Boss energy: How Ramadan helps us re-evaluate hustle culture

Woman gadget
7 min read
31 March, 2023

Every year, as Ramadan approaches, I find myself hoping it will mark a turning point for me in the coming months.

Like most Muslims, Ramadan acts as a spiritual guideline for me – it’s the month my spirituality is at an all-time high and I find myself more focused on my prayers and worship because I’m making that extra effort to make sure I can do as much as I can.

Like every year – despite the best of my abilities to stay consistent, that extra effort wears off about as fast as you can say “Eid Mubarak” as soon as Ramadan is over and I’m back to normal.

"With hustle culture, it’s very hard to say no to things, but with Ramadan, you’re choosing what’s important and what’s not – telling yourself, it’s okay I'll say no to this"

But for the last couple of years – since I started freelancing, Ramadan has become a lot more than just ticking off those extra acts of worship.

The comfort and spiritual lens that Ramadan brings now feels more welcome than ever in a routine where I’m rushing from one project to the next, usually unable to say no to deadlines and always worried I should be doing more.

It’s helped me realise that I need to stop getting caught up in finding fulfilment in work alone and that wellness and motivation can often come through other, healthier means – whether that be mindful eating in Suhoor and Iftar, the self-discipline of worship or simply cutting down to the care minimum of my daily routine to make spare time for my spiritual connection. 

Part of this comes from a global obsession with hustle culture – a culture that requires us to always be thinking outside the box, monetise hobbies into side hustles and do more than just your average 9-5.

Cross-cultural consultant and DEI broadcaster Tasneem Chopra describes hustle culture as "the extra work you do, outside the traditional 9-5, which usually involves creativity, and can be quite versatile in what you can do.”

Across the world, and across careers, Ramadan can look very different for each individual, depending on what time they’re opening their fast.

Tasneem, who lives in Australia is fasting from 6 am to 5 pm roughly while Muslims in France will have much longer fasting times of 16-17 hours.

But no matter what the situation, as most Muslims welcome Ramadan the best way they can, there’s a certain shift in whether hustle culture really is the best approach to have.

“The first few days of adjusting to fasting take a huge mental and physical toll on the body," says Ayan Ali, People Ops Manager at Walr.

"The lack of sleep and lack of food and water during the day makes you reflect on your priorities with the limited energy reserves, making adjustments to your working day to ensure you are taking care of yourself whilst fulfilling your responsibilities.”  

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Aliya, the Head of Content at She Speaks We Hear – a collective focusing on amplifying and platforming Muslim women –will be juggling multiple hats this Ramadan. Like the rest of her team, Aliya’s involvement at the collective is pure as a passion project, and alongside she’ll be juggling her regular full-time job and motherhood.

After always being 100% on the go, Aliya’s been looking forward to Ramadan, which she says will hopefully give her more time to reconnect with what really matters.

“It’s about understanding what's really important. When you are fasting you have that heightened sense of awareness, and that connection to God is much stronger... you still continue and strive but you strip back to the things that are important,” she says while comparing it to hustle culture.

“With hustle culture, it’s very hard to say no to things, but with Ramadan, you’re choosing what’s important and what’s not – telling yourself, it’s okay I'll say no to this.”

Much of Aliya’s work with the collective can also often be exhausting – having to deal with negative media around the news all the time, but her focus on finding the positive amidst Muslim women’s stories and role models helps her well-being.

She’s also looking forward to the community aspect of Ramadan iftars that can help her and other Muslim women reconnect with each other in a way that the pandemic had previously put a stop to. When it comes to the kind of emotional identity-related work she’s doing, this community support can mean a lot. 

Not everyone’s work routine is affected in the same way. Tasneem Pocketwala, a freelance journalist based in Mumbai shares that since most of her work life has been amid the pandemic, she’s rarely had a specific set routine but she does try to cut off work at certain hours to make sure she’s not completely swamped. 

“Honestly, each Ramadan has proven to be quite different for me in recent years. It was different when I was working full-time, very different during the first few years of freelancing, and different during the pandemic. So when it comes to working, I try to approach each Ramadan in isolation according to where I find myself in my career path in that year,” she shares.

She also adds that instead of seeing Ramadan as a time of taking a break from work, for her it’s more about being mindful and finding the possibilities and blessings the month can bring. 

“Each year, I approach the month with certain goals in mind in terms of religious practice – for instance, ensuring I pray the full Quran or spend at least x number of nights praying. But I also try and test the waters in other aspects of my life. I don't slow down as much as I give the spiritual and religious aspects to me more limelight. This means I'll still look for new opportunities or double down on existing ones,” she says adding, “if for some reason a particular roza (fast) is getting harder, I will stop working. I will rest. I will push deadlines.” 

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As Muslims, many of us are taught to give our worship our all in Ramadan, and for most of us, sustaining that later in the year in terms of physical worship is often exhausting or not possible.

But what I now take from Ramadan instead is the mindset shift it teaches me. To listen to my body, to slow down, and to discipline me.

In that way, I can bring the calmness of Ramadan throughout the coming months in different ways.

“I think the discipline that it centres in you, in terms of having to control your mood swings, saying no to things you don't need to in order to prioritise Iftar time, or even just going about your day not eating regularly, that kind of learning and discipline is very important," says Tasneem.

As we slowly shift towards recognising that hustle culture may not be the solution we need, Ramadan is becoming a good first step to helping these Muslims realise how they can centre themselves and their needs amidst the hustling noise. 

Anmol Irfan is a freelance journalist with bylines in VICE, HUCK, and The Guardian among others. She has experience writing on minority politics, activism, and gender issues. She is also the founder of the Pakistani community platform, Perspectives Magazine.

Follow her on Twitter @anmolirfan22