“I actually enjoy working long hours during Ramadan,” said Hosamuddin Hamza, who works as an office manager at a dentist practice in Kirchberg. “I just keep myself busy.” He has also gone to the gym or played football with friends to pass the time before he can eat. “I think a lot of people do the same. We don’t want to go home and start staring at the clock, starving.”
Ramadan is celebrated to mark the Qur’an being revealed to the prophet Muhammad, with Muslims fasting between daybreak and sunset. In Luxembourg this year, that means they can neither eat nor drink for around 14 hours every day. Chewing gum is also prohibited.
But Ramadan is about more than fasting, as observing the holy month also includes prayer and giving to charity.
For Hamza, it is difficult to make Friday prayer as he has to travel across the city to the nearest mosque during his lunch break, a trip that can take up to two hours in total. As the prayer room is quite small, believers have to take turns to pray.
Even though he said the month is harder to observe for people working in manual labour or jobs with shift work and irregular hours, it also comes with some difficulties for people in office jobs. Those cooking the evening meal to break fast with their family or community, for example, might appreciate being able to leave promptly and not have meetings scheduled late in the day.
While the start of Ramadan usually comes with a slump in energy as the body adjusts, Hamza said he recovers quickly. “I really feel more energetic, more focused.” Tougher than not eating, he said, will be breaking his coffee habit, and he usually spends the days prior to the start of Ramadan already cutting the number of cups he has per day.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and changes every year in relation to the western calendar. This year, it lasts from 23 March--the first day of fasting--until 21 April. Just a few days into Ramadan, clocks will move one hour forward, also changing the schedule of people’s fasting.
Around half of Luxembourg’s population does not belong to any faith group, data by statistics office Statec published in February shows. Of those who identify as religious, 2.7% are Muslim, compared to 92% Christian.
For Ahmed*, moving to Luxembourg marked the first time he lived outside of a Muslim country where working hours are generally shorter during the holy month both in the public and private sectors.
“It makes life easier for those who are fasting. That was the first challenge I found here. I’m obliged to work from 8am to 6pm in Europe,” he said.
With the morning meal taken very early, before dawn, many Muslims will go back to sleep for some hours before starting the day. In the evening, leaving early allows more time to prepare breaking the fast.
From a corporate perspective, nothing actually changes.
“From a corporate perspective, nothing actually changes,” he said. “If there is a meeting at 8pm, I have to attend,” he said about his private sector job, adding that “some people understand and try to avoid these kinds of meetings.”
He has also been asked for lunch meetings and coffees, where he is unable to eat or drink while colleagues tuck in. “I don’t take it as an offense,” he said, but added that “it would be good if awareness was there. Not just for me, but also for others.”
At a previous job, a non-Muslim colleague had proposed a day of fasting for staff to be more understanding of those doing Ramadan. But management refused the idea under diversity and inclusion rules, which it said cannot promote any activities of religious sentiment.
“But then what about the Christmas party,” asked Ahmed, saying things are measured “from different perspectives.” While he usually offers to work around the Christmas holidays to allow colleagues to take this time off, he said the same courtesy is not always extended to him for Eid al-Fitr, the celebration of the end of Ramadan.
And while his current job provides a room for twice daily prayer during working hours, a previous employer forbade him from praying on site. “This is really the challenge,” said Ahmed. “Fasting I can do by myself. No one can push me to eat or drink.”
“Any direct or indirect discrimination based on religion or convictions, disability, age, sexual orientation, membership or non-membership--real or supposed--of a race or ethnic group is prohibited,” states Luxembourg’s labour code.
More than 200 complaints on discrimination were lodged with the Centre for Equal Treatment (CET) in 2021, the latest data available. Of the 245 cases the centre responded to, the biggest number (60) were based on race or ethnic origin. Nine were linked to religion.
IMS Luxembourg, a corporate social responsibility network that also manages the country’s Diversity Charter for businesses, said it has not issued any particular guidelines for Ramadan to members or signatories of the charter.
However, the not-for-profit highlights best practices of some companies on its website, such as bank UBS making prayer rooms available to staff and law firm DSM saying it allows for more flexible working hours during Ramadan.
Ahmed’s current employer also offers halal products, which he said was not always the case working at different companies in Luxembourg.
“I’ve always done Ramadan, since becoming an adult,” said Shirin*, comparing the anticipation to this special time of year to the run-up to Christmas for Christians. “What I like about Ramadan is that it’s a moment where you challenge the status quo. Being hungry pushes you. It’s a bit like a spiritual retreat.”
Fasting is a time to re-balance, to focus, and--like Hamza--she said she actually feels more energised. It also raises her awareness for those who go hungry from poverty and don’t have the opportunity to share a meal at the end of the day. “I really look forward to going home. After not having eaten all day, you pay so much more attention.”
Children, the elderly, pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers but also persons with a disability are exempt from Ramadan.
It’s normal that people have questions.
Shirin works in the public sector and said she does not want any special treatment during Ramadan. This could feel unfair to other colleagues and perhaps even contribute to stigmatising Muslims, she said. As she has advanced in her career, she has become more confident though, for example changing her working hours in agreement with her manager.
The most important thing, she said, is for companies to respect their employees and create an environment in which they feel comfortable.
The includes non-Muslim colleagues feeling at ease to ask questions. “It’s normal that people have questions,” said Shirin. “It doesn’t bother me. It comes from a good place. Ask your questions honestly, don’t be afraid.”
*The interviewee’s name has been changed at their request.