Around the world, Muslims observe Ramadan beginning with the sighting of the new crescent moon. The customs of the Islamic holy month are familiar to its faithful, but what do non-Muslims need to know about the month of fasting? Take a look back at a favorite post from AltMuslimah.com editors, Asma Uddin and Shazia Kamal Farook.
In the next few weeks, you may come into work and find your co-worker taking a power nap at 9:30am. At break time, you’ll notice she is missing in the discussion about Harry Potter over at the water cooler. At the staff meeting, you will be shocked when she is offered coffee and cookies and refuses! By lunch time, your concern about her missing at the water cooler compels you to investigate the situation.
Then you remember what she had mentioned last week over a delicious Sushi lunch. Flooded with relief, you go up to her desk, and proclaim with much gusto, “Ramadan Mubarak (Moo-baa-rak)!” Ramadan’s Blessings to you!
The month of Ramadan is a happy occasion; it is the month that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, was revealed to our Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are called by their religion to celebrate the month by coming together in worship, fasting each day for thirty days from dawn until sunset.
While this may seem like a tremendous feat, consider this: fasting while working is an even greater endeavor. Make it a little easier on your Muslim colleague by following a couple of simple rules:
The Greeting. The next time you find yourself in line for the copier with your Muslim colleague, feel free to wish him or her “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem” or simply “Happy Ramadan.” We absolutely love it when people acknowledge Ramadan and are happy about it.
Positive Reinforcement. Keep in mind that we’re fasting voluntarily and, actually, pretty joyously (despite the tired, sad look on our face). We’re not forced to fast. In fact, we wait for this month the whole year, so you don’t have to feel sorry for us. We are not trying to be rescued (other than by that ticking clock taking us closer to sunset!).
The Lunch Meeting. Most of us understand that life goes on, and so do lunch meetings, and if we are participating in them while fasting, don’t worry about eating in front of us. This is just part of the test. We appreciate your acknowledging our fast, but don’t feel the need to discuss it every time you show up in our line of sight holding food.
Just try not to eat smelly foods. . . and please ignore our stomach when it growls at your sandwich.
No Water. It’s true — we can’t drink water either. Again, this is part of the Ramadan test and our exercise of spiritual discipline. This is probably why you may not find your friend at the water cooler. Try switching the break time conversation to another location in the office. You should probably also let them skip their turn for the coffee run this time.
Halitosis. While God may tell us that the breath of the one fasting is like “fragrant musk” to Him, we know that you’re not God – and aren’t enjoying it. Understand why we’re standing a good foot away from you when speaking or simply using sign language to communicate.
Iftar Dinner. Consider holding a Ramadan Iftar dinner . Iftar is the Arabic word for the meal served at sunset when we break the fast (it’s literally our ‘breakfast’). This will be a nice gesture for Muslim coworkers and will give others the opportunity to learn about and partake in Ramadan festivities. Although there is no specific type of meal designated for iftars, it is is tradition to break the fast with a sweet and refreshing date before moving to a full-on dinner.
Fasting is not an excuse. Although energy levels might be low, the point of fasting is not to slack off from our other duties and responsibilities. We believe that we are rewarded for continuing to work and produce during our fasts. Fasting is not a reason to push meetings, clear schedules, or take a lighter load on projects.
That said — we don’t mind if you help work in a nap time for us!
Ramadan is a time for community and charity. There are iftar dinners held at mosques every night (you are welcome to join the fun – even if you’re not fasting!) and night time prayer vigils throughout the month. We give charity in abundance and make an extra effort to partake in community service. Throughout it all, we maintain an ambiance of joy and gratitude for all that God has blessed us with, and reflect on those in this world who have been given much less. This is a time for all of us–not just Muslims–to renew our spiritual intentions, increase our knowledge, and change ourselves for the better.
This post was previously published at the Washington Post, and is now available at Faith Street.