With just days left in Ramadan many Muslims are gearing up for Eid celebrations with friends and family. And as Islam's holy month (during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset) comes to a close, some young Muslim professionals have found an unexpected silver lining in missing water cooler breaks, office birthday cake, and the perennial coffee run with coworkers. While Ramadan may have prevented them from partaking in many of the trivial office happenings throughout the day, it may have also provided them with an incredible opportunity to serve as ambassadors of their faith.
For over a decade now, activists in the American Muslim community have been searching for ways to curb the growing image problem that Islam faces amid oppressive regimes abroad and national security threats here at home. They've emphasized, time and again, that the violent radicals and fascist dictators cloaking their actions under the guise of religion do not represent all Muslims. They've tried to educate the public through informative campaigns. And they've taken anti-Muslim organizations head on, challenging many of their false claims about Islam. Activism is certainly important, but now average American Muslims are finding that they are making an impact, just by fasting in the office.
"When people ask, I explain that fasting is meant to teach us patience, sacrifice and humility... the discussion usually branches out into other segments of Islam," says Omar Farooqui, a 26-year-old equities analyst in Buffalo, NY. Not only were his coworkers interested in learning more, some even took part. "One of my coworkers gave up French fries for the month, another decided to give up candy. My manager actually decided to fast for part of the month to support me. It really meant a lot."
While most people are probably not actively learning about Islam in their spare time, casual office conversation with a Muslim coworker may spark their interest. "Not only is everyone supportive, they also seem genuinely interested in learning about my faith," says Jennifer Nockels, 24, who holds a marketing position with a cosmetics company in New York City. "I think the message and idea of sacrifice really resonates with people."
For Muslims in their 20s daily fasting for one month out of the year may seem routine, but for outsiders looking in it can be a very interesting religious practice.
"Everyone at the hospital is intrigued by it," says Dr. Khurram Mehtabdin, 26, a resident physician from Forest Hills, NY. "Many are in awe, always asking how we do it."
Though not in a classroom, many coworkers of these young Muslims seem to be learning about Islam. Their coworkers get to see Islam being practiced first-hand, instead of hearing abstract discussions about the faith, which are often driven by biases and agendas of third parties. It may even be possible that their view of Islam is now colored by the positive relationship they have with their Muslim colleague.
And the benefits don't simply run one-way either. Young Muslims sometimes struggle with what can seem like two separate worlds they live in -- one religious, one secular. Being open about their faith in the office allows them to bring those two worlds together, and can lead to mutual understanding. It may even make them more productive employees says Farooqui. "Being in the office helps me keep my mind off food, I try to stay in the office as much as I can while I'm fasting."
Of course, every Muslim isn't a scholar of their faith, and won't be able to answer each and every question someone may have about Islam. It might be the case that the only real way to break stereotypes about Muslims is for people to be formally educated on Islam. But for these young professionals, their relationships with coworkers are making the difference. One could even say that the proof is in the pudding -- just as long as it's after sunset.