Recent reports have shed light on the discriminatory practices of some companies in the country that forbid employees from having Iftar.
As the sun sets and most Muslims gather around tables laden with food, enjoying the warmth of family and friends after a long day of fasting, some are denied this sacred moment of togetherness and sustenance.
“I’m not allowed to eat or sit down during work hours,” said Faraj, a security guard at a major bank in the country, who asked Doha News to keep his identity anonymous.
‘They say it looks unprofessional’
At times, Faraj attempts to hide a date or any small food item that fits into his pockets, then tries to sneakily eat it without anyone noticing.
“I can’t afford to lose this job just because I was hungry, then my family will be hungry.”
These words echo the harsh reality faced by many workers in Qatar who are denied the basic right to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. This is not an isolated incident, as many workers are suffering in silence, afraid of losing their jobs if they speak out.
Extended fasts for security guards at Doha Institute
Fasting for extended periods, especially in a country with a hot climate like Qatar, can be physically demanding.
Similar reports circulated on social media, as a Professor at the Doha Institute took to Twitter to tell the story of a muslim security guard who was also not allowed to eat at his desk.
On the first day of Ramadan, Justin Martin saw a guard at his university not eating shortly after sunset. Upon asking why, the guard said he’s not allowed to eat at the reception station.
“I gave him a small box of dates and decided I would talk to another security employee the next day. That employee said the same thing; they weren’t allowed to eat at the reception station at sunset or any other time,” Martin, who shared the story of the guards’ plight on Twitter, told Doha News.
On Saturday night, Martin went into the lobby of his housing unit on campus for an unrelated reason, only to find “four or so representatives from European Guarding and one from Doha Institute” surrounding the reception guard on duty, and “possibly interrogating him” on what he had told him.
The professor told Doha News that he spoke to the men in support of the guards.
“I told both organisations the guard is not to blame and that a policy keeping people from eating at their desk seems unnecessary, period, but is especially problematic during Ramadan,” explained Martin.
Doha News received input from another community member at Doha Institute who said they saw more than one fasting female guard on campus not eating anything after sundown.
“I haven’t seen women security guards eat after sunset to break their fast, but I never asked them why. They sit at their desks without eating or drinking.”
According to Martin, following an extensive conversation with the manager of Doha Institute, the entity decided that beginning Sunday, guards would be permitted to break their fast at sunset while at their posts.
The institute further stated that an extra team of guards will be on standby every day at sunset to temporarily replace any guard who wishes to leave their post and enjoy a bigger meal elsewhere.
Former complaints against European Guarding
The company at the centre of the issue was revealed to be European Guarding and Security Services (EGSSCO). However, the policy barring guards from eating at their posts came from Doha Institute, not the security company.
Doha News reached out to EGSSCO for comment and is awaiting response.
This is not the first time the security company finds itself at the centre of a scandal.
While the no-eating policy allegedly did not come from European Guarding, the company faced negative coverage in November last year, when they were reported on by The Athletic for not answering communication from the widow of one of the company’s former drivers who had died in a crash in Doha. The family of the deceased claimed that the company owed them money.
European Guarding did not respond to the request for comment from The Athletic at the time.
Not all companies and institutes bar their security personnel from breaking their fast or eating during their shift.
“I can break my fast and eat whatever I desire once the prayer call to Maghrib starts,” Mohammed, a security guard at a restaurant, told Doha News.
To him, it remains unfathomable how this “basic right” is seen as a privilege by some employers, and is treated as such.
“I don’t understand how anyone, especially a fellow Muslim, can have the heart to not allow their employees to break their fast. I’m grateful I never went through that, but do people forget that we are humans just like them?”
Doha Institue responds
Doha News reached out to Doha Institute for comment prior to publishing the article on 27 March, but did not receive a response. Since publishing the article, Doha Institute has responded to Doha News issuing a statement noting the institute’s commitment to providing a ‘safe and healthy’ environment for their staff.
The statement read as follows:
“It is worth noting that the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, and since its establishment, has been very careful to provide a safe and healthy environment to all workers- especially the ones fasting in the Holy Month of Ramadan- who are working in the operation sectors like ( Security, Households, Maintenance… ) The fasting personnel break their fasting in the restaurant dedicated to serving Iftar as we acknowledge this as one of their basic rights.
For the Business continuity, and to make sure work is maintained as should be, a replacement for each worker is assigned till his colleague comes back from the restaurant, putting into consideration the spiritual and psychological effect of
this, and the staff is served a light Iftar meal to eat in his station if can not go to the restaurant or is waiting the return of his colleague.
As a yearly tradition now, the Doha Institute has been eager to keep the initiative of serving Iftar meals and Eid incentives to the operation sectors’ personnel working at DI. The Holy Month of Ramadan is a special religious and traditional occasion that has solid customs and beliefs , that form the Qatari identity from which the DI drives its vision and mission, and are the basics to all virtues in dealing filled with goodness, tolerance and giving.”
Amendment: A previous version of this article had not clarified Justin Martin to be the person who had a conversation with DI’s management, not the author of this article. This was further clarified to DI before their issuance of the statement.