it in my closet.” The bottom line is that for Muslims, keeping a fast is a matter of honor and shame for your family. Muslims will ask you straight up if you are fasting or not to see how pious you are (or not, in my case). There is definitely a sense of pressure from the community. This is not felt so greatly in Pakistan or in the Middle East because everyone there assumes you are fasting – it’s just what you do. During the day, restaurants are open only to foreigners (and even that is limited).  In some Muslim countries, it is a punishable crime to eat and drink in the public during Ramadan and the religious police look for people! Everything shuts down, so the only thing to do for women, especially is to watch long movies and sleep.

For many Christians, Ramadan is a mystery. I hope today to untangle some of those confusing ideas.

  1. Ramadan starts upon the sighting of the crescent moon by Saudi Arabia’s High Judicial Court. The dates always vary of when Ramadan starts due to Islam’s use of a lunar calendar (hence the shape of the moon on all things Muslim).  Fasting is for 30 days.
  2. TODAY, May 27 is the first day of Ramadan for 2017
  3. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the FIVE Pillars of Faith (requisite checklist for all Muslims)
  4. It’s not truly fasting as in the Christian sense of the word (completely abstaining from food and water like Jesus did in the desert (see Matthew 4) for 40 days and nights. Fasting for Ramadan is a flip of night and day. You can eat all you want from sunset to sunrise – you don’t touch food or water (not even a sip, otherwise you break your fast) from sunrise to sunset. It’s embarrassing for a Muslim to gain weight during this time!
  5. Ramadan is a time for prayer. Muslims try to get closer to God. WE CAN HELP!!!
  6. Join a Christian movement called “30 days of Prayer”  http://www.30daysprayer.com/ to pray for the Muslim world to come to the LORD. The website also has a devotional book you can order, as well as e-mail reminders to pray for the Muslims around you.
  7. Women who are pregnant or nursing (or menstruating) cannot fast. They will have to make up their fasts at a later time in order to do their duty as a Muslim. Children and the very elderly do not have to fast. There are also some exemptions made for athletes and those who are traveling.
  8. Some Christians I know want to fast in solidarity with their Muslim friends – you can most definitely do that (=freedom in Christ!), however please note that fasting during Ramadan is complete with religious obligations and rules set forth by Islam. Don’t follow those rules or do something contrary to the beliefs you have in Christ Jesus. These two religions are very, very different! Make it clear why you are fasting so that they don’t get the wrong idea or so that you are not misleading them into believing something else. Be clear about who you follow, that’s all.
  9. We can enter joyfully into a fast and even share the breaking of the fast party with our Muslim friends and neighbors. Let them know that Jesus allowed Christians to fast in Matthew 6:16-17 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”
  10. At the end of Ramadan, all Muslims celebrate Eid — many of my fond memories as a child revolve around us celebrating Eid with so much joy! Eid is scheduled for June 25 this year.

69859_artworks-000076178737-9xpof4-originalMuslims are our neighbors, and Jesus instructed us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mat 22:39) Pray For Muslims in Love. Invite them to your home! 

The Bible says: 15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. ~James 5:15-17

Why Did God Do This?

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Yesterday, a Christian friend told me that she had a co-worker who asked her “Why did God do this?” in regard to the horrendous story about the two year old child who was dragged away to death by an alligator at Disney World. Personally, I wouldn’t have stopped there if I was the co-worker. You can apply that question to all the horrific things that happen in this world – why is there murder, rape, sex trafficking, etc., however underneath that first question are a few underlying assumptions:

  1. God exists.
  2. He doesn’t care.
  3. He actually was the perpetrator of the acts.

My Eastern mind answered her with the assumptions first: Why does this co-worker believe she is above God Almighty in that she can sit in the Judgment seat to question, prosecute, and judge God as guilty – all in one question? This is a very Eastern way of thinking… who are you to condemn God or even ask Him that question? Yet, God being accessible to us in the person of Christ allows us to at least place these questions before Him.

