The pitfalls of celebrating Eid in corporate South Africa

The world’s one billion plus Muslims will wear their best, festively transform their tables, and offer their obligatory charity. Their eventual goal is for their month-long fast of Ramadan, prayers and good deeds, that hitherto have remained suspended to ascend to the Heavens, as a conclusion of Ramadan. 

The culmination of all this is on Thursday or Friday this week, depending on the vagaries of the lunar month globally. In a nutshell, (or we could say in a samoosa), this is the Christmas, Kwanza, Lunar new year, Naw Ruz, Diwali or Passover of the world’s Muslims, irrespective of their denomination, political leaning, or orientation. Eid Mubarak is the greeting that is offered, preceded by the month-long Ramadan Mubarak.

On a personal glimpse into my Life, I lost my mother to Covid-19 on the 31st of January this year. I know that you, your family or friends here and universally have also suffered such a loss this year. The cliché of I know how you feel is actualised for me. For our kindred, global citizens in war torn zones, everyday is such a tragedy. My family and I have strong support to deal with our new norm. Those images on TV of children who have overnight become their own adult is bereft of any support.  

Evolving around Eid preparations is the experience of our first Ramadan without my mother. The prospect of Eid’s biggest treat being absent from our celebrations is unfathomable to me. This will be an Eid filled with ritual observances but for me and for millions who mourn similar losses, this Eid will be missing its magic. The magic of my Mother, my children’s grandmother. The visible and the invisible of her magical touches, ways, expressions of love. Mere words fail to describe that. With intentionality, I am intending to create an image, a Vision in your mind of the significance and import of Eid, in our home, in our family and in many families.

Eid 2021 also takes place in the context of a hashtag filled world of awareness, inclusiveness, diversity, and Instagram expressions of affiliation and correctness. So, this should be the Eid where the 1.2 billion celebrate with their neighbours, and kinsfolk, even if just in momentary DMs and blue ticks. So let’s do a status check?

My Eid leave, significant days and holy days are penciled into my calendar usually at least a year in advance. I unabashedly resist any disturbances to the planned festivities by warding off commitments and invitations. When the invitations arrive, a short “It’s Eid” message usually gets the invitation transferred to another day, together with a heart-warming wish of happy Eid. Needless to say, it is accompanied by some hints about the treats that I will be enjoying. There are also not so subtle suggestions from admiring colleagues that I will picnic box treats back to the office for everyone to enjoy the next day.

This year however Eid is different, apart from my personal loss. 

The first invitation reaches me from the pair of global standard setting boards for auditing standards and ethics for accountants. I am a board member of the former. Their annual meeting for which I was invited to make a submission was going to dramatically alter my Eid plans. My pointing out the spiritual conflict to those global bodies produced a junior level officer’s response, that made it  clear that the public interest superseded my conflict. There was a dismissive attitude to what is deemed an old-fashioned tradition of observing religious holidays. How many more hashtags will be needed to break that fortress? Let me pause you to reflect for a minute. Is this truly a conflict? Is it my conflict alone? We are in the 21st Century, with activism for human rights in constant focus. These are significant holidays, not just penciled in on individual agenda but in corporate calendars and diaries available from major bookstores. It should not be left to the goodwill of a colleague to “cover” for me. The consequence of this is a perception of personal, gracious favour, rather than corporate accountability.

The second invitation that marched in from the regulator of medical schemes in South Africa was to a recently convened council meeting, entitled “follow-up of induction”. I am a member of the council. What exactly is a follow-up of an induction? I don’t know, but there is no follow-up to the Eid festival. I chose the festival over the induction. Don’t judge me for that choice. Did I inform the Council which trumpets its responsibility for universal access and rights of patients of how its plans were, like the grinch that stole Christmas? Yes, I did, only to be told the equivalent of filling in a form and waiting in line for your turn to be heard. The journey of nation building in South Africa has a long road ahead. We need to understand that our beliefs and values, unless translated into observable, measurable practices are still hollow views and opinions.

The third invitation arrived from the organisation for which I work for full time, the independent audit regulator in South Africa. Here I have the benefit of a corporate calendar, official religious leave days, diversity training, collegial relations, and a body that is the self-styled protector of the public interest. A risk champions workshop? “No, it’s Eid.” “Sorry, there is no other available day.” Followed by: A leadership conversation aptly named AWAKEN. It is Eid.” “Sorry, it’s the only available day for the presenter”. 

Some would chide me by saying, “Just take the day and spare us this speech”. I could opt for that route. That is the path of forever “begging for permission”. That is a transactional change. For a practice to become mainstream, it needs to become a transformational change. 

Does this have a joyous ending? Everything associated with Eid should have a celebratory ending. The last invitation crawled in with hours to spare from the protector of all rights, the United Nations, to attend an ad hoc meeting of its Audit Committee of which I am a member on Eid Day. 

Thankfully, Eid is marked as a public holiday in the calendar of the United Nations. Therefore, it is an omission to request my presence. “It’s Eid, go ahead without me.” “We value your participation, and we apologise for our oversight. We have honoured Eid 2021 by rescheduling our meeting.” Thankfully, a good ending. I will reflect further on my thoughts in this message. I invite you to do the same.

May your Eid of 2021, be reflective, blessed, peaceful, and inclusive.

Note: The opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Daily Vox.

Imran Vanker is a Jozi-based Chartered Accountant. He is a former Auditor General of Gauteng.  He has an international affairs having served as Director of Audit of the United Nations.  He writes in his private capacity.  

Featured image by Safiyyah Patel.