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Ramadan comes every year and so does the confusion about work timings during the holy month. I think the variations have increased with time and it would be good to look at it.

I went on an employment to Saudi Arabia in September 2003. I was working with a company manufacturing medical grade PVC resin which was at that time used for making infusion bags, infusion lines, blood lines and disposable syringe plungers. Later, most of these were switched to other polymers like PP. Our business was B to B (Business to Business) and a fair portion was exports. We worked straight hours, 8.00am to 5.00pm, Saturday to Wednesday; 8 to 1 on Thursday; Friday was off. B to C (customers) businesses worked in two shifts; morning till 1.00pm and then 4 to 8 pm. The banks also worked in two shifts. Departmental stores worked straight while some were 24 hours.

After couple of months, Ramadan started. All businesses, offices, markets, even petrol pumps started opening at 10.00am. Before 10, it was almost dead silence everywhere; even 24 hours pharmacies were closed. We went to 10 – 4, all days of the week. Businesses went 10 – 1 and then from after Taraweeh till Sehri. Other than Harmain Shareefain, eight Taraweeh were prayed in all mosques and there was no plan to complete one Parah of Qura’an everyday, like it is done in Pakistan. Taraweeh therefore was a short affair. Shops which were open before Iftari also closed at Iftari and opened after Taraweeh.

I loved this routine. There was plenty of time after Sehri to take rest. That spared the night hours for long prayers if you wished to do so. It was so easy and relaxed. Even if you spent few hours shopping at night, you knew you still had time for night prayers before Sehri. There was no confusion in the morning as everything started at 10, even schools and other educational institutions. There were other good things about Ramadan like abundance of foods and fruits and price cuts and discounts. It was opposite to what we see in Pakistan.

When I came back, I campaigned for opening the office late during Ramadan. Finally, the management agreed to late opening; though not at 10.

It is true that Sehri and Iftar timings vary greatly during summer and winter. During Summer, there is plenty of time after Sehri while there is very little time after the long Taraweeh which is made even longer in some mosques. That reminds me of reaching for Isha and Taraweeh in a mosque attached to a very respected scholar’s Academy. There were still about 10 minutes to Isha. I saw that most people were coming with water bottles. In the middle of the hall, a projection screen was also being set up. I was concerned. I asked around and came to know that after Isha, there would be a summary review of the entire Parah to be recited on that night. Thereafter, a more detailed tafseer would be done after every four taraweeh. I asked when did they finish normally? Around 12 midnight was the answer I got. While the effort may be lauded, the fact remains that it was suitable only for those traders who opened shops after midday.

Back to what happens every year in Pakistan.

Few organizations show the courage to provide relief to their staff during Ramadan. It is translated into less working hours; whether starting early and closing earlier or starting late and closing early. The spirit is to reduce the number of working hours. While working in Karachi several years ago, our company experimented with starting at 6.30am and closing early. We reached office at 6.30am and had no clue what to do because the whole country was closed at that hour. We then decided to hold our internal meetings between 6.30 t0 8.30 and then started dealing with the outside world. It worked fine in the end.

Most offices and businesses do the opposite during Ramadan. They increase the number of working hours. It may sound cruel, but this is what it is. And it is done by a lot of apparently god-fearing, highly religious people. The first increase is by including lunch break time in working. This is about an hour increase, if nothing else changes. Some go a step forward and start opening earlier also. What is happening is that the staff is squeezed from both sides. The big boss comes late as usual and his life is not disrupted at all.

Why are we so confused about work timings during Ramadan? Why can’t we just have a more uniform kind of work routine? It may be same for same and different for different kinds of businesses. I see following sentiments prevailing.

There is a general sense of apathy. It translates into utter disregard for the ease and convenience of staff. I have seen many offices where the owner sits in an airconditioned room while the staff sweats outside under hot air swirling fans. Rest assured, this is much more common than you would imagine. Only a person with total apathy for other human beings would do that every day without remorse. These are the places where Ramadan timings are harder and longer than usual days.

There is a sense of greed. We see that the level of greed increases manifold during Ramadan in Pakistan. It translates into higher prices, extra profiteering, disposing off rejected goods in the rush of Eid sales and making staff work extra hours. Greed has no limits obviously. On a very famous and busy cloth shop with branches in Lahore and Karachi, the following was written in bold during Ramadan.

“Ramzan mein dukaan subah 6 bajay say raat 2.30 tak khulee rahe gee” [During Ramadan, shop will remain open from 6.00am to 2.30am].

What would you call this? I went there one day and I could see that the staff was almost on the verge of collapsing. I asked silently if they had hired extra staff to run such insane hours. I got the reply that no, they forced the same staff to work very long hours. The owners changed shifts, but the staff could not. Please note that the owners pose as highly religious and do not accept debit/credit cards allegedly for religious reasons. Is it religion or the effort to hide the actual income?

There is a sense of exploitation. All countries suffer from the same; countries like ours more so. Pakistan does not have adequate laws to protect workforce. The implementation of available laws is even more inadequate. In these circumstances, resourceful people get away with any amount of excesses committed. Fear of law is always more potent than fear of God and that is sadly missing. As for Allah, we could donate money to some charity or join the annual collective prayer and hope to appease Him.

Ramadan is a special time to seek and receive special Blessings from Allah. It is through prayers and through taking care of fellow humans; both in equal measure. May Allah show us the right way and help us to tread it. Aameen.


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