Keeping the faith

What Ramadan means to Reedha, Samman and Raheela.

From 12 April – 12 May 2021, some of our colleagues, patients and customers joined other Muslims around the world in observing Ramadan, a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement and heightened worship in the Islamic faith. This year, Ramadan was a very different experience with many usual practices, often family or community centric, impacted by the restrictions and social distancing measures still in place.

We spoke to Reedha, Samman and Raheela from our Leeds Hospital about what Ramadan means to them.

What does Ramadan mean to you?

​​Reedha: "Although a core part of Ramadan is fasting, the focus is less on the physical hardship and gratification; and more about the gratitude, spiritual journey and appreciation. Personally, Ramadan lets me refocus all areas of my life. To me it is an opportunity to pause and reflect on my actions, all the while remaining active. Ramadan allows me to redefine what success means. This also means refining my 'To Be' list and not letting the 'To Do' list get the better of me. Day-to-day, we live in a very materialistic world and Ramadan gives us the opportunity to focus on what's important such as relationships with family, friends and even charity."

Samman: "It's a far less talked about part of Ramadan that we give a lot more to Charity during this time too and take the opportunity to support people in need."

Raheela: "Ramadan also makes you think a lot more about everyday actions and wastefulness, particularly around food and being grateful for it."

Reedha: "It's a very hard month, but a very rewarding month and a time for me to strengthen my faith. I'm proud to tell people that I'm fasting and observing Ramadan. Ramadan has a hugely calming influence on me. I fill myself with positive thinking and focus myself on the pure happiness of life. It's a time for intense spiritual training for me. It gives me the opportunity to pause and reflect on my own actions, to make more of an effort, remain humble and empathise with others who maybe struggling. The fasting and abstinence help me become a more patient, mature individual who understands the value of the essentials in life."

What impact does fasting have on you during this time?

Samman: "Everyday things become more challenging during Ramadan. In the beginning you have to quickly adjust to being in work and concentrating on tasks with much less energy. You're also functioning on less sleep because you have to eat during the night. Sometimes you'll wake up at 3am to eat which can be very difficult and exhausting."

Raheela: "You also go for very long periods of time without food or water. Sometimes it can be 16 hours or so before you have anything to eat or drink. Because of this, we sometimes need to take breaks for fresh air to help us through the day."

Reedha: "Often people don't understand, and they ask, "you're not even allowed to drink water?" But for us, it's about the mental journey – it allows you to value things so much more."

Samman: "There are also times in the month where people are not able to or are exempt from fasting. There are many reasons for this and it might be due to illness, menstruation, or pregnancy etc. and unintentional ignorance around it can sometimes lead to awkward conversations."

Reedha: "A colleague of mine used to live in Saudi Arabia. She's not Muslim but she enjoys observing Ramadan and she'll fast and often read the Quran during this time too because she understands the deeper meaning. It makes me happy that she does this and talks to me about it too and we can relate to such things." 

What other practices do you observe during Ramadan?

Reedha: "During Ramadan Muslims pray a lot more and should try to complete the holy book, the Quran, at least once during the month. We do this in our free time and around our work. Sharon Robinson (Matron) and Maria Robinson (Hospital Director at Leeds Hospital) have set up a multi-faith room for prayer and relaxation. This has really helped us as it's given us somewhere to go during the day. Sharon has really listened to us all and worked very hard to create an aura where anyone and everyone has a sense of belonging."

Raheela: "Yes, it's been great and has had a really positive impact. It's open to anyone – of any faith or no faith. It's just a place where we can go for some quiet time or to pray and read when we need to."

Reedha: "The last ten days of Ramadan hold even more significance. On one of the nights, we believe that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) went to heaven to see Allah. Muslims pray through the night at this time which can be very challenging while they're also working."

Samman: "Yes, lots of people will take time off around this point in Ramadan so you may notice more requests from your teams for annual leave."

What would you like others to know about Ramadan or do differently?

Reedha: "There have been some really good movements in Nuffield Health with the Equity Forum and conversations like this which is great and quite overwhelming."

Raheela: "I think one of the key things is flexibility with breaks for fresh air and prayer time. Maybe accommodating a later break so you're not around when everyone is eating lunch."

Reedha: "Also more understanding from colleagues. Asking how they can support us and acknowledging that breaks, prayer time and fresh air are important at this time and necessary. It's not an excuse to take a break and it's upsetting that people think those things of you. You sometimes do end up feeling that you're always having to explain yourself which takes a lot of grace, tolerance and patience when you're low on food, water, sleep and energy."

Samman: "Also not offering food would help. Just because we're fasting doesn't mean that the temptation isn't there. It makes it much more difficult if people are offering you food in the staff room because they don't understand what fasting means to you."

Reedha: "And ask questions! Be open about what you know and what you don't. We're happy to take the opportunity to educate people and answer questions about Ramadan and Islam in general. We're pleased when people are interested and inquisitive or want to talk to us about it."

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