Thoughts on Ramadan

As a devout Muslim, how does Ahad combine the holy month of Ramadan with his full-time job? He shares his experiences with us and explains why Ramadan is about more than just abstaining from food and drink.

What has your career path been like so far?

My career path so far has been very bank-oriented. I completed my Master’s degree at Goethe Business School in Frankfurt and also worked for Commerzbank during that time. After about 8 years in Corporate Finance at Commerzbank, I decided to change banks and join Standard Chartered. It was a time of relative uncertainty, at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown. After two and a half years, in December 2022, I then moved to the Debt & Capital Advisory team at ING. In addition to my job at the bank, I also started a FinTech company. 

In a nutshell, how would you describe your tasks in our corporate client business?

I advise our customers on how they can turn a lot of money into even more money. I also explain to them why it makes good sense to buy more companies and how they can have this purchase financed by banks. 

What did you want to be as a child and why did you become a banker?

I can still remember confidently saying at school that I would definitely never be the one to come into the office in the morning and say: “Boss, I’ve got the statistics and the presentation ready.” So much for that. J That’s pretty much what my entire day-to-day life as a junior banker looked like. If I hadn’t become a banker, I think I would have probably gone in the direction of human rights or theology. 

How does the fasting month of Ramadan affect your working day?

Ramadan gives me special strength. For Muslims, it is not a “burden”, as people often think. After two or three days of physical adjustment, I can concentrate much better, am more collected and, above all, happier. On normal days, you quickly become restless and annoyed if you haven’t eaten or drunk anything. You’re more irritable. It’s the opposite during Ramadan. When I’m following our fasting rules, I actually manage to be completely relaxed. Even pressure at work doesn’t make me feel stressed. When Ramadan ends, I really miss the time. I try to deal with all the issues that seem difficult to me during Ramadan, because I feel particularly supported by God during these days. 

How do your colleagues react when you tell them you’re fasting? How could team members better support you and other devout Muslims during Ramadan?

Most people know what Ramadan is and what it means for Muslims, so they show us respect. Often there’s a lack of real knowledge about Ramadan though, in which case I’m happy to explain more. Most people think that it’s just about not eating and not drinking. But that’s only a fraction of Ramadan, that’s the more obvious part, so to speak. Out of respect for the month of Ramadan, it’s helpful if colleagues around us don’t swear, slander or use vulgar language. When we fast, we’re focusing on purification, reflection and God. So we try to keep away from all kinds of bad things. Most colleagues try not to eat or drink or talk about food in front of me. Not that it makes the fasting person weak, but simply out of respect for the fact that there’s someone who’s fasting. 

At ING, we have the option of organizing our working hours quite flexibly. Is that helpful for you during the fasting month? How does your working day change during Ramadan?

That’s absolutely helpful. Before there was home office, I also managed. But, of course, it’s easier to work from home for many reasons. I don’t have to go into the car to do my prayers. My working day changes in that I go for a walk at lunchtime, instead of eating, or just work straight through, without taking a lunch or coffee break. This saves an enormous amount of time. It made me realize how much time we actually spend eating and drinking coffee during the day. We usually organize our day around meal times. Especially during Ramadan, Muslims organize their day according to prayer times.  

What strategies and ways of working help you to fulfill both your professional and religious obligations during this time? Do you have any tips for others who are in the same situation?

My fasting during Ramadan is not at the expense of my employer – I’m ambitious enough to manage both in the best possible way. It’s always been like that, even at the other banks. I structure my day more, try to shift the workload to the morning and make calls in the afternoon, if possible. It’s a bit harder when you have to fast later in the year when the days are longer here, but now, with the early sunset, it’s really just like skipping a meal.  

What would you say to people who are skeptical about fasting or fear that productivity at work will decrease?

I think you can only judge something if you’ve tried it for yourself and fully understood it. For example, think about our principles for customer meetings: we prepare them meticulously and dive deep into the topics in advance. We apply the same kind of mindset and preparation to Ramadan. Many people reduce it to eating and drinking. A typical reaction is people’s astonishment, and sometimes even incomprehension, when they learn that not only is nothing eaten between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, but we don’t drink anything either. What counts for the fasting person is the intention. It’s not true that Ramadan only comes down to hunger and thirst. The right understanding and the associated spiritual mindset are essential. Fasting is there to purify the mind, body, heart and soul and to work on spiritual development. Fasting also has many health benefits. Various healing processes are triggered in the body, in the cells, which lead to you being more vital. Performance and productivity increase. I’m more mentally focused and find it harder to be distracted.  

At ING, diversity and mutual acceptance are important to us. In your opinion, how can we further strengthen the understanding of religious traditions and practices within our teams?

Nowadays, religion is not given the status that I believe it deserves. In fact, often people who are believers and adhere to the commandments of their religion are seen as regressive. People are skeptical about their faith without really examining it. They adopt a prevailing opinion and jump to conclusions. People who are believers often have to explain themselves. It was very surprising to many people in my working life that I keep my five prayers a day and I believe in God. I think it’s generally helpful not to put pressure on colleagues about their identity, but rather to support them. No one should have to hide their religion.  

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

My message to people who are fasting: especially those of us who are well off should take special care of the poor people around us during Ramadan. We should not only enjoy ourselves by inviting wealthy people to lavish in our post-sunset iftar meals, but also prepare iftar receptions for the poor. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on work and Ramadan. 😊

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