I'm in Cardiff today for Civil Service Live where I'm looking forward to hearing about the new vision for 'A brilliant Civil Service'. In a recent blog, Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service explained how important inclusion is to achieving this. He wrote about how the face of society itself is changing – it’s more diverse than it's ever been so our Civil Service needs to truly reflect the people it serves and provide opportunity for talented people to fulfil their potential, regardless of their background.
I'm proud to co-lead our Civil Service Local Inclusion Network in the north west with Andy Boylan from the Ministry of Defence. Ahead of our next network meeting, I spoke to my colleague Anas Sheth, who represents HM Courts and Tribunals on our group about inclusion, his faith and how this year, the month of Ramadan has been an experience he’s shared with his non-Muslim colleague Sharon Cleveland.
I asked Anas if the long summer days have been a particular challenge this year and to explain some more about Ramadan . . .
“As we follow the lunar calendar, this year, Ramadan falls in summer during the longest days of fasting. So yes, it is harder to fast as the daylight hours are much longer than if Ramadan was in winter. The fasts at the moment are 20 hours long. It’s challenging in the sense that your sleeping pattern changes as we stay up late till the start of the fast and then have to wake up early for work. But, after work, I go home and catch up on sleep by having a nap. Other than that, it is fine.
As a Muslim, I believe that Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed to our Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, so a lot of time is devoted to reciting the Quran.
It is a month of spiritual, increased devotion and worship to become more God conscious, to rid us of those habits which we accumulated throughout the rest of the year. It is a month that prepares us for the remaining eleven months by teaching discipline and self-control. So, by fasting, it not only helps us to remember the poor and needy but it also develops our self-control so that we can resist wrongful desires and bad habits. Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam, also known as Sawm in Arabic.
In this month we give money to charity, which we call Zakat, the compulsory giving of a set proportion of one's wealth to charity. It is regarded as a type of worship and of self-purification. Zakat is the third Pillar of Islam.
I don't mind explaining to colleagues about Ramadan, they find it quite intriguing and it makes me satisfied to be able to explain the purpose behind it.
My department supports me during Ramadan, there is a flexi working arrangement and plenty of quiet rooms to pray and confine to, especially during lunchtime when everyone else is eating!
I hope that by sharing the fasting experience with my colleague Sharon, who is not a Muslim, it will inspire other people to understand each other better and promote harmony in the workplace. Maybe other people from other faiths will also want to see how fasting develops them and makes them feel? It can be a good detox and cleanse your system. You can feel sharper and more prudent on an empty stomach.
I’d also be happy to support a colleague through Lent or any other similar festival from another faith. I’d probably give up chocolate or sweets, to support a Christian colleague, or otherwise let them decide for me. It’s been great to have Sharon’s support and to share this time of focus together.
It's important to respect one another's beliefs and having an open dialogue is crucial. My colleagues have always been intrigued and also understanding about my faith and practices. I've always felt supported and the civil service is a good working environment. I've seen people become more interested in learning about other faiths over the years and especially so from a practical point of view. I don't believe I've faced any barriers in my career and I've enjoyed a wealth of opportunity. I've recently applied for promotion to become a manager and deputy district judge, so we'll see what the future holds. ”
Sharon shared her thoughts too . . .
“I decided to fast because I believe that we should be aware of our colleagues’ beliefs and attitudes to enable us to be more understanding. I thought that by fasting, it would give me an insight into how fasting for a religious purpose would affect me. I have learned that it is not just a matter of not eating but an attitude of reflection, prayer and acknowledgement. I believe that my decision gave rise to a healthy discussion about belief and attitude and I think it has given me a greater understanding of Anas' attitude to his religion. I would certainly encourage other people to be more aware of the implications of Ramadan. Fasting in support of a colleague is only a small step, but it opens up discussion and that can only be a good thing!”
Thanks to Anas and Sharon for sharing their thoughts with me and I look forward to catching up with Anas at the next Inclusion meeting, which he’ll be hosting in Blackpool later this month. He’ll have finished fasting by then, so I’ll bring some biscuits.