Listen to the full podcast below (Run time – 1:02:41) or scroll down for the full transcript.
While a person’s faith or non-faith is a deeply personal experience, it is also part of the authentic, intersectional identity they bring to the workplace. Yet, many organizations do not consider this important part of workers’ identities outside the Christian faith. In practicing cultural competency, it is crucial that organizations move beyond religious tolerance and toward inclusion—especially for non-Christian faiths and non-faiths—to ensure equitable policies for their diverse communities.
In this conversation, Culture Moments host Larry Baker (he/him) and DEI consultant Rahimeh Ramezany (she/her) delve into the complexities of faith in the workplace, drawing on Rahimeh’s experience as a consultant, speaker, DEI expert, and multiethnic, neurodiverse, visibly Muslim American woman.
After listening to the conversation, we encourage you to share your takeaways on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
Never miss an episode! Subscribe to Culture Moments on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Show Notes & Highlights
6:00 Rahimeh explains why religion is integral in DEI conversations
10:33 Larry breaks down what privilege really means
13:31 Rahimeh shares her intersectional experience with both privilege and disadvantage
23:26 Rahimeh debunks monolithic Muslim stereotypes
33:23 Rahimeh gives examples and tips about including a diversity of faiths in the workplace
48:23 Rahimeh introduces a video about problematic Muslim tropes in media
55:26 Rahimeh speaks to dismantling white, Christian supremacy
57:58 Larry defines the concept of “stereotype threat”
Larry Baker: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Culture Moments podcast. I’m your host, Larry Baker, and I am thrilled to have you join us for our second season called “Brave Conversations with LCW.” In these episodes, you’ll hear from a panel of guests from specific communities offering a range of perspectives on the past two years. We’ll hear about their own experiences as well as their insights on what has changed and, more importantly, what needs to change to move equity forward.
As we all know, so much has shifted and changed over the past two years. And for many of us, we’re still in recovery from a very difficult 24 months.
So hello everyone, and welcome to Brave Conversations with LCW. I am your host, Larry Baker, and I am thrilled to welcome you to this livestream session. Each month we will be bringing you or we will make space for some timely and extremely important conversations that we hope will help educate you, generate some discussion, and help you to be able to take some actionable items back to your organization and in your daily lives. In case you do not know or you’re unfamiliar with who LCW is, we are a global diversity, equity, and inclusion training, consulting, and translation firm: we simply partner with organizations to help them develop global mindsets to help them develop their skills and their systems to succeed culturally in an ever changing and diverse world.
And today we are super excited to be talking about religious inclusion in the workplace: why it’s important, why it matters, and how you can actually keep that meaning in your workplaces, in your programs that you design, each and every year. So today I am thrilled to be joined by Rahimeh Ramezany, and she is an expert, a DE&I subject matter expert at Rahema… I’m sorry.
Rahimeh Ramezany: No worries.
Larry Baker: Rahimeh Ramezany Consultancy. And Rahimeh, thank you so much for being here today, and I’m super, super excited to have you speak on this topic from a personal level, and to provide us with all of your wisdom and your knowledge. I’m gonna give you an opportunity to introduce yourself and talk about your criteria, your competencies, and all your incredible information in a moment.
But before we jump into that conversation, I just wanna let you all know that after our discussion, we’re gonna be answering some of your questions, and that’s going to be an extremely important moment for you to engage with us, to engage with the questions that you have. So please, please, please do not hesitate to ask us those questions.
So, I am going to go ahead and give you the opportunity, Rahimeh, to introduce yourself and tell everyone all about you. Rahimeh, if you will.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Thank you, Larry, so much, and thank you all for having me. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here and speaking with you all. I love livestreams and being able to engage with folks.
My name is Rahimeh Ramezany. I use she/her pronouns. I am a DEI practitioner, which I just use to like blanket all the things: the consultant, the trainer, the subject matter expertise, the content creator, and so on. I specifically focus on Muslim inclusion and equitable access in predominantly non-Muslim spaces, and incorporating considerations of religion within existing DEI efforts.
So that’s a little bit of my background. I come to this work with a master’s degree in intercultural communication, and I pair that with DEI work, which I love really the balance and the marriage of those two fields. I feel like they just offer so much to each other. As anyone who has heard me speak knows I am absolutely a talker, so I will stop there. Because you know, Larry could just like leave and I would just talk and I would have an amazing time. Like, I’d have an amazing time, but I feel bad. And I will try and control that. So Larry, thank you so much.
Larry Baker: No, absolutely not. Rahimeh, that is the reason why I am so excited to have you to be a part of this conversation because I know that passion that you have, and this is going to benefit our audience, but thank you.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Thank you. That is such a nice way of putting it.
Larry Baker: I try to make everyone feel welcome. We’re just gonna jump right into this because I want to kick us off by having you respond to the question of why is it important that we remember religion as we’re thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Oh, let’s get into it. So the idea being is that in DEI, we look at the diversity of identities of folks being represented in an organization or in a space. We look at… do they have inclusive and equitable access to that space, if they contribute ideas, if they have feedback – especially critical feedback – about how the organization can do its work better to be more inclusive of them as human beings and individuals that they are and their families and their lives and their customers and clients who are similarly a part of that identity group. DEI focuses mostly on race and gender, and also following that kind of secondarily sexual orientation, and I’m seeing neurodiversity come up a lot and disability come up a lot… all of which are very important identity groups to discuss and have attention and make sure that they are included and represented in organizations equitably. Also on top of that, so like an “and” not a “let’s compete with each other for the one DEI spot and then everyone else is incredibly privileged” – no, we’re gonna move away from the competitive aspect of things – intersectionally-wise, all these people have a religious identity of some kind. Not all, let me correct myself: most people in the world.
