Ramadan, a month of prayer, community and fasting, begins today, May 16

May 16, 2018

Ramadan, a holy month in the Muslim faith, begins Wednesday, May 16.

Fasting the month of Ramadan is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and is a period of self-reflection, marked by prayer, charitable giving, and an emphasis on social connection.

Healthy adults abstain from food and drink —including water — from the time of dawn prayers until the sun sets.

Wajdi Said, cofounder of the Muslim Educational Trust, stops for a weekly lunch before the month of Ramadan with Ronault “Polo” Catalani and Aasim Ikramullah, a broker at Guidance Residential.

Travis Graves, director of Human Resources for Multnomah County encourages supervisors to be flexible and accommodate staff requests during the month. That might mean adjusting break times during the day, helping an employee find a private place to pray, or approving flexed work hours or vacation days.

“Multnomah County is committed to ensuring this is a workforce that is welcoming to everyone,” he said. “We want to be an organization inclusive to anyone who works with us.”

Employees working with the public should be mindful that some community members may be observing the month.

Many wake up for an early breakfast called Suhur, at about 3:00 a.m. before the first of five daily prayers. They break fast when the sun sets, around 8:35 p.m., at a meal called Iftar.

The purpose is to shift one’s attention away from the pleasures and desires of the everyday.

“You try to focus on your purpose, the meaning of life, our connection to our creator and to our fellow human beings,” said Wajdi Said, co-founder and president of the Muslim Educational Trust.

Some people take time away from work during the final 10 days of the month, when reflection intensifies. During the entire month of Ramadan, Said limits work hours at the MET, giving staff the late afternoons free for prayer and to prepare the night’s meal, which is often shared with families and friends.

Breaking the day’s fast is the best part of Ramadan, said Ronault “Polo” Catalani, a lawyer and journalist who works with the City of Portland New Portlander program. He said he looks forward to rice and well-prepared sheep.

“Whose family are you going to eat with tonight? Whoever’s grandma cooks really well,” he said with a grin, then became serious. Breaking fast is about more than the food, he said. “It’s a time in the family when we all come together. If we are in pain or joy, we are in communal pain or communal joy.”

Many people of Muslim faith pray five times each day, but those prayers become particularly important during the month of Ramadan. Usually one of those prayer times comes during the workday. And during the month of Ramadan, people may make additional efforts to attend Friday’s midday prayer and sermon. That can require a person to leave their office for a longer break than normal.

“I have worked for companies that were understanding, even about Friday prayers. For Ramadan especially, you pray five times a day,” said Aasim Ikramullah, a broker at Guidance Residential, a mortgage firm that conforms to Islamic rules around lending.

Like others who seek a place to pray during Ramadan, Ikramullah found an empty office in his company’s building, where he could be alone.

“I talked to my boss and he said, ‘Yeah. That’s fine,’” Ikramullah said. “It was great. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh look at him.’ There wasn’t any special attention.”

Ikramullah said he prefers when his faith is respected, but not highlighted. Ramadan is, after all, a month to look internally.

“There’s a peace that comes over you,” he said. “Imagine knowing that everything is going to be OK. You have financial troubles, personal troubles. But you know you are going to get to the other side, that you’ll be safe.”