"How the little things we can all do make a big impact on inclusion." - Dina Zaher, Client Director, IDP

"Cultural awareness can make us all more inclusive and understanding of each other’s needs, cultures, and faiths." - Dina Zaher

"How the little things we can all do make a big impact on inclusion." - Dina Zaher, Client Director, IDP

IDP Education
24 January 2023

Dina (Deena) Zaher (she/her) on the meaning of her faith, and how the little things we can all do can make a big impact on inclusion. And more about living as a Muslim in a predominantly non-Muslim country... 

When an article by HBR was shared on our intranet “How Leaders Can Better Support Muslim Women at Work”, Dina Zaher, Client Director at IDP Connect in London took that as an opportunity to share with us some of her experiences working in the UK. They included going to events and the only non-alcoholic drink being water; being told that the glasses were only for champagne and so drink water from a paper cup; and continually needing to remind colleagues when Ramadan is on. Her response prompted us to learn more, ask more, and hear more about what being Muslim means. 

What does being Muslim mean? 

It’s being part of something bigger than any of us. It’s a special connection with God, where I never feel alone. It’s really personal, and everyone’s relationship is different. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you are, but that you are thoughtful and caring, and are a force for good in your community. Our teachings say to want for others, what you want for yourself. Care for others to have what you have. It’s part of my life to give to charity, and to care for others. It’s a nice sentiment to bring into the workplace. These are the things I try to live day to day. 

Do you have any favourite rituals or practices? 

My favourite time of year is the month of Ramadan, where we fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. It is a special time of year for me; it allows me to see how strong and disciplined you can be when you believe in something bigger. During Ramadan, there is nothing physically stopping me from eating or drinking, only will power–despite being in the UK, where it’s business as usual and everyone is eating and drinking as normal. I come out the other end and feel incredible. I think “only you did that”. However, more than that, I come out feeling so grateful and lucky to be privileged to have access to food and water. This time is a reminder of the things we take for granted. Lots of people, all over the world, don’t have access to food and water, and there are people very close to home making decisions like whether to heat their homes or whether to feed their families on a daily basis. 

Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food but also striving to be a better person and a time to spend with family and friends. During the pandemic it was difficult to not gather together at this special time of year. 

How does being Muslim in a predominantly non-Muslim country feel? 

It can be challenging at times. There are some parts of the UK culture that I don’t belong to or relate to. There is a lot of focus on drinking and socialising at pubs for networking. These are sometimes challenging environments. I can’t participate in the conversations about alcohol or hangovers – I can’t add anything to those conversations. But it’s about building a community where you live, and therein, you find your place. I take it as an opportunity to lead by example, so for those I come across that haven’t had Muslim friends, they can learn by talking to me and this hopefully gives them a better understanding of our religion.  

IDP’s Work from Home policy has made life much easier. It is nice to be able to pray at home and not need a special space in the workplace. The extra hour of rest gained by not commuting during Ramadan is really helpful. 

Anti-Muslim sentiment on the news can be hard, so learning about our culture and connecting with us as humans will help us all better understand each other

By me living in a non-Muslim country it allows me to explore other cultures and learn about other people and their customs. It really is a great opportunity to share stories and see things from different perspectives. 

Just before Ramadan begins, I share an article with my team from someone else’s Ramadan experience and perspective. It always generates some really nice conversation and discussion within our team that I always appreciate. 

What can we all do to better appreciate other cultures and faiths? 

Be curious! Ask questions. Try to take part in different cultural activities. Give fasting a go! – even if it is just for a day. Take the opportunity to experience it for yourself and show solidarity with millions of Muslims around the world. Sharing experiences shows you care. Make it your practice to be more inclusive – think about other faiths and culture’s needs at social events. For example, having non-alcoholic drinks other than water, and keeping a plate of food aside for people who might be fasting. 

It's the small things that make people feel included. I love talking about being Muslim. But I don’t tend to start talking about it without being prompted. I get worried that I’m overdoing it, but it’s really nice when someone asks me and starts the conversation about faith and culture. My experience is that people are not so inquisitive, so I’m so pleased that I have been asked to share my story. I like to learn about faith, needs, celebrations. It’s important to me to recognise other cultures important dates – and say Happy Diwali or recognise Orthodox Christmas.  It makes me feel valued when colleagues care and know when Ramadan is on and what it is about, and it will be great when everyone knows more about it. 

With lots of awareness, you can make people feel included in a special way. I remember fondly how special it felt when my manager at IDP messaged me on a weekend to say Happy Eid. And actually, after sharing this story with a peer, she has realised to be conscious of the social eating we do as a team, particularly around Ramadan time. This small change in awareness and action means a lot to me. 

For Muslims living in non-Muslim communities – don’t be afraid to reach out to other Muslims and create a community. Open up to others. The more you share, the more you get back.  

Small interventions mean a lot to feel included. They don’t need to be huge. Anyone can make that change and difference – you don’t need to be a manager. 

Thank you, Dina. We have learnt a lot from you and appreciate the openness. There are simple actions we can all make to be more inclusive and get to understand each other better. 

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