Ramadan is upon us, and in countries around the globe, Muslims are now fasting from sunrise to sunset. Considered the most sacred month of the year, this lunar celebration usually lasts about 29-30 days, and is based upon sightings of the crescent moon.
Fasting is common in many religions, such as Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity, as a way to cleanse the body spiritually. The idea that fasting brings one closer to God, improving mental determination and self control is an important component of the month. However, a more specific reason for Ramadan involves the Five Pillars of Islam and need for empathy.
Of the Five Pillars, one is ĎZakatí or charity. In many Muslim countries, the holy day of Friday brings with it people laying out food on the steps of mosques for the poor, and those without homes are often allowed to reside within the mosque. However, Islam goes a step further during Ramadan, believing that one cannot truly feel empathy for the poor unless they know what itís like to go without. Not being able to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset helps cement those feelings of compassion for those with less.
The rules are fairly simple during Ramadan: those who are past puberty and have a sound mind and body have an obligation to participate. Those who are ill, breastfeeding, travelling, pregnant, menstruating or diabetic are exempt from fasting.
In the morning, before sunrise, participants awake to pray and take in an early breakfast, known as Subhoor. When the sun goes down, Iftar, known as breaking the fast, occurs. In Muslim countries these moments are met with revelry and joy. Naps are encouraged, and employers tend to schedule meetings and work early in the day. After Iftar, holiday lights are turned on and marketplaces and squares are filled with food stalls, music and shows. A sense of communion among the people is felt, and charity increases.
However, for the Muslim in the west, Ramadan can be a lonely experience. Although many have access to mosques and small communities, most still work in 9-5 jobs and few festivities are held. So for those of us with Muslim friends and coworkers in the west, hereís how to be considerate and kind during this holy month:
Be Considerate of Scheduling
For those who have employees working in shifts, scheduling Muslims for morning is a great approach. It is during this time that stomachs are at their fullest and energy levels are high. Late afternoon usually holds the worst slumps, and after sundown, if they are chained to their shift they will be aching to be set free. If itís possible, encouraging them to come in earlier, and leave earlier, is a fantastic way to show your empathy during this time.
Avoid Eating and Drinking at Length in Front of Muslims
Muslims in the west are well aware that their coworkers and friends will be eating and drinking at their desks, and there is no reason to feel guilty for doing so. However, small courtesies such as not eating anything with strong smells, not offering Muslim coworkers food, or flaunting it are an excellent way to show consideration. A simple question such as, ďAre you still fastingĒ will let you know if you should take your plate of tacos into the next room.
Donít Worry, itís Not a Touchy Subject
Sometimes people are afraid to ask about fasting, or you might walk into the supply closet and find your coworker mid-prayer. Most Muslims will pray more often during Ramadan, and will likely search out a quiet place to do so. Donít worry; itís not that delicate of a situation. If you catch someone mid-prayer, simply smile, say sorry and move on. If you have questions, ask! Muslims are normally more than happy to explain Ramadan and fasting. Wishing your Muslim friends ĎRamadan Kareemí as they head home to break fast is also a lovely thing to say, and not at all appropriative.
Muslims tend to move at a much slower pace during Ramadan. In Islamic countries this is expected and considered fairly normal. However, in a fast-paced business environment, it can be a struggle. Sometimes Muslims are much more subdued during Ramadan and donít participate in the same office banter. Donít take it personally; itís simply a matter of saving up energy. Scheduling changes might help the work-flow, but if these are not possible, just remember that your friend or coworker is doing something to better themselves spiritually, and have a little more patience during this period.
Celebrate Along Side!
Muslims and non-Muslims can absolutely break fast together, so if youíre with a Muslim friend and sundown is near, feel free to join in. At the end of Ramadan, Eid al Fitr begins. This huge festival is marked by feasts, celebrations that can go on for up to three days. Sweet Ramadan treats (called helwa and/or shebekia) will be distributed widely and most Muslims find themselves both proud and relieved by their commitment to their fast. This is a lighthearted time, and filled with celebrations that you should absolutely attend if you are invited. Acts of charity are also popular during this time, and are recommended before the holiday can be completed.
So whether youíre fasting for Ramadan yourself (in which case, Ramadan Kareem!) or are close to those who are, now you know why, and how to be a courteous fellow human during this special month.