A Canadian Muslim, let’s call him “Mr M,” spent the last Ramadan in Saudi Arabia — his first-ever Ramadan in the Kingdom. It was a different experience; he would not label it as good or bad, “it was just different,” he insists.
The first jolt of surprise came when his office announced the new working hours during the holy month. He did see that coming, as a Muslim back home, he is used to fasting the long daylight hours during the Canadian summer days. Why an eight hours shift was reduced to six was beyond his comprehension! He tried his peers and subordinates first, the only common reaction he got from all of them was the sheer surprise directed at the question itself: “Of course the working hours should be cut, it is Ramadan my friend!”. While in Canada he used to have very tough routine and despite of that they work full time, fast properly, read Quran and worship taraveeh in Ramadan every year.
Most of his colleagues responded not noticing that they were only paraphrasing his question into an answer. When he pressed further, he got diverse answers from “We would be exhausted without food and water and tea all day long, man!” to “Of course to get more time dedicated to worshipping and reciting Quran.”
Being the practical person he is, such answers did not cut it for him, what exhaustion they were talking about? He would understand if their job required any kind of fieldwork, but it was nothing but air-conditioned offices and cushioned chairs. Getting more time to worship, why not thinking about doing their jobs as a way of worshipping nonetheless? So he decided to go to the management. Of course he would not try to question the cultural norms of the country. He knows how sensitive such matters are. Nonetheless, he wanted to talk business. Many of the deadlines and projects he committed to deliver would be impacted by such changes and he would like to define some priorities. The director’s response was, “No, all targets stay, no compromises!”
Not only that, another project or two might be added to the list. No matter how business sense, logic and basics of project management he tried to bring into his arguments, the director met them all with dead ears and coldness.
He knew that it was impossible to accomplish such targets unless some drastic changes to the scope of these projects were made, but he would do his best along with the team to deliver. He just did not know that once the holy month started, there would be a sharp decline in productivity of his staff.
Although the working hours have been already reduced, he noticed a lot of staff coming late in the morning and leaving early in the afternoon, the excuse was always a lack of sleep, they had to wait till Fajr (dawn prayer) before sleeping. The prayer breaks got suddenly longer than usual. The excuse was staying afterwards to recite the Quran.
Needless to say, no deadlines were met, no projects were completed, and Mr. M left the country.
It is fascinating how we stripped the month of patience and willpower out of its strongest essence and turned it into a month of resting and sleeping. The new traditions and customs we shoved into it have only weakened its spirituality.
Ramadan, as we know it today, is way different than the one our grandparents had, it is no longer the month of hard work and simplicity. We have turned it into a shiny example of consumerism and materialism. Ask your grandfather or father about the neighbours and family gatherings around the breakfast where everyone used to bring some home-made food or drinks to the table, and compare it to the most of us stumbling with filled shopping carts on the eve of Ramadan. Ask them about going to bed early so they could get up early and go to do their jobs, and compare it to the most of the sleepy heads resting in their offices during the holy month.
Time has changed, life has changed, I know, but that is not an excuse to bury the simplicity and spirituality of the month and exchange it for laziness and profusion. It is the month of changing routines, to learn and exercise one’s patience and self control, to go light on materials such as food and shopping, and be more connected to your God, to yourself. That what Ramadan is all about.