And especially, a lot of companies that employ most of the world’s employees are multinational. The world is very international: people are traveling all over all the time, they’re working with partners. they’re working with suppliers from other organizations from other countries, and so on. Around the world – I’m born and raised in the United States. My context is mostly in the United States – but even looking at companies that do work internationally, most people around the world identify with some sort of faith or religious practice of some kind. I know in the United States and in the West, New Age spirituality, or like a spiritual practice, is also gaining ground, and that is also something to respect and allow people to identify with and bring into their workplace as we see a human being in their holistic self. Not check your identities at the door, which of course we all hopefully understand is code for ignore your non-white parts, try to ascribe and assimilate to whiteness as much as possible, and then when you go home, like on your own time, you can actually be who you are.
Larry Baker: Pick it back up again.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah. No, no, no, no. We’re not having that anymore. White folks have a place, absolutely, in the world, in this space. However, they’re one of many identities, and those of us who are not white or Christian or from a privileged identity should be able, especially if you’re engaged in DEI work… If you’re not engaged in DEI work, and you think DEI is stupid and all that, that’s a completely separate conversation which we’re not having today. And I personally have a hard time with those conversations.
But yeah, the idea being that most people in the world have some sort of religious, spiritual, faith identity, and being able to bring that into the workplace as they choose, cuz some people really don’t want to, but some people really would like to as a source of getting to know other people and understanding authentic selves and breaking stereotypes.
Larry Baker: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, Rahimeh, for kicking us off. You said a couple of things that I really just can’t let you just say it in passing because there are two things that I really want to bring out.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Give it to me.
Larry Baker: First of all, you talked about bringing our true, authentic selves, which we are coming to realize that there are so many different points of intersectionality, right? So we want to make sure that we realize that, like you said, religion is such a critical aspect in many people’s lives that we have to be respectful for that.
And you also mentioned the fact that there is this privilege that tends to be associated with the Christian faith. Now I definitely want to clarify what we mean by privilege. And if you allow me the opportunity, I’m gonna let you jump in and talk about that intersectionality piece.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah. Yeah.
Larry Baker: When it comes to privilege, please understand that we are not saying that your life was easier, right? We are not saying that your life was easier. What we subscribe to, that we need to think about privilege, is that everybody that accomplished something great in life had to go through something. Nobody that has accomplished anything had it easy. So we’re not trying to associate privilege with being easy.
What we are saying when we talk about privilege is that there are certain things that you didn’t have to go through, which represent your privilege. And as we talk about this space of honoring different religions as a Christian, there are certain things that I don’t have to go through that someone from a different religion has to go through.
So talk to me a little bit about that piece on intersectionality and how you view the privilege towards Christians, as opposed to some of the challenges with different religions.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah, absolutely. Privilege is a really sticky topic, and I understand why we are not taught to engage on this topic. Again, people take it as a personal attack: “Are you saying that my life is easy? My life has been so difficult! How could you possibly say that?” I know for myself, when I talk about DEI-related stuff, I don’t call it necessarily DEI in Muslim spaces. The Muslims in my personal life tend to be immigrants or children of immigrants. I do want to be very clear that not all Muslims in the United States are immigrants, so please, let’s break that stereotype. However, I am saying that in my world, my personal world, I am one Muslim, and most of the Muslims that I am around are generally immigrants or children of immigrants. Okay, we can hold those things at the same time, yes?
Larry Baker: Absolutely.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Especially when interacting with immigrants and trying to talk about privilege and anti-black racism or stuff like that, they’re like, “Are you kidding me? I am an immigrant in this country!” Especially if they’re a Muslim immigrant, especially if they’re brown, especially if they have an accent, especially if they have a Muslim-ish – whatever that means – name, all these other things… they have so many areas of disadvantage that they have faced so much, literally, oppression in their lives. Sometimes they’ve been physically attacked. All of these things, and also, yes, we can have privilege.
Using myself as an example, you can see that I’m incredibly lacking in melanin. Very pale. I have hazel eyes. And so even though it would be very easy for me to just get up on speaking engagements and be like, “I’m a Muslim woman and I wear a head scarf,” people can look at me across the street, and if they don’t like Muslims, they can come and attack me. And I’m a woman in a very sexist world. And what have you. Also, I have ADHD, which I learned this year. I have areas of disadvantage. However, the fact that I am either white-passing or racially white – I’m honestly a little confused but multiethnic – that doesn’t change the fact that I have a level of privilege: I speak with an American accent, a Californian-American accent; I am a US citizen so I am currently living in the country of my birth and I hold citizenship; I have a passport in this country; and so on. I don’t have to worry about getting kicked out of the country. I don’t have to worry about my employment and if I apply for jobs and I have to check the little box that I need sponsorship. I don’t need to do that like so many areas of privilege that I have. And that doesn’t mean, again, that none of the areas of disadvantage that I have just like disappear, but then also the areas of privilege that I do have I need to take account for those things. Because if all I do is focus on my areas of disadvantage is that I am actively ignoring folks who do share my areas of disadvantage and also have further areas of disadvantage.
