Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Ramadan work ethic: British Muslim police and doctors juggle fasting and emergencies

British Muslims report positive experiences with non-Muslim colleagues over Ramadan

Police Constable Uzma Amireddy and PC Arfan Rahouf at Bull Lane Mosque in York, North Yorkshire. North Yorkshire Police
Police Constable Uzma Amireddy and PC Arfan Rahouf at Bull Lane Mosque in York, North Yorkshire. North Yorkshire Police

For Muslims in the world’s most northern countries the need to slow down during the month of Ramadan is a balancing act with the ongoing pressures of daily life.

Irfan Ishaq, a veteran of the Hertfordshire Police on the outskirts of London, recounts the daunting proposition of responding to emergency calls while observing the fast.

“Policing is an emotional roller-coaster ride. One job you’ll deal with suicide, then straight to an elderly woman who has lost her handbag in the centre of town, then two 14-year-olds who break your fence. In that emotion you can’t replenish yourself,” he told The National.

All new recruits start their careers responding to emergency calls and working long shifts, often up to 12 hours continuously on call. One accommodation for Muslim officers during Ramadan is more shifts at night, when food can be consumed.

Police Constable Uzma Amireddy, who has served in North Yorkshire for more than 10 years, remembers often working from 1pm to 1am. She found these night shifts easier, and even though her energy levels dipped amid the frenetic pace of emergency response , she learnt to “adapt in time”.

The Islamic lunar calendar means that the start date of Ramadan moves forward by just under two weeks every year versus the Gregorian calendar. In countries near or on the Equator, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Indonesia, Muslims see relatively little change to the daylight hours during which they must fast. But in countries further away like the UK, the fast can last for more than 18 hours when Ramadan enters June, as it does this year.

“It doesn't stop me because Ramadan teaches you to be tolerant and patient," says PC Amireddy. "It's only temporary, and the reason to fast is to gain reward from Allah. I keep that in my mind. It’s about educating others, because they’d ask ‘why are you starving?’."

Her colleague Arfan Rahouf works in the rural crimes unit, in which emergency calls can include agricultural and plant theft.

“During the first week I personally do not like to drive when responding to an emergency call, and after this I look at how I am feeling on a daily basis,” he says.

Although they work at opposite ends of the UK, PC Ishaq and PC Amireddy both say the support provided by their respective forces has been vital to ensuring they do the best they can while on duty.

Muslim officers are given flexibility to attend mosque, with ablution facilities and prayer rooms provided in the police station. By implementing small changes, police chiefs are reaping the benefits of retaining their Muslim staff, who in turn feel vindicated for a career choice that some continue to question.

“I feel like my organisation accepts me for who I am,” PC Amireddy says.

Both officers also stress the importance of communicating freely with superiors. PC Ishaq, who is responsible for recruitment and Ramadan guidance for the his force, ensures that “conversation is required with line managers regularly”.

Non-Muslim colleagues and senior officers have even offered to fast with them for a day in solidarity, albeit with the caveat that their Muslim colleagues make sure they go slow and drink water if needed.

“It’s been perceived really positively and we’re having an iftar together in a police station, inviting colleagues, people in town and from different mosques to join us. But it’s not about food, it’s about cleansing your soul,” says PC Amireddy.

“You’re making yourself a better person and you want to better your life in this world and the hereafter. And getting rid of habits you’ve developed in the past 11 months.”

For PC Rahouf, the letters from the word "fasting" signify seven aims: fasting, acceptance, self-control, truth, integrity, nourishment and grace.

Police Constable Irfan Ishaq shares brekas his fast with colleagues in the Hertfordshire Police. 
Police Constable Irfan Ishaq shares brekas his fast with colleagues in the Hertfordshire Police. 

Police forces in Britain, once viewed with deep mistrust by minority communities, have changed rapidly over the past two decades to better reflect British society – and not just in London.

While 37 per cent of British Muslims live and work in London, smaller communities can be found in port cities such as Cardiff and Liverpool, and former manufacturing hubs around Manchester and Birmingham.

But reflecting the presence of British Muslims in largely white British areas, where mosques are not always conveniently near, is all the more important.

In North Yorkshire, PC Amireddy serves a mainly middle-class population with a large farming community.

She says Muslim police officers can act as a bridge between communities.

“We discuss the importance of going to the mosque with our managers, even if it’s just for 45 minutes. And it’s not just prayer, but engaging with the [Muslim] community in that time to break barriers,” she says.

In Hertfordshire, PC Ishaq's goal is to use religious spaces as a sanctuary to report crimes.

“My vision is to make every mosque in Hertfordshire a third-party reporting centre, so those that attend that mosque can report hate crimes or hate incidents and not have to go to the police station. They can also take down a report in that person’s language to create that emotion and capture the emotion of the crime,” he says.

“We need to capture that because in our society it’s hard for a lot of people to go report crimes in a cold, dreary station.”

The reflection room at Hertfordshire Police station is part of efforts to accommodate minorities in Britain's police forces. Hertfordshire Police
The reflection room at Hertfordshire Police station is part of efforts to accommodate minorities in Britain's police forces. Hertfordshire Police

Ramadan also poses a challenge for Muslim doctors, but the constant pressure of working in hospitals has made them well practised in coping, says Dr Hina Shahid, a general practitioner and chair of Muslim Doctors Association.

“It’s so busy on normal days outside Ramadan, you don’t even get to eat or drink at work. So, in a sense there’s not much change. The lack of sleep is challenging but you get used to it,” she says.

“Doing night shifts is easier ... but it involves swaps with colleagues on the rota."

Dr Shahid says she tries to take annual leave during Ramadan, especially when sunset falls after 9pm.

Dentist Rebecca Musabbir sees up to 35 patients a day at her Essex-based surgery. She says the main challenge is maintaining concentration, whether treating emergencies or performing cosmetic procedures, and talking to patients throughout the day.

“The job is mentally challenging and this is more difficult during fasting,” she told The National.

Despite the challenges, Dr Shahid advocates fasting as a reset button that has health benefits.

“I do find myself actually concentrating better even though I’m tired. There’s evidence that concentration improves when you’re fasting. The rewarding aspect I find is that you’re in a constant state of being alert and aware of what you’re doing. I try and bring that to my work,” she says.

“You become a better person and a better doctor. That translates to the patients and in your personal relationships.”

Updated: May 19, 2019 03:25 PM

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