May 24, 2015 Updated: May 24, 2015 05:02 PM
People shopping duing Ramadan at the Dubai Mall in Dubai (Satish Kumar / The National)
On the FNC agenda last week was a proposal to make the last 10 days of Ramadan public holidays. Musabeh Al Ketbi (Sharjah) wanted to discuss the idea with Hussein Al Hammadi, the Minister of Education and the chairman of the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources.
Mr Al Ketbi said that work performance during this period slows down, thus affecting productivity, as people stay up late to worship and need more time during the day to shop for Eid food or clothes, or to visit family members.
But as The National reported, the minister did not attend the session and said in a written statement that the authority will look into the suggestion from all perspectives and present it to the relevant authorities for consultation and discussion.
But is making the last 10 days of Ramadan public holidays really a good idea?
While the proposal would seem convenient for many fasting employees, especially during the summer heat, having a 10-day holiday will hit the national economy hard.
An emerging economy like the UAE’s needs to maximise its workforce’s productivity to catch up with the top economies of the world. We already have a law reducing working hours to six hours instead of eight to make it easier for those who fast during the holy month.
However, it’s not merely prudent economics.
Even from an Islamic perspective, I believe working to earn a living is actually a commendable act of worship. The Prophet Mohammed encouraged people to work and taught them that one needs to find a balance and harmony between worship and work.
Working while fasting is indeed difficult and requires both willingness and strength.
However Ramadan should not be used as an excuse for not working to one’s usual level of commitment and productivity. It is important to remember one’s obligations to employers and to the society in this month, as well as in the rest of the year.
But unfortunately, many people slack off during the month of Ramadan, doing the least amount of work possible, sleeping on the job, procrastinating or neglecting their work requirements.
This type of behaviour is inconsistent with the very spirit of Ramadan – the month of worship and hard work.
Many people have turned Ramadan into a month of inactivity, staying up late to watch TV, spending even more on food than in other months.
Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad (formerly Timothy John Winter), the dean of the Cambridge Muslim College (which trains imams for British mosques), who was voted Britain’s most influential Muslim thinker, tackled this issue in his 2011 campaign “Let’s make this a Fairtrade Ramadan!”
During the launch of the campaign he asked Muslims to rethink the concept of work, especially during the month of Ramadan, the time when, as he puts it, many people tend to be worry about how to nurture their “spiritual” self while coping with a demanding work environment.
He says that the struggle during work hours to finish work and get home or to a mosque to really “find God” again is actually unnecessary.
Despite the widespread assumption across all religions that God is only found in “sacred places”, Sheikh Abdal Hakim says that “everywhere belongs to God and everywhere is to be a place where God is celebrated” and that even at work “Muslims are invited to find ways of sanctifying every moment of those experiences”.
Our religion teaches us that we can make our own lives sacred by the intentions we make and the actions we do everyday.
The Prophet invoked God’s mercy towards not only those who do religious duties, but also on those who perform their work with diligence, efficiency and fairness in order to preserve public interests. Even those who fast have to fulfill their job not only for the societal obligation but also as a religious obligation.
I therefore think there is really no need to make the last 10 days of Ramadan public holidays.
Visiting family members and shopping for Eid (as Mr Al Ketbi noted) can all be done in the evening after work and one can do them if time is organised properly.
Those who wish to take the last 10 days off to rest while fasting or to focus on religious rituals can do it by taking from their annual leave – an option that already exists.
It’s time that we rethink our attitudes and “make this a Fairtrade Ramadan”.