For instance, I like to call on my Muslim sisters in faith who are black, especially if they wear a head scarf. They have a completely different experience. They have anti-black racism and sexism and Islamophobia… and, and, and, right?
Larry Baker: Mm-hmm
Rahimeh Ramezany: So me being like, “Oh, we are the same.” No, we’re not the same.
Larry Baker: Absolutely.
Rahimeh Ramezany: So, anyway, having said that… you can see, I’m very comfortable talking about this because I see it as where I have privilege are areas where I can actively take steps, utilize that privilege to make it easier and level the playing field for others who don’t have that privilege. And of course, if they want to speak up, passing the mic very readily, making sure that sometimes you’re just controlling the trolls in their internet comments section or in person or whatever, supporting them using that privilege because we know, unfortunately, human beings. The way our brains work is that we like and are more likely to listen to folks who we identify with. We see as, “Oh, you’re similar to me. I’m more likely to listen to you.” Great. So folks who identify looking like me, who wouldn’t necessarily listen to a black Muslim sister in faith, I can use that privilege knowing that this is something that I can do, and it is a responsibility that I have, having said that with privilege… remind me of the question?
Larry Baker: No, it was just… you touched on it: how you were saying how you have to truly understand privilege, right?
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah.
Larry Baker: And it’s not saying that it was easy for you. It’s just realizing that there are certain things that I don’t have to go through, but I use the privilege that I have to uplift that group that I am in association with or fellowship with, or however you want to frame. So you definitely continue to bring out that point on privilege, but I did want you to touch on, because you’ve gone through the gamut of some of the pieces where you intersect. Where you talked about “Yeah, I have privilege because of this, but because I’m this as well, that’s a little bit more of an obstacle for me.” So talk about how that intersectionality piece plays in, on top of being a Muslim or following Islam. How would you address that?
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah. So the idea with intersectionality is that all of us are made up of a collection of identities that you can’t piece out: in this moment I’m Muslim, in this moment I’m a woman in this moment I’m American, in this moment I’m ADHD… and all of these moments are separate moments like that. Again, I’m just using myself as an example. That’s not a thing. I’m all of those things all at the same time, right? And sometimes given the situation, I might feel certain identities more.
If I am abroad – again, I’m in the United States, born and raised – if I am abroad outside of the United States, I feel my Americanness a lot more if I am in a Muslim space, depending on what kind of Muslim space. So for instance, another part of my identity that I don’t really talk a lot about and I’m kind of playing with how much do I wanna talk about it or not… I am a Shia Muslim, and that is a minority within Muslims in general. So it’s like a minority within a minority, and there’s a lot of stereotypes and discrimination and violence against Shia Muslims, even within Muslims.
So if I am in a Muslim space, but it is majority Sunni or not Shia, then I am very aware of my Shia, right? And everyone that I interact with, like if I tell them, are they gonna hate me? Are they gonna kick me out? What’s gonna happen here? They seem to like me… and I am sharing this with the non-Muslims, knowing and expecting that you are not going to weaponize what I’m telling you and sharing with you very vulnerably about something inside going on in my community to then attack us. Okay, we’re not doing that.
Larry Baker: Yeah.
Rahimeh Ramezany: So, no, cuz that’s a really real thing like… I would love to be able to give a more nuanced approach to like talking about Muslims around the world. Like, are Muslims perfect people? Of course not, of course not. We have our problems. We have our issues. We need to go to therapy. All the things. But I, you know… like me and other Muslims who speak about being Muslim have a really hard time giving a more nuanced perception of the holistic view of the things that are not great that Muslims do. Some Muslims do and the good things, right? Because it’s like, “Are you gonna then take my words and attack my own community?”
Larry Baker: Exactly.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Because I’ve admitted that of course we’re not perfect human beings. We’re not attacking my own community with my words, thank you very much. So anyway, if I am in a Shia Muslim environment, then probably my ethnicity and racial identity is very prominent to me. So depending on where you are, any given person, you might feel different parts of your identity a little bit more or less at a time. If I’m standing in a room full of dudes, like I’m the only woman there, especially as someone who wears a head scarf called a hijab, I can feel that a lot. You know, am I getting mansplained? Am I having to prove that I’m not an oppressed Muslim woman? I know in grad school… if anyone who went to grad school with me is watching this or ever watches this, I am so incredibly sorry. I’m so sorry. I was so talkative. You think I’m talkative now? You think I’m obnoxiously vocal now? I would not shut up, and I realize it took me a long time of reflection and going to these kinds of like sessions where I’m learning about identities and internalized oppression and stuff like that. I realized that I had internalized this stereotype about Muslim women as being oppressed and quiet and meek and obedient and all that. And I took it upon myself without even knowing that I needed to break that stereotype to all the non-Muslims I went to school with. I was super talkative and super vocal, and every single time the teacher had something to say, I had to be the very first person to say… like, just like ramping that up. And it took me literally years – and even now, still – but years of being like, “You don’t actually have to say something if you don’t have anything to say, or giving other people a chance to talk and all of those things. So in that way, I will give you a chance to talk now.