So, let’s take this a few steps at a time. First of all, the answer for all this lies in the way that God has chosen to speak to us = the Bible. The very first chapter of Genesis addresses the answer, which is Original Sin. It starts at the Garden of Eden where man was given free will and death entered into God’s creation plan (that up to that point He had deemed to be good). When Adam & Even chose wrongly, all of creation fell into the curse – the curse is the result of not doing what God had laid out for them to do. He had only given them ONE rule to not break and guess what? That’s the one that got broken. This is the reason for the breakdown we see all around us. From the alligator to the Orlando shootings and the tragic loss of lives. There is so much sadness around us, it’s sometimes hard for me to think.

If the person sees that what happened is wrong and sinful, then we can start there as Christians. We believe that there is an absolute standard for wrong and right. That standard does not come from man – if it did, then many would say that what the Orlando shooter did was right. Taking life for any reason is wrong. This is a standard God put into action a long time ago with the Ten Commandments (see Commandment 6 as listed in Exodus 20:13). ALL human beings are created in the image of God and only God has written when it will be the end of their days. That life does not belong to man to take away. If there is a right and wrong and God put that into motion, then these acts occurred either as a part of a fallen, broken world (as in the case of the alligator) or due to man’s free choice to ignore what the Lord has put into place.

God’s original design for mankind and the world was to live in communion with Him. He created everything (Genesis) and called it “Good.” Man’s disobedience is not a one time thing. Man continues to run away from the call of God to return to Him and His decrees, causing more hurt, sin and violence. You don’t even have to go far in the Bible to see this happening! An animal had to be killed to clothe Adam and Even after the Fall “21And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”(Genesis 3:21). Cain commits the first murder of his own brother Abel within a few chapters of the Fall. Just 11 verses later, the first murder takes place  when Cain kills his own brother Abel out of jealousy (Genesis 4:8). The intentions of man’s heart are evil. Without God, only our own selfish desires rule.

Don’t forget for one minute that the Orlando shooter claimed to be from ISIS and did this act during Ramadan. We visited a Muslim restaurant just today for lunch and I asked the woman (whom I knew to be fasting) how she was faring since she worked around food all day and was required to fast. She told me that this Ramadan season had been exceptionally difficult and that she was not fasting today. She would rather not fast than to keep a fast and break it (= higher sin penalty).  A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fasting and the checklists one has to fulfill to be a good, devout Muslim and how many fall short of this exacting standard set by Islam. I personally believe that there was a desperation the shooter must have felt from the Muslim standards that increased his drive to do this heinous act.

When we believe that we are the ones in control of our lives and we try to work our way to Heaven, we will miserably fail. This is the reason why we need a Savior.

Jesus Christ did not condone any of these acts. God did not will for the two year old child to die. He did not want the suffering caused by the horrific act of one man who took the lives of many in Orlando. In fact, I believe that Jesus Wept (John 11:35). There is a blog entry done by Vince Vitale at RZIM that addresses this in a beautiful way, titled “Tears for Orlando.” Jesus came to earth to take on the burden we all bear and take our sins at the cross as his own. He is the ONE who was blameless and without sin (in fact, the Quran also says that Jesus was the only one without sin – see Surah 19:19 in Chapter for Maryam – Mary).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Please join me in praying for all the families affected by the devastating events that took place in Orlando this week. May we, as Christians extend the LOVE God has instead of judgment and blame.

 

Fasting

A Palestinian man hangs decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City
Saudi Declares Monday as first day of Ramadan – A Palestinian man hangs decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 4, 2016. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

I was a horrible Muslim. I grew up in countries where everyone fasted, yet I never kept a fast until I was a teenager in high school. I take that back – I tired fasting around 5th grade because we had moved to the US and our neighbors were very good at fasting. Not wanting to be shown up by a boy my age, I thought I would also fast. I had such a horrible attitude about it all, I had to end the fast in a shameful way. I ate lunch. I couldn’t even make it past the afternoon.

In High School, at least I was doing it for better reasons. I knew that fasting was supposed to get you closer to submitting to God’s will for you (now why you had to not eat or drink to do this, I still didn’t understand). This was a much better approach than jealous competition with our sweet and kind neighbor family.

