As we head towards May, Muslims around the world continue to observe the month of Ramadan, an annual period of fasting, prayer, and reflection.
Abstaining from food, drink and other activities between sunrise and sunset, millions face the challenge of balancing their religious practice with responsibilities in the workplace.
We caught up with Project Officer Uzma Hussain to hear about her experience of Ramadan and understand how workplaces can open themselves to cultural and religious differences.
“I think that Ramadan, if you ask any Muslim, is about patience and being closer to God,” Uzma said.
“It's also a time for you to reflect and understand how other people feel around the world, particularly those who cannot eat.
“It’s a way for us to humble ourselves and be grateful for what we have. We have food. We have a shelter over our heads.
"You're more aware of your surroundings and you think a bit more about the environment around you, about how people feel.”
One of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next.
Observing the month of Ramadan alongside her family and community, Uzma said that the act of coming together to open their fast and pray was a crucial part of connecting with her religion.
“I think we all understand the feeling of being hungry, being thirsty and emotionally feeling tired and drained,” she added.
“Having family dinners together in the evening is so nice because the way our family would normally work, I would eat separately later in the evening.
“It's nice to know that there's a time that you can all open your fast, eat as a family and pray together.
“I think you also get more appreciative of what's going on around the world. You see how fasting comes into context, knowing that there are people out there who have nothing to eat. It's the time to give charity and appreciate what you have.”
While Uzma has found a deeper appreciation of Ramadan and its benefits this year, the physical and emotional toll that comes with a month of fasting has proven a challenge.
“It's not the hunger and thirst, unless someone sits in front of me with a burger meal. I think it's more the fatigue.
“I've found that I'm more emotional than ever, which is just hilarious because I thought I couldn't get any more emotional.
“It's really important to me to be praying and be reflective because that’s the whole point of Ramadan. If you don't change your attitude in Ramadan, there isn’t much point in praying.”
Prayer and reflection play a key part in Ramadan alongside fasting.
With many of those observing Ramadan expected to continue their work responsibilities as normal, the work environment and attitude of colleagues can make a huge difference to their experience.
“I get asked questions in the office about Ramadan, and I love that I get to answer questions because it makes me feel happier and more comfortable in my work environment.
“I think it’s important because you want to fit in in the workplace. I'm the only Pakistani here, I'm the only Muslim here, but I felt welcome from day one.
“On the first day, our director Simon said, if you need a prayer room, you can go in the meeting room and pray. So I think the company has always been understanding of where I come from and who I am, I think it's important for everyone to feel that way in the workplace.
“I ask questions to other people about their cultures as well, and it is nice to know where everyone comes from.”
Companies, directors, and employees, particularly those not observing Ramadan, have a crucial responsibility in creating an open and inclusive work environment. For Uzma, this comes down to being supportive through respect and communication.
“I don't think there's anything people should be specifically doing other than understanding and respecting people's religions, asking questions if need be and just being supportive.
“I think everyone here in our workplace is open and very kind about it.
“We had a document go round the company at Sport Structures with guidance about Ramadan, and I think it kind of opened up people's perceptions about Ramadan and Islam.
“It was nice to know that they appreciate you in the workplace, and your culture and religion matter.
“I think it’s important for companies to have someone speak about it. It's important to know – it’s only 30 days out of a year and it's an important time for Muslims around the world.”
Learn more about Ramadan and the religion of Islam on the Islamic Relief website.