Larry Baker: No, but Rahimeh, what you’re addressing is something that’s referred to as stereotype threat, right? Because you are so concerned with living up to the stereotype that you’re going to overcompensate to disprove it. So, you touch upon some concepts that are near and dear to my heart. I’m not gonna let you go because there are some things that you were saying in that conversation that I have to dig into a lot more specifically. You start talking about some misconceptions, so I want to give you the space right now to debunk some things about Islam or what it means to be Muslim. So take this space and do what you will.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Oh, okay. I personally, not all Muslims will do this, I am one of estimated 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. 24% estimated people in the world are Muslim. 24%. There’s a huge percentage of people. I am one person. Yes, I’m in community with many Muslims. I actively read and consume content around the lives of other Muslims so that I can have a more rounded approach. But do I know everything about Muslims? Of course not, and I would never say that. And I don’t want people coming kind of like if you were to take a one-hour anti-racism training like, “I’m done! I’m not racist. I have no biases anymore. It’s over.” No, no. So, okay. So watching this,
Larry Baker: (laughs) Unless, of course, it’s an offering from LCW… then that could truly be the case!
Rahimeh Ramezany: Naturally, naturally. Listening to one Muslim – whether it’s me, whether it’s someone else – that’s never going to be “Oh, I know everything that there’s to know, that I need to know as a non-Muslim in an interfaith dialogue exchange sort of way. All I need to know about Muslims is this one person.”
Even as much as I and others try and educate ourselves and speak in general for other groups and try and be representative as much as possible, we’re still gonna leave out a lot things, right? And that’s also a really great flag for you to watch out for when you listen to speakers: are they giving the impression that all that you need to do is listen to them about their group and then you’re done? That’s gonna be problematic.
So having said that, the idea with stereotypes… I distinguish between Muslims and Islam, Islam being obviously the religion that Muslims follow. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, what have you… those are the names of the religions themselves, and I know some folks get the name of the religion and the people who follow Islam mixed up because in English, it sounds like a completely different word. It starts with a different letter. However in Arabic… the Arabic language is integral to the heart of the religion of Islam. It’s encouraged but not required to learn Arabic if you are not Arab yourself. And of course, also keeping in mind as far as stereotypes that not all Muslims are Arab, but not all Arabs are Muslim. There are Arabs of all different identities religiously, right? For transparency, I am not Arab. Please don’t meet an Arab in your life and be like, “Oh, you’re Muslim!” No, we’re not making that assumption. But then also if you meet a Muslim, “Oh, you’re Arab, or you must speak…” No, that’s not necessarily the case.
Muslims are incredibly, incredibly diverse, and the people who follow the religion – and I’m sure anyone who follows any sort of spiritual faith, religious teachings – knows the lessons “be a good person,” “don’t steal,” “don’t kill people,” “honor people’s rights,” “generosity,” “kindness,” “charity.” There’s the rulings and stuff, and then there are the people who do things for many different reasons. We have bad days, and we are not our best versions of ourselves.
There are also, again, 1.8 billion Muslims, so there are, as I’ve already mentioned, different sects of the religion, which like have slightly different – mostly it’s the same teachings –but slightly different. For instance, if you watch me praying – which like, it’s kind of weird… please don’t watch me pray – but if you were to see a Shia person pray, and then you were to see a Sunni person pray, it would look slightly different. It varies in religious identities specifically, but then there’s their ethnicity or their nationality, their generation, their socioeconomic status, their educational attainment level, their gender, on and on. And then even if they ascribe to a certain part of the religion, then there’s also folks who don’t live and don’t follow the religion in the way that they have chosen to… I’m not saying that right. What I’m trying to say is that they might believe in a certain thing, and they might not follow all of the precepts, like all the followings and guidance.
Larry Baker: Absolutely.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Right. I know for myself, like when I’m out in the street going grocery shopping, getting a prescription, what have you, I try and be a good, nice, decent human being just as one does. But sometimes I have a bad day. Sometimes I’m really tired. And I really, really worry about like… if I’m not like actively smiling, actively a cheerful, happy person, that this is the only time someone’s gonna see a Muslim, like identify that person as a Muslim. Cuz of course, a lot of Muslims you don’t know, whether they’re a woman who doesn’t choose to wear hijab – which is within her rights, not a judgment on that – just a fact like if a woman is not wearing hijab, there’s no way of identifying. And then a Muslim man, right? A lot of folks like Muslims are very much racialized as brown people.
However, even keeping in mind that there’s a huge percentage of Muslims who are black or African American, of African descent. Even just speaking in the United States, an estimated 30% of American Muslims are black. That’s a huge percentage, right?
Larry Baker: Wow. Yes, it is.
Rahimeh Ramezany: And yet it is all Muslims… And honestly, again, keeping in mind for any Muslims watching this now, please don’t weaponize this against my community. Like a lot of brown, white, non-black Muslims forget, don’t acknowledge… it doesn’t occur to them that there are black Muslims, which is also incredibly problematic.
So Muslims are generalized as brown, and that’s the thing with Islamophobia. Islamophobia is hatred and discrimination and active violence against Muslims and also people who are perceived to be Muslim. Many years ago there was an Arab man who’s Christian in some Midwest state in the United States who was killed by his neighbor. And it was ruled an act of Islamophobia because the neighbor thought that this Arab man was Muslim, even though he wasn’t. The first person to be killed in retaliation for 9/11 was a Sikh man, not even Muslim. Sikh. And that is considered an of Islamophobia because the person attacking him and murdering him…(sighs) sorry, it’s difficult to talk about this kind of stuff.
