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Faith Inclusion: Beyond Performative Gestures in Leadership

By Halima Khan

In a time when faith is being tested across the world, used as a pawn in the political landscape, and misinterpreted and attacked, I wanted to take a different approach when I was asked to write a Ramadhan blog.

This year, I wanted to discuss how we can all navigate the diversity of faith in organisations and become successful leaders.

I could have easily scribbled down the do's and don'ts of this holy month: do show some flexibility, check in with your colleagues, create spaces for prayers, try to refrain from food and drink in front of fasting colleagues, and the list goes on.

For many Muslims, this is the most blessed month of the calendar. It's a month where the Quran (Holy Book) was released to the prophet (peace be upon him). It's also a month where Muslims observe one of the five compulsory commandments: fasting. The others include Shahaadah (Profession of Faith), Salaat (Prayer), Zakat (charity), and performing Hajj (Pilgrimage).

Many organisations will provide guides on how you can support your fellow colleagues who observe this month. Many will also fast as a show of solidarity towards their Muslim colleagues. Admirable indeed, and I love how this time of year brings many people together, religious or not, all under the curiosity of faith.

Ramadhan is a month of reflection, spiritual growth, giving, connecting, and exploring how we, as individuals, can be better, more disciplined, and patient, despite mental and physical struggles. So, I ask you to reflect: how can we be meaningful supporters and go beyond performative gestures of allyship? How are we showing up for those in our organisations who hold strong faith throughout the year and having conversations about what it means to hold faith-based principles in a world where faith is often virtue-signalled?

When we witness racism in society, we have it within us to be upstanders, not bystanders. Inclusion is more than just celebrating cultural or religious events; it's about how we, as individuals, speak out when our colleagues are marginalised for who they are and what they believe in, and when their faith-based practices are wrongfully attacked.

Current events in the world have brought a lot of attention to faith, and I've seen many organisations and leaders shrug off conversations, commenting that talking about religion at work is not the place or time—stick to the job at hand; this is a distraction. These same organisations, however, will wish people Ramadhan Mubarak, Happy Easter, Passover, and Vaisakhi over the next few weeks, and if we are lucky, we may even receive an invite to an event celebrating these occasions.

This type of virtue-signalling culture from leaders will create a disengaged workforce that finds it hard to bring their whole selves to work. The toll of this will be felt throughout the organisation. People are simple beings; we remember how you make us feel. So, speak with your actions, not just your words.

Over the coming weeks, four faiths will all celebrate various occasions. At the heart of each of these faiths lie common values: those of sacrifice, peace, humanity, equality, and inclusion of all. The great leaders of these faiths had one thing in common: they were servant leaders. Their focus was on others first; they were there to serve, not to be served. Their humility, compassion, and persuasion led to millions of followers and building a community because they had the foresight to think long-term legacy, not short-term gratification.

Leadership is about creating a vision and inspiring people to strive towards it. Faith is an example of having courage, humility, discipline, and the perseverance on how to navigate towards that vision, leading people to a growth mindset.

Strong leadership is not about cutting off conversations or shutting them down; it's about first acknowledging the diversity of staff you have and how world affairs impact people—after all, we are humans. Leaders can create an inclusive culture and a safe space to have such conversations and learn at the same time. Understanding faith can be complex; for some, it's an unknown area and can come with fear, risk, and disagreement, just like projects at work. But we still talk about the latter and navigate our way through by being curious, open, honest, and allowing for challenge.

As leaders, how will you have the conversations? How will you be an ally? How will you ensure inclusion isn't just about the cultural calendar? If we want to create a culture of change where inclusion is truly thriving, we must start by examining where we stand on the scale of allyship and being an upstander.

Over the coming weeks, as you look to understand, attend, celebrate, and release guidance on the upcoming celebrations of faiths all coinciding at the same time, do take some time to think about faith all year round, what it means beyond what you know. As you do that, I hope you find the connections of faith intertwined in inclusiveness, cohesion, and leadership.

To all those celebrating, I wish you a joyous and peaceful Ramadhan, followed by Eid, Vaisakhi, Easter, and Passover.

If you would like to know more about understanding and applying meaningful allyship into everyday leadership and how you can be an active and long-lasting upstander, get in touch with Halima on LinkedIn:

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