I still didn’t do very well as a teenager in fasting. I would try to stay up all night to eat and then would conk out close to sunrise. I would even miss the early morning prayer (which is a no-no) because I stayed up too late and now no one could wake me up, including my alarm. My mom was kind to me during this time and allowed me to stay asleep as I always rationalized that I could make up the missed prayer time in the morning or do extra credit prayers later on. Again, not a great way to embark on any religious philosophy.

As an adult after 9/11, I tried to become a better Muslim than I had ever been. I was reading the Quran, trying to pray five times a day around my work schedule and also trying to fast. I did better – I was able to fast for about a week before the horrible migraines took me down. There is a special dispensation for medical disabilities and I reasoned with Allah that since He was merciful to me, that He would exempt me from this one pillar of faith.

Islam has FIVE pillars of faith. One must do each one of them (only Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca is done once in a lifetime. Others must be done every day or every season!). 5-five-pillars-of-islamThese are absolutes, so missing one of these is kind of an issue because you are not fulfilling requirements of being a practicing Muslim. Ramadan is sacred because Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed during that month. It varies in date year to year because the lunar calendar is used to mark the ninth month – Ramadan.

I believed all the other items in the checklist. I said the Shahadah, I tried my best to pray (not all my life, mind you! I don’t want you to think I was an awesome Muslim – hence the first line of this blog!), we gave Zakat, or charity and my parents were kind enough to take us to Mecca when we were little for Hajj. The problem is that even missing one requirement does not get you to Heaven! If you are missing a pillar or two, it is sinful and you will be punished by Allah, for you are then like a building without a foundation or a roof without a supporting pillar.

The Season of Ramadan starts tomorrow morning June 6, 2016 at Sunrise. This means that over 1.5 billion (good) Muslims will be eating and drinking tonight, but fasting tomorrow and for the next 30 days.

When I became a follower of Christ Jesus, I wanted to know my requirements or obligations. I was shocked that there wasn’t a checklist to complete or clear-cut directions on what to do. I had to repent of my sins and acknowledge the fact that I needed a Savior (because I could not pay for my sins by myself), I had to confess with my mouth that Jesus was Lord and Savior and I had to believe in my heart that he died on the cross and was raised from the dead. Romans 10:9 says “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

As I began to study the Bible, I found that there was no list that needed to be checked off.  Religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, but not as a requirement or obligation.  Fasting is the humbling of the soul, Ps 35:13; that is the inside of the duty; let that, therefore, be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. God sees in secret, and will reward openly. In contrast to what I witnessed in the Muslim countries as people trying to fast in competition or worse, shaming others who were not fasting (because they had “medically exempted” headaches, for example, not that I was embarrassed about this or anything!), Matthew 6:18 says “that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Psalm 35:12-14 takes it a step further with David who fasts for his enemies’ health! What is that about? I was shocked to see that fasting took on a different meaning and that had everything to do with the condition of the heart and also the desire to commune with God.

“They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul. 13But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting,And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. 14I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.…” ~Psalm 35:12-14

As Christians, we do not have to fast but we should pray to seek God’s will if there is something going on in our lives that needs change. Fasting will not change the other person or their circumstances – instead, fasting is to help us draw closer to God and to hear His will for our lives. I also want to point out a stark contrast here. Fasting for the Muslim world means exchanging DAYS for NIGHTS. It is not a complete abstaining from food or drink for 30 days. Some people are shocked that humans are able to completely give up food or drink – not the case. In addition to not eating or drinking during the daylight hours, Muslims are to try to keep from thinking bad thoughts, smoking, cursing, or having marital relations.

Fasting for the Christian is to humble yourself before the Lord, to reveal things in your life that are broken, need healing or spiritual transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring. It can help one to recognize and repent unconfessed sin. It’s not magic, it won’t fix other people, but it can help you grow in your spiritual walk with Christ.

As we pray for others, may we remember to pray for the Muslim world to know the love of Christ Jesus who fulfilled all obligations for us and completed all checklists, took our judgment and paid the price of our sins for all mankind with his death on the cross. May they learn about the resurrection power over death that is found only in Jesus. Amen.