Larry Baker: Mm-hmm
Rahimeh Ramezany: Um… they thought he was Muslim. As we all know, people who have isms and hatred towards other people… “I need to just defend my own in-group, and anyone outside of that in-group who doesn’t look like me, speak like me, live by me, is literally evil. And I must kill them, attack them, wipe them off the face of the earth.”
They don’t really care. They’re not thinking about like, “Hey, can you fill out this survey, explaining your identities before I attack you?”
Larry Baker: Exactly, exactly. Yep. “It’s because you don’t look like me, you don’t sound like me, and I just don’t even want to take the time to understand the difference. So I’m just going to use my lack of knowledge or my ignorance and just attack you from what I perceive.”
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah.
Larry Baker: You speak a lot of scenarios that as a black or African American in this country, it just resonates. It doesn’t matter in regards to the specificity of my uniqueness within this black body: I’m just seen as this. Period. So I definitely can sympathize with that.
I do wanna move to a couple of questions because I want folks to get something to use in their workplace. So I’m gonna ask you to give me some advice.
Rahimeh Ramezany: I love giving advice. What? Tell you what to do?
Larry Baker: Absolutely. You feel free! Because one of the questions that we tend to get specifically when you’re doing DE&I work… “Well, why do we need to bring religion into the workplace? What does it have to do with us meeting goals?” So what advice do you have for listeners that want to take that first step towards accommodating all faiths and non-faiths of their coworkers?
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah. I would go back to what I was saying earlier about the diversity of human experience. So of course, for me talking about the diversity of Muslims and that I am one Muslim, even though I do try and actively educate myself on the experience of other Muslims that are not exactly the same as myself. However, this is going to apply to all identity groups, right? Larry, please express, as a black person, you might see opinions like, “Hey, this is how I – another black person – says I want to be included or given equitable access in this way.” And you might be like, “Well, that’s not what I want.” Does that make that person wrong, or does that make you wrong? No. You’re different people and you can want different things.
Larry Baker: Right.
Rahimeh Ramezany: So if an organization really is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, you have to understand that no group, no identity group – Muslims very much included – is a monolith. There’s great diversity, and I can stand up and give you a list of how to be equitable and inclusive of me, Rahimeh. But that’s not going to apply to everyone. So I’m going to give generalizations, but I tell you, these are generalizations. These are a good starting point so that if you don’t know anything about Muslims, if you approach a Muslim in your employee group, if you approach a Muslim who’s a client or a customer, they can see that you’ve already done the work to do some learning on your own.
Larry Baker: Exactly.
Rahimeh Ramezany: As we know, it’s incredibly problematic to go to that one person of a certain identity, tokenize them, go to them. It’s not their job to educate you on their identity. They’re just doing whatever it is that they were hired to do. And you go to them and say, “Hey, teach us about your identity.” Like… “Excuse me?” So when you do go to that person, it’s to be able to custom and tailor the accommodations and the equitable practices to their specific needs and want. You’re showing respect in that way that you’ve already done some learning on your own. Really there’s no excuse, especially in 2022 with so much information available online. There really is no excuse. I’m going to give you some generalizations. You have to get to know the people in your environment to be inclusive of them. If you have a Muslim who lives next to you in your neighborhood, even not in with the workplace, you have to get to know them as human beings. It is work. That is a part of this.
Holidays is something that people like to talk about a lot, and it has its place. I just feel like we talk a lot about it. But before moving on from holidays, of course there is Ramadan, which is a month-long practice of fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is one of the most spiritual times of the year for Muslims, and with fasting throughout the sunlight hours, you can imagine like people’s energy levels and potentially irritability or being hangry or their what-have-you is gonna change. For instance, another great example is this past Ramadan early on in the year in the spring, I saw a lot of articles coming out about like… hey, to be inclusive of Muslims, you should move your meetings to earlier on in the day. Muslims will eat a morning meal before the sun rises to give themselves a little bit of energy and hydration before they start fasting. And so the idea being, if you have meetings early on in the day, they still have some of that energy in their system before the end of the day. Okay, that totally makes sense. I’m sure there are many Muslims who would love that sort of practice. However, if you say, “Hey, I saw this article, so we’re just gonna do that and not ask the actual Muslims in your environment,” here’s another perspective: I personally am 120% a night owl. I don’t care if I’m fasting. I don’t care if I’m not fasting. Please, for the love of God, do not put meetings first thing in the morning with me. Like… you hate me? Are you bullying me? What is happening right now? You have to get to know the actual people. “Hey, I learned something that we could do! Is that something that would be helpful for you?” And have a conversation. Be respectful of them, have rapport built. Don’t just come to the person the first time you wanna talk to them and be asking very probing questions about their identities.
So there’s Ramadan and fasting and giving time off for religious holidays. At the end of Ramadan, there is a holiday called Eid al-Fitr, which unfortunately, fortunately, whatever… the Muslim calendar is on a Lunar calendar, which what that means is that we won’t know the start of Ramadan or the end of Ramadan until the new moon is sighted: the first little bit of crescent. There’s all different debates on what counts, and that’s a kind of an insider Muslim joke. (laughs) But the idea being you won’t know until the night before whether the start of Ramadan is this day or this day or this day.
Larry Baker: Oh, wow.
