The largest wave of newcomers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) over the past two years has been from Syria, a country with a diversity of religions and cultural practices. It is important to note that although followers of Islam share a common religious faith, the population is not otherwise homogeneous, and can be very diverse in terms of culture and ethnicity.

Muslim observances that may affect work

That said, a large proportion of Syrian newcomers in the GTA are Muslim, so below are a few things to consider relative to that group.

Daily prayer

There are five daily prayers in Islam: in the early morning, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and at night. While devout Muslims pray five times a day, only one or two of these times (depending upon the time of year) fall within a normal workday in the GTA. The typical time taken for these prayers is between five and 10 minutes and formally involves the washing of hands each time.

Ideally, a quiet space will be available for prayer.

On Fridays, devout Muslims attend a speech, followed by a mid-day prayer, in a mosque. For some, ideal work hours on Fridays would accommodate a break or end time around noon, to accommodate prayer at a mosque close to work, between 12 and 2 pm.

Ramadan

2018: Wednesday, May 16th to Thursday June 14th.

2019: Wednesday, May 6th to Thursday June 4th. (Each calendar year, the start of the holiday moves earlier by about 10 days, but may vary by a day, depending upon the first sighting of the moon.)

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic (Hijri) calendar and the month of fasting for Muslims. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam; the others are confession of faith, five daily prayers, Zakah (almsgiving) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

Muslims fast from early dawn to sunset every day throughout the month. The fast requires Muslims to abstain from food, drink, marital relations and ill-conduct during the fast.

The day of fasting begins after an early morning meal before dawn.

The evening activities include the traditional breaking of the fast usually with dates and water, the sunset prayer followed by dinner (Iftar). Some Muslims would then go to the mosque for congregational prayers in which at least one-thirtieth of the Qur’an is recited. The congregation thereby listens to the recitation of the complete Qur’an by the end of the month.

When Ramadan falls during the spring/summer months with long hours of daylight, the fast can be up to 18 hours long and sleeping hours can be reduced significantly. In addition, the observance of not drinking at all during the daytime fast should be taken into account when working outdoors or in warm environments in summer.

Potential accommodations or flexibility around Ramadan may be something to consider asking potential employers about.

For more information on Ramadan, see the website of Islamic Foundation of Toronto.

The following article from the Globe and Mail may be of interest, on this subject: How Muslim Canadians Cope with Work, Hot Days and Fasting During Ramadan.

Eid-al-Fitr

2018: Likely beginning at sundown on the evening of Thursday, June 14, (after a confirmed sighting of the new moon) and continuing until sundown of Friday, June 15.

2019: Beginning at sundown on the evening of Tuesday, June 4 or Wednesday June 5, (after a confirmed sighting of the new moon) and continuing until sundown of June 5 or 6.

Eid-al-Fitr is a holiday that marks the end of the thirty-day fast for Ramadan.

For Eid al-Fitr, most Canadian Muslims will take a day off from work and go to prayers held in mosques or Islamic centres, convention halls or sports arenas.

Many Muslims will visit each other’s homes on the Eid day or the days following to attend designated “open houses” in which everyone is welcome to visit. Children receive gifts or money, and sweets and tasty dishes are served throughout the day.

Smaller Muslim communities, particularly in the rural areas, hold other communal gatherings in mosques or rented community halls. Muslims also donate money or contribute to their local food banks on this day for those who are less fortunate.

Eid-al-Adha

2018: Likely beginning in the evening of Tuesday, August 21 (depending upon the sighting of the moon.)

2019: Likely beginning in the evening of Sunday, August 11 (earlier each year by about 10 days.)

Eid al-Adha is a significant annual Islamic observance for many Muslims in Canada. It is also known as the Feast of Sacrifice or Festival of Sacrifice as it commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son to God.

Eid al-Adha lasts several days and is a time marked by special prayers. Many Muslims gather for special prayer services. Many people also visit family and friends, exchange greetings and gifts, and make donations to the poor and needy. Eid al-Adha is also a time for forgiveness and compassion.

The Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) holds Eid festivals to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Thousands of people, including key leaders, often attend these events. Some politicians publicly announce their best wishes to those celebrating Eid al-Adha. Festivities can last for up to a few days.

Eid al-Adha follows from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This pilgrimage applies to Muslims worldwide, as they are required to perform the Hajj once in their lives. Some Muslims in Canada may travel to Mecca prior to Eid al-Adha to make this pilgrimage. Eid al-Adha is known as the Feast of Sacrifice because it traditionally includes the sacrifice of an animal permitted for food (eg. a lamb) as an act of thanksgiving for God’s mercy. Some of the food is donated for charitable purposes.

Some Muslims may wish to request day(s) off to celebrate Eid-al-Adha.

Workplace clothing/attire

Many Muslim women dress modestly, which means they wear clothing that covers them from their chest/lower neck to their ankles.

Some Muslim women are hijabi, meaning that they choose to wear the Muslim head-covering known as hijab. This may be relevant when exploring work options which have head or hair covering requirements such as hair nets or safety head protection gear.

Other clothing observances or preferences may also exist for Muslim women, such as wearing an abaya or shalwar kameez or a burqua and/or Niqab. The latter two are not typically worn by women from Syria.

All of the above may impact employment options or preferences for women and should be thoroughly discussed.

For Muslim men, there may be facial hair observances (beards), but for men from Syria, these do not tend to impact work choices.