‘What Ramadan means to me as a social worker – and how I shared this with colleagues’

For Farzeela Hafejee, Ramadan prompted reflections on the humility at the heart of social work - and provided the chance to bond with non-Muslim colleagues who fasted for a day in support

Ramadan lantern in front of open window
Photo: GustavsMD/Adobe Stock

by Fazeela Hafejee

As the last guest left my house with mountains of leftover food and the festivities of Eid drew to a close, I found myself reflecting on Ramadan and what this year’s fast has meant to me.

I’ve been the assistant director for adults with disabilities at my local authority for over a year now.

On a normal day, I usually leave for the office at 6.30am – with breakfast on the go now a regular occurrence – so that I may miss the traffic.

However, during Ramadan, I was struck by the realisation that the opportunity to start work early, grab a coffee and mould a routine around my busy work schedule was actually a luxury. It was not, necessarily, the consequence of having not enough hours in the day!

As a Muslim during Ramadan, late-night prayers, the pre-dawn meal (suhoor), followed by sunrise prayers, is my routine and one that I share with my loved ones.

So the breakfast on the go and the dashing out to work didn’t happen for me. My working days started at home, with online meetings, and away from the hustle and bustle of a city environment.

A better balance of priorities

Fazeela Hafejee

Ramadan didn’t stop social work but it slowed me down a bit. I was able to use my start to the day to help me plan things better.

My journey times were cut back and, to help with the fasting throughout my working day, I was able to fit in regular breaks. However, social work is social work and I could not do this every day!

If I was lucky enough during a busy working day to factor in a lunch break, I would use this time for afternoon prayers. I usually work till late in the evening but last month I had to be disciplined not to do this so I could prepare for the breaking of fast (iftar).

In a way, Ramadan enabled me to better balance my competing priorities.

Humility during Ramadan and as a social worker

Ramadan is about taking time to reflect and understanding our humility through abstinence, to genuinely empathise with those who suffer and to strengthen our resolve and commitment.

I have also found that reflection during this period and reflection as a social worker are intrinsically linked. So, I used the time to reflect holistically, from a personal perspective and a work perspective.

For me, social work is at its best when it reflects humility. We are not the experts.”

We have indisputable skills, vast knowledge and a range of different approaches to helping people, but I believe that every individual is the expert in their own unique situation.

I believe that understanding this does require some professional humility and, for me, there is no greater exposure for that than during Ramadan.

It is also a period that brings me closer to both the people I support and my colleagues.

Discussing my experiences of Ramadan and my faith with them enables me to open up, be more human, talk about the things that feel challenging (such as fasting) and start important conversations.

This happens especially with social workers who share my faith – these are the people who recognise the strength needed during the month of Ramadan.

Fasting for a day

However, what has been special this year is that the conversation included colleagues outside our faith.

To raise money for the earthquake appeals in Turkey and Syria, I asked colleagues and people I knew from online whether they would consider fasting with us for one day. The response was moving.

To help make this a good experience, I arranged regular check-ins with fasting staff. It was really something to hear about their experience – whether it was about their hunger, commitment, reflections around their own faith and spirituality or that a couple of them became desperate for a glass of water and needed a few words of encouragement.

We developed a bond, a commonality, a shared moment that transcended usual work things.

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I was also so pleased to see emails from managers reminding practitioners that we were committed as an employer to supporting staff through the fasting period and that practical steps, like planning diaries to cut down journeys and take regular breaks, were factored in.

A show of support, solidarity and love

This, however, shouldn’t be just for Ramadan. We all need to slow down sometimes – breakfast on the go should be a rare occurrence and not part of our normal social work routine!

In the end, we managed to raise over £1,000 and are already looking to increase that amount through a collective one-day fast next year. It is definitely something worth trying for everyone, social worker or not.

Fasting for a day with Muslim colleagues is a real show of support, solidarity and love, which is vital across social work, particularly when we consider that there are always forces at play that want to highlight division.

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3 Responses to ‘What Ramadan means to me as a social worker – and how I shared this with colleagues’

  1. Alec Fraher May 5, 2023 at 8:22 pm #


  2. Zak May 10, 2023 at 12:05 pm #

    Thank you for this lovely piece.

    • JD May 11, 2023 at 3:49 am #

      Indeed. Fazeela; You have provided a very useful
      humble and measured insight which we could all learn from.

      I have always admired people’s discipline to fast.

      Thank you for this.