Rahimeh Ramezany: It’s usually like one or two days, potentially three days. And so if I’m asking, for instance, for Eid al-Fitr off, which is at the end of Ramadan, I’m not going to know the actual day until like literally the night before. I know for a workplace that might be kind of inconvenient, but if you wanna be inclusive of people, you have to bend. You can’t be like this strict, like, “No, we’re gonna force you into this box.” That’s the whole point. Alternatively, there’s also Hajj, which is the Muslim pilgrimage that all Muslims are required to complete once in their lifetime to the city of Mecca, which is in present day Saudi Arabia. Just a little bit of religious sprinkling in there… It is only required if you are financially able to do so, physically able to do so. If you are able to do it, it is required, but we don’t believe you’re gonna go to hell if you don’t do that. The same thing with fasting, if you’re physically not able to, it’s gonna affect your health… pregnant women don’t usually fast. I do know a couple Muslim women who have been pregnant who fasted given like their doctor’s approval and stuff like that. But like, if you’re sick, there’s accommodations even within the religion. That’s another subject.
Something to keep in mind as well that I’ve been seen in recent years is the Islamic new year. Muslims have their own calendar, and there’s kind of this trend going where non-Muslims will start wishing Muslims “happy new year,” and I can appreciate the sentiment. And there are many Muslims who appreciate that. However, for Shia Muslims – which I am again – the start of the new year actually is the start of a two-month mourning period. So having “happy new year, like it’s a holiday, like it’s a happy thing… the point is just don’t assume, right? Check in with the person, get to know them, keeping in mind again that there are many Muslims who would be happy to receive “happy new year.”
And there are some that don’t, and those two things exist at the same time. I’m sure there are many other opinions as well. I don’t wanna make it a binary.
I would also say something to keep in mind with workplaces – If you bring people in-person or hybrid – is that there are some workplaces that are dog-friendly. And that is an amazing thing. I love dogs. I grew up with two German shepherds. There are Muslims who don’t like dogs, just like other people. There are Muslims who are scared of dogs. There are Muslims who love dogs. There are Muslims who have dogs. There are Muslims who literally don’t care. Many opinions. Mm-hmm um, but the idea being is that from a religious standpoint of religious inclusio, is that Muslims who do do their daily prayers… There’s five prayers a day for Muslims, and if a Muslim does do their five daily prayers, one or two of those will usually fall into the normal work day. And Muslims doing their prayers have to be clean. Cleanliness is a really big part of the religion of Islam. Hopefully Muslims try – a reminder to myself to try –and keep our spaces clean, smelling good and fresh, and stuff like that. And so part of that is like, if you have a dog-friendly environment, aside from people who have allergies, – not necessarily even Muslim people who have allergies – aside from people who have been attacked or have bad experiences with dogs who might be scared, but also from a religious standpoint, dog hair and saliva is considered ritually impure.
Larry Baker: Wow.
Rahimeh Ramezany: And if we are to get dog fur or saliva, or obviously urine or poop or anything like that on us, we cannot do our prayers in those clothing. So for instance, one of my previous jobs… one of our execs would bring her dogs to the office. And that’s the thing… I appreciate her being able to do that, but on the other hand, I had to explain I would do my prayers in like a little private area, and I had to ask her, “Hey, could we make sure that the dogs don’t come in this area?” And she was totally cool with it. Ahe’s like, “Oh yes, thank you for telling me.” So just to keep in mind, if you have a dog-friendly environment.
Alcohol is a really big thing. It is generally accepted amongst most Muslims that alcohol is something that is not allowed to consume. There are Muslims who do consume alcohol. There are Muslims who go to bars. I had an executive director of a past job tell me that he knew a Muslim family who owned a winery. So there are many different Muslims again. This is not about judgment like a religious debate on who is correct. The point being is that most Muslims around the world would agree that alcohol is just a no-no. If you, as a non Muslim workplace, continuously include happy hour as a thing – that’s where you rub shoulders with the boss; that’s where you are networking with senior leaders; this is where promotions are being informally laid the groundwork for; even if you are hosting a professional conference; if you’re hosting an event; if you are in grad school, especially as I understood, MBA programs, study abroad programs where a lot of students want to go clubbing and drinking in this new country… And again, the point being is not a judgment on “I’m better” or “you are better.” The point being is that if you actually want to be inclusive, then this doesn’t apply to you. You just decided you don’t wanna include people. That’s a different conversation, but if you want to be inclusive of people, you have to keep in mind that a lot of people either… so speaking from a Muslim perspective, I know there are many people with different reasons for why they don’t drink or don’t wanna be around alcohol. That is also like being inclusive of other folks who have other reasons.
But speaking about Muslim specifically, there are Muslims who will go to networking events with alcohol and feel incredibly uncomfortable. They feel like they’re selling out. They feel like they’re compromising on their values. There are Muslims who will opt out, who will just literally just not. And they’re losing out in some way, but you, yourself, are losing out as an organization from their contributions, their skills, their expertise, and who they are. The whole point is that if you’ve hired these people, you find that they are very skilled and knowledgeable and you want to make the most of their expertise, being that you want to include them.
Larry Baker: I love how, Rahimeh, you are making that connection that this isn’t just an interpersonal issue. This is a business issue, right? So the arguments for not bringing religion into the workplace… You’ve just given some valuable insights in regards to why you need to consider this in the workplace, because you may be creating situations unknowingly that are putting certain individuals at a disadvantage.”
