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Sarra Jawad: What Ramadan means to me

Sarra Jawad is a Consultant in Restorative Dentistry at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. She also works for NHS England as an Associate Postgraduate Dental Dean for Workforce Development.

The former is a clinical role in a hospital setting, delivering restorative dentistry to patients born with congenital deformities and those experiencing trauma and illness that affects the teeth. Sarra also advises dentists in general practice and develops complex treatment plans for their patients when required.

Sarra’s role as Associate Postgraduate Dental Dean for Workforce Development is within the training and education directorate. They have a strategic outlook on the dental workforce as a whole and focus on education, training, and retention of the dental workforce, including helping people to upskill and increasing diversity in dental teams.

With such an array of workplace settings, you might think that Sarra has experienced a variety of types of support when observing Ramadan.

“To be honest, it isn’t a conversation that has ever been had.” Explains Sarra. “I think it would be revolutionary for managers and leaders to initiate conversations about how to make Ramadan easier for those observing the holy month. I’m sure that if the conversation was had and people needed adjustments then managers would be supportive.”

How do you observe the holy month?

Everyone will have a different experience of observing Ramadan, which is why it is important to speak to people individually about what support they may or may not need.

“I pray throughout the year, but I read more of the Quran during Ramadan and spend more time on prayer and reflection. Fasting is the big difference for me. I keep the fast through the holy month.

There is also more of a focus on family time both direct and extended family. I have 3 daughters and 2 will be observing Ramadan this year. Outside of Ramadan, work and social activities keep us all busy and we might be eating at different times but during Ramadan, we adjust work, clubs, and extracurricular activities to make sure we break fast, and all eat together. I also like to spend time with my parents and siblings.”

What challenges do you face during Ramadan?

The biggest challenge is the disruption to sleep patterns.

“Muslims observing the fast can eat from dusk until dawn. The first meal of the day can be at 3 or 4 am and there is a morning prayer between dusk and sunrise which we also observe. If the final meal has been around 8/9 pm there isn’t a great amount of sleep. Ramadan moves every year and in Winter it’s easier but through the summer months, it can be very challenging especially if the weather is hot!  Many people are surprised that we do not even drink water – I think I must hear “not even water?” every year!

The first couple of days of Ramadan are hard as you adjust to the new pattern. I love a morning coffee so doing without the caffeine is tricky! It gets easier through the middle and then towards the end, it gets difficult again as the fatigue kicks in more.

The impact on work is the lack of sleep and how it can impact on your concentration. Also, when you’re hypoglycaemic there is a risk of getting a bit ratty. The challenge is to remain a good person in the face of adversity when you’re going without food.”

Why do you fast?

Although fasting is a challenge and you can feel a little disgruntled in the beginning about going without, you find the inner strength to control the urge to have X, Y, and Z. It’s a very humbling experience and you think harder about those that have to do without as opposed to those who are privileged enough to choose to do without.

Fasting is a very spiritual thing to do to get closer to God. You also do it for your own benefit to find inner strength and peace.

How does your workplace support you during the holy month?

“I haven’t had a conversation about what support I might need during the Holy month. Perhaps this is something to bring up. Some people may need support, others may not.

Fatigue is something that can affect you and it might be worth considering adjustments in the workplace such as having reduced working hours. This is commonplace in Muslim countries.

People might not be at their best in the afternoon. Perhaps it would be worth considering putting complex treatments in the morning and more simple procedures, or even telephone clinics or administrative tasks in the afternoon. This would be really supportive.

Most services would need 6 weeks’ notice if cancelling or rescheduling a patient, so looking at service delivery about 2-3 months ahead of Ramadan would be useful.

Some of my working days can be 8 am-8 pm which isn’t workable through Ramadan and so I tend to take the majority of my annual leave through this time. However, if there were discussions about reasonable adjustments that could be made then I might not need to do that.”

How can diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives help?

“DEI is raising more awareness of diversity and acknowledging different groups but I’m not sure it’s going far enough to be truly embedded within organisations. Perhaps that’s a structural issue.

People will appreciate the opportunity to express their needs and have reasonable adjustments made in the workplace to make them feel valued and respected in all circumstances.

I think the key is that Leaders and Managers have a good relationship with their staff and are skilled at having open conversations about whatever support they might need.

They will then be able to fully embrace, include, and accommodate all aspects of people’s lives and not just religious observance.”

Many thanks to Sarra for sharing her experiences of Ramadan with us.

For more information, there are several articles below.

The Charity for all Dentists proactively supports the financial and emotional needs of dental students, dentists, and their dependents. It has been supporting the dental community for over 140 years.

Other articles of interest

What is Ramadan?

National NHS Muslim Network – Ramadan and Eid Guidance

Wellbeing Support for the Dental Team

Six self-care tips for working through Ramadan

4 ways to support your colleagues observing Ramadan

A complete guide to Ramadan in 2024

Reflecting on Ramadan, faith, and workplace support for doctors

Supporting Muslims at work during Ramadan

Ramadan factsheet

National Inclusion Week

Muslim Doctors and Dentists Association UK

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