“Not even water?”
Each year, Muslims all over the world observe the fasting month of Ramadan. The annual practise involves abstaining from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk while participating in additional religious practises.
You know what they say: empty your stomach to feed your soul. Ramadan encourages Muslims to focus on their spirituality, steer away from worldly possessions, and purify their mind and body. The month brings an increased amount of blessings, unity and compassion amongst the community. However, Ramadan can be challenging for many working Muslims that don’t have a flexible work schedule, especially Muslim lawyers.
It’s not easy to juggle Ramadan with a heavy workload, late hours, court appearances, additional family responsibilities and broken sleep, but many Muslims navigate the challenges of Ramadan all while being on top of work each year.
Rabea Khan, a barrister and former lawyer at the Office of Public Prosecution shared her fasting experience while working, the challenges she faced and how she overcame them.
“One of the challenging things about Ramadan is that it’s not always possible to be home for iftar, so there can be some lonely iftars in the office kitchen where you’re breaking fast on your own. So I suppose those are the main kind of differences for a working day in Ramadan,” she said.
“I guess your day is structured differently. You are up early, so I generally do a lot of preparation work from Fajr time, and that’s when I start my working day as opposed to [the] normal 9-5 hours, and I try to arrange it so I leave and can be home for iftar.”
She went on to further explain that sometimes it gets tricky. While you’re in court, “you’re constantly talking, and you can’t drink water, for example, so that can be tiring. But in a strange way, in Ramadan, the fast actually makes you more focused....your whole body is kind of waiting for iftar.”
“Time seems to move quickly during the day when you’re doing something busy like being in a court, so... it does give you more focus than it usually would.”
When asked about how fasting could be easier with a heavy workload, she said it comes down to what you do, your employer and what kind of measures you put in place.
“I work around it by starting early and finishing early... I’m self-employed, so if I want, I can lock days out of my diary. This year, I’ve tried to book out the last few days of Ramadan to get a bit of the last ten days in not working and just focusing on what the month is supposed to focus on.”
“I kind of put those measures in place to get the most out of the month, but also I think surrounding yourself with good company, just knowing who else is around you that might be fasting as well so if you’re going to be alone in an office ...try [to] seek out company if you don’t have it,” she said.
Comparing Ramadan last year and this year, Ms Khan says that it was a different experience, and there are things to look forward to this month that we missed out on last year.
“I was still working very hard and was working really long hours. I think it was a unique experience because lockdown had its own effects. I missed the communal aspect of Ramadan. It really made you focus internally, and your focus became more an individual practice rather than communal practise.”
When asked if she had any tips or advice for Muslim lawyers, she said,
“When it feels hard, remind yourself the reason why we do it and connect to the reasons behind Ramadan, and that’ll sustain you. I actually find that Ramadan makes me a better lawyer in some ways - it can make you more empathetic towards other clients and what their circumstances are.”
“In that aspect, your drive becomes stronger, so think about that and let that be your motivation rather than obstruction.”