And you know, that even relates to individuals that may have a disability around alcohol. So if you are consistently creating these environments where alcohol has to be consumed, and I’m a former alcoholic, I’m not gonna feel comfortable there. And I’m not going to be seen as promotable.
Rahimeh Ramezany: A culture pit.
Larry Baker: Yeah. Absolutely. Oh, “culture pit.” You just given my, my top pet peeve word in the entire world. So I do want to give an opportunity for us to share some information that you wanted to share. I believe you wanted us to show a video .
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yes. I don’t want you just… again, I am not the only Muslim. Honestly, I’ve been seeing this really kind of problematic trend. No one watching this is like this. I know that. But I’ve been noticing this weird trend on my social media where I post and educate about Muslims and DEI stuff like that of non-Muslims coming in and checking me about Muslim issues. Like… you don’t go here. Why are you critiquing me about my group?
Larry Baker: I get it. I get comments of, “You’re not really black.” It’s like, “Yeah, I think I’ve got that made, but thanks for sharing.”
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah. So I wanna promote looking and seeing other Muslims talk on the same points.
Larry Baker: Do you wanna introduce this one, Rahimeh? Like, you wanna set the scene, or is it pretty self-explanatory with the video?
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah. You’re gonna see there will be an intro. We’re not gonna be able to watch the full thing just for time. In the email following up this event, there’s going to be a bunch of resources including this video. So I encourage watching it honestly, especially if this is the first time you’re seeing this information, and finishing the whole video. But just the idea of seeing stereotypes in movies and film and media about Muslims. This video is a little bit dated, so some of the shows and like movies are on the older side, but I think it does a really, really good job of putting forward these stereotypes. And the idea, of course, being like especially in the United States, it is estimated that only 1% of the United States is Muslim, about 3 million or so people. So the likelihood of most people in the United States and the West if you’ve learned anything at all about Muslims it’s through the media. And so seeing the tropes that the media promotes and why people have these stereotypes and isms about Muslims… you can very clearly see that. So yeah, let’s go and see that.
Larry Baker: Awesome, thank you.
Video Clip: There’s truly no feeling of joy and recognition like when you see someone on the big screen wearing a hijab or praying, but when was the last time you actually related to a Muslim character? Here’s how to not do representation.
Trope number one: hijabis taking off their hijab for a boy. This movie trope is the most basic, most popular, and most problematic. Hijabis find bizarre ways to take off their hijab in countless dramas from Quantico to Hela, to Grey’s Anatomy, to Netflix’s Elite. This idea suggests that the hijab is oppressive in all forms, and Muslim women are in need of saving from their lifestyle of modesty. Usually the savior is a white man. Muslim women like me choose to wear the hijab. Many women wear it for different reasons, but ultimately we do it to show our faith. This is not something we need to be freed from. It frees us.
Trope number two: all Muslim countries are in desperate need of white savior. Muslim countries are not yellow, stained, and filled with terrorists at every corner. Why does Hollywood continue to portray Muslim-majority countries as war-torn and militia base? Every country has stories and cultures of their own as beautiful as the people who live there. When was the last time you saw a movie about a Muslim-majority country that was authentically portrayed? (record scratch) No, not you? How about you? Yeah, no, me neither. This movie trope is very discreet, and you may not have even noticed it before. American films tend to add a yellow filter over their shots when they depict countries stereotyped as impoverished, polluted, or war-zoned, like an Ironman 3 when Ironman heroically frees Naqvi women in a Middle-Eastern sweatshop, it’s pretty obvious there wasn’t a Naqvi in the writer’s room.
Trope number three: Muslims are all Arab and barbaric. This movie trope stereotypically depicts Muslims as Arab, barbaric, backwards, and in need of transformation. These tropes all originate from orientalism. Orientalism is how Western societies look at Asian and especially Arab societies as unmodern. A primary framework used to justify colonization, orientalist ramifications are found in every corner of our world. Disney’s Alladin, for example. The “Arabian Nights” opening song literally sings, “It’s barbaric, but hey! It’s home” along with exotifying and stereotyping nearly every woman in the film. And yes, the entire plot does surround Jasmine’s inability to choose who she wants to marry, something Islamic law explicitly forbids, and a misconception that Muslim women constantly have to fight. The merging of cultures and multiple identities into one pot ends up generalizing Muslims and brown communities. In post 9/11 era America founded easy to fall into Islamophobic beliefs because of the way orientalism was already rooted into Western consciousness.
Larry Baker: Okay. Thank you so much for sharing that, Rahimeh. I think that contained a lot of interesting information to help us understand some of the narratives that have been portrayed about this community. So what I do want to do and our time that we have… I wanted to make sure that we didn’t have any questions that we missed because we primarily talked about why it’s important to have these conversations in the workplace.
Let’s see… “What is a straightforward answer to this question? Why bring religion into the workplace? What does religion have to do with meeting our work goals?” So I think we touched up on it, or did you have anything?
Rahimeh Ramezany: I mean, just to answer in the straightforward answer, if you in your organization is engaged in DEI work, you are committed to DEI work, then part of that is allowing folks of different identities to express themselves and deconstruct the white supremacy norms that have a chokehold on our societies and our workplaces as a part of those societies. So if you want to include people, if you want to give them equitable access, if you want diverse communities and populations in your employee-base, your client-base, your customers, you have to include different identities. And if you’re talking about gender, if you’re talking about sexual orientation, if you’re talking about race, you have to include religion. Religion is a huge part of people’s identities, and most people around the world identify with some religion.
