Ahead of Ramadan 2024, we interviewed Mahfuj, General Manager at Science Museum for some more information and ideas to help support fellow team members at work. Mahfuj gives us a deeper insight into Ramadan and fasting whilst working.

  • What is Ramadan?

The simple version is fasting from sunrise to sunset. The deeper meaning is not just fasting, it’s about staying away from things that as good Muslims we shouldn’t do.

It’s also a good opportunity to remind ourselves that there are people in this world that don’t have what you may do. We call it Taqwa – being conscious, it is more of a self-reflection to understand how you would feel if you were in different circumstances.

  • Is it difficult to reflect when you are at work?

Yes, it is, especially if you are outside your natural comfort zone. For example, where I grew up in Bangladesh, 90% of the population are Muslims and almost the whole country adapts to fasting. It’s easier there! It was a shock to me when I moved to the UK as Ramadan was in the summer.

Ramadan moves forward by 11 days every year. 15 years ago, when I moved to the UK it was in summer – it was hot and difficult. I was working at Natural History Museum then and had a lot of support from my team. Summer can be very difficult to fast in – 18-19 hours long. As a manager I’ve always encouraged my team that are fasting to take a break, even though some would prefer to work through. The reset is important.

  • Is fasting something that gets easier as you get older?

Yes. You have stronger self-control. When people ask me how I do it I say it’s more of willpower. If you are on a diet, you will understand what I mean! This is my diet and the harder it is, the happier I become.

For me, this is the month in which we are well-disciplined Muslims. I can only do this in Ramadan, outside this month I don’t have that strong willpower.

  • What advice would you give to your colleagues that are fasting?

My advice is get some knowledge, the more we know, the more we can do. Sometimes we don’t need to do anything, understanding what your colleagues are going through is enough. It’s great to understand the reasons we are fasting and sharing this information.

  • When you first started in Benugo 15 years ago, how did you approach fasting?

I was new in the country, so it was difficult for me. However, I worked in a big team, and they quickly found out that I was fasting. It was very emotional – people were offering me lunch to take home. We had a manager called Daniel who ordered me a pizza to take home. It really touched me that someone cared that much. So, I try and do the same for others with nice gestures.

  • If you are fasting, what’s the most useful thing a colleague can do to support you?

Fasting is hard, but we are happy to do it and we do it on purpose. Perhaps a nice gesture like asking if we would like to take our break early, or asking when we would like to go on a break. Sometimes we don’t know how our body reacts in certain situations. Communicate! Ask your team member how they feel.

  • Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to talk about Eid as there can be confusion around it as we have two!

I always explain it to a non-Muslim as being like Christmas, except we have it twice. Our Eid is a celebration for two different reasons.

The first Eid (Eid al-fitr) comes at the end of Ramadan, and we celebrate at the end of fasting – we buy new clothes, buy gifts, see friends and family – it’s very much like Christmas.

The second Eid (Eid al-Adha) is the Feast of Sacrifice – we slaughter an animal to make our God happy. It also brings our families and society together, as the animal is divided into three parts.

You keep one part for yourself, one for relatives and friends and one for poor people.

  • How do you manage to do that in the UK?

You can pay someone to do it for you. I normally send money to my family so they can do it. We also pay annual religious tax during Eid– if you have a certain wealth then you must pay a Zakat, which is paid to poor people directly, paid to anyone you think deserves it.

  • Thank you Mahfujur, that was really interesting and enlightening.

Being respectful of other people’s beliefs is very important in Benugo, and we encourage you to have conversations with your colleagues that are fasting during Ramadan so you can find out more.