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Last updated: 09/07/2018, 6:17 PM

Ramadan, fasting and firefighting

26/05/2017 00:00
Our people

Today marks the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, the annual period of fasting, spiritual reflection and prayer observed by Muslims across the world.

But what if you are a practising Muslim and a firefighter? How do you balance what can be an extremely physically demanding job with observing the daily fast between sunrise and sunset? 

As part of our ongoing work on Safer Together, we spoke Finchley Crew Manager Raja Badhwal  who says, rather than being an obstacle, his faith and a career in the fire service are actually the perfect fit.

My faith has never been an issue

Raja previously worked as a mechanic and gym instructor but 11 years ago decided to change career path.

He explains why the Brigade provided what he was looking for and how any initial concerns that his faith may mark him out or prove an obstacle were soon dispelled.

Being a firefighter during Ramadan

Raja said: "I wanted to be a firefighter because I wanted to help my local community. I wanted to work as part of a team, representing London Fire Brigade and serving the people of London in their time of need.

"I did have some preconceptions. I thought I would be  in the minority and that being a practising Muslim, working in the Brigade, may cause some difficulty.

"When I joined though, I found that wasn’t the case. It's a very diverse workforce and the Brigade is constantly trying to employ people from diverse groups.

"The practising of my faith has never been an issue and the Brigade is very accommodating with helping me do that."

Managing time during Ramadan

On the fire station, the day to day job of a firefighter offers a degree of flexibility, and this, combined with the help and co-operation of his Watch Manager means that with just a bit of pre-planning Raja is able to carry on with his duties as normal during Ramadan.

"Ramadan is a spiritual time in a Muslim’s life and the holy month where a Muslim preserves fast for 30 days. It  allows a Muslim to be more conscious and gives them a spiritual fulfilment.

Firefighter, Raja stood in front of a fire engine

I balance its demands with my day-day activities by making sure in the permitted period where I’m allowed to eat and drink that I  have a balanced diet and stay hydrated.

"We also manage our time through a programme called Station Diary so I can work with my line manager to be flexible in altering the appointments which helps me to manage and better fulfil my fast. 

We try and accommodate physically demanding activities during the early part of the day when my energy levels will be higher, leaving  the afternoon  free for office work or my stand down period. And actually this approach will work with anyone who is fasting for any medical reasons."

Emergencies while fasting

But what about when it comes to attending fires and emergencies? These are at the core of  what the Brigade does and could happen at any time. Raja explains how his faith would never allow him to compromise his or others' safety.

He said: "Priority must always be given to saving life. There is no compromise on this issue. It means during an emergency situation a Muslim firefighter has to break their fast.

"Also at the more physically demanding or longer incidents it is actually permitted for me to break my fast. If I feel my body is going into a state of dehydration, then it is actually a sin for me to carry on fasting and the fast would actually be invalid. It is better for me to break my fast, to take the water in and then make up the fast at a later date.”

Outside of the month of Ramadan Raja says the Brigade helps accommodate his faith in others ways, including  in the observance of Salah - the ritual of praying five times a day.

In the Muslim community

Raj says his job as a firefighter is perceived very positively within the Muslim community and is one that helps break down barriers.

Firefighter Raja walking towards the door of a fire engine

I'm considered as a role model for the younger children. It's a job that helps people and goes hand in hand with our faith and it definitely breaks down barriers.

"Over the 11 years I've been in the Brigade people from different communities have approached me in various different situations as they feel more relaxed if they see someone from a similar diverse, cultural background."

Should you apply to be a firefighter

And his advice to anyone from the Muslim community considering a role in the fire service?

"I would say do it. I would say apply for it. It goes hand in hand with our faith, with helping people.

"The Brigade is accommodating in helping us to practise our religion and it is a role that you will be fulfilled with.

"The best thing about it has to be working as part of a team. Whether it is attending operational incident or carrying out home fire safety visits, everything we do is solely team based.

"We turn up as a team, we resolve the incident as a team and we return back to station in a team. That's the number one thing for me."