Larry Baker: Yeah. That’s great. Thank you so much, Rahimeh. Do we have any other questions? I’m not seeing any in the chat… Oh, okay.
“What can change the impression that anyone outside of a certain religion or political persuasion is the enemy of the state?” That’s a great question. “Not only in America, but across the world. In America, how can we herald freedom of religion as we face such challenges?” I’m gonna let you jump in on that one, Rahimeh.
Rahimeh Ramezany: What can change the impression that anyone outside of a certain religion or political persuasion is an enemy of the state?
Larry Baker: So the enemy of the state is essentially like the bad guy, right? This is the person that we need to protect ourselves against.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Sure, so are we saying combating Islamophobia?
Larry Baker: Probably, that’s a good way to look at that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Okay. So in the United States, freedom of religion… Pamela, my apologies. I’m going to interpret as I understand this. I really wish I could like ask you for clarification. So the idea of freedom of religion is a part of the law of the land in the constitution of the United States. “Congress shall pass no law that prohibits, or…” uh, I forget the technical, actual word of the quote. But they can’t push religion on other people, and they can’t prevent people from freedom of expressing their religion. So if we in the United States accept that is the literal law of our land, we know that also separation of church and state is supposedly a thing. However, we can acknowledge, hopefully, that really separation of church and state only has to do with non-Christian religions. However, in Christian concerns about laws, as we have seen with the overturning of Roe vs Wade and other similar laws around banning mosques versus churches, the way we deem our holidays, we structure our work-week and so on… these are all incredibly Christian-centric. Lawmakers taking their vows and oaths on a Bible. And then, when there were the first number of Muslim senators and Congress folks being sworn in, it was just such a hullabaloo about swearing on a Quran. I was like, “Okay, but this person isn’t Christian, right? Why is this a conversation? Why is this like a controversy?” So the idea of like, we have to recognize white Christian supremacy when we see it. What are the hallmarks of it? We are constantly on the lookout for racism, anti-black racism, the isms of the world. We have to be able to learn, to recognize and see that lens of “This is favoring one group, this is the norm of another group, and how do we equitably have all groups be able to express themselves in balance?” And again, keeping in mind that yes, sometimes there will be differences of opinion. And how do we move along with agreeing to disagree?
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Rahimeh. I think we have maybe time for one more response. I think that someone wanted to know what is this concept of stereotype threat. It’s basically if you are primarily a member of an underrepresented group… it’s this anxiety that you feel about confirming negative stereotypes that can cause people to have self-doubt. And it often hinders their ability to perform confidently and at their maximum level. If I am concerned that people think that I have my job simply because I’m black and I don’t have the skills necessary or I’m a diversity hire, I’m going to do everything in my power not to make a mistake, to be more than competent, to be more than capable, to be on in every situation. And that can cause anxiety. It can also cause me to be sick because that’s exhausting, trying to outlive any stereotype that people have towards me. And I hope that that answered your question, Enrico, because this is a concept that we do teach.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Yeah. And just to add, thinking about again going to privilege: the idea that if you don’t have to spend this kind of energy exactly and constant vigilance of “What do people think of me? Are they going to judge me? Are they gonna judge my group? How are my children being treated?” All of this mental work and labor and emotional tax that groups have to take on. If you don’t have that, that is your privilege. That’s what privilege looks like.
Larry Baker: Yep. Absolutely. So Enrico, hopefully that helps in how we deal with stereotype threat because again, it is exhausting trying to ensure that we don’t live up to those stereotypes that they have about our group.
So Rahimeh, I am so thoroughly pleased with our time today, but understand that it just doesn’t stop here. And we truly hope that you take the advice that was shared here and some of the questions that we responded to back into your workplaces, and if you really want to partner in having these conversations, let us know. You can contact LCW at languageandculture.com.
I’m going to give Rahimeh an opportunity to plug how we reach her in a moment, but thank you so much for being a part of these Brave Conversations. And Rahimeh, if you wanna let the people know how they can reach out and be in contact with you and and promote whatever you wanna, have at it!
Rahimeh Ramezany: Thank you. Anyone who wants to find my home online… It’s my website rahimehramezany.com. Yes, unfortunately, I’m sorry. You will have to learn how to spell my name. However, on top of that, I am active on social media, especially LinkedIn. I really encourage you to follow along there. I put out free, open-source educational content about diversity, equity, inclusion, and intercultural topics specifically, and especially around Muslim inclusion and incorporating religion into diversity, equity, and inclusion topics. I try and be responsive to comments and answer questions and stuff like that as a free way to just spread the knowledge. A lot of folks just don’t have the opportunity, the privilege, to be part of an organization that has brought in a DEI speaker. If you want to bring me into your organization, of course, please do check out my services on my website.
Larry Baker: Amazing. Rahimeh, thank you. Thank you for your time and your passion on this topic.
I have truly enjoyed myself and I hope that everyone receives something out of this. So thank you so much. Have a wonderful rest of your day. Again, thank you, Rahimeh.
Rahimeh Ramezany: Thank you, Larry.
Larry Baker: And to all of you that are listening, we wanna know what were your biggest takeaways from this conversation. Please share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn at Language and Culture Worldwide or LCW.