This week marks the holy month of Ramadan where around 1.6 Billion Muslims will begin 30 days of fasting and prayer. During this period Muslims will not eat or drink during daylight hours. This is a very spiritual time for Muslims and also a happy time. Observing the month of Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam that all Muslims must partake in their lifetime. It is a time to think of others, being charitable and doing service to the community, as well as being with the family.
I lived in a Muslim country, Brunei, for 6 years and worked with many Muslims. Being a non-Muslim I never found it a hardship or inconvenient time but sometimes it was difficult to observe Ramadan etiquette as a non-Muslim. Here are some pointers for everyone to observe during Ramadan this year.
Say “Happy Ramadan” to a Muslim
Muslim’s will be impressed and appreciate the greeting, just as Christians wish each other Merry Christmas; it is a polite form of wishing a person well in the festive season. It shows you are acknowledging Ramadan and understand it is a special time of year in the Islam Calendar.
The Iftar Meal
When the sun sets, Muslims will break their fast with an Iftar meal. It is important if you are in a restaurant you shouldn’t start eating before the call to prayer which is the signal to break the fast. I once got caught out by this in a fast food restaurant, in my early days in Brunei. It was just before evening prayer and I started eating, I was greeted by some shocked looks in the restaurant. Please be respectful during this time. One of the good things about this meal is that many restaurants will have huge buffets catering for the Iftar. Big families will go out together and enjoy at local restaurants, so it is a great time to sample some of the delights of the country. If you have some close Muslim friends, it is highly likely they will invite you to one of these meals during Ramadan, take up this opportunity to experience their culture.
Eating during the day?
Well I would say it depends where you are. There are certain countries in the Middle East, where it is absolutely forbidden to eat during daylight hours at Ramadan, even if you are not a Muslim. In Brunei, I found restaurants to be empty during the day, but still open. In fact, as a non-Muslim, you can get some amazing deals on lunch from restaurants looking to increase demand at daytime. Muslims are usually fine with non-Muslims eating, but don’t rub it in their face! They are fasting voluntarily; they choose to do this and are happy to do it. They understand it is not part of your religion but also be respectful.
You must remember that most Muslims live in very hot countries, so if you are traveling or an Expat in these countries you also know how difficult it can be with no food or water during the day. Muslims have to go 30 days with no food or drink during daylight hours which can be exhausting. Not only that, but they have to get up in the middle of the night to eat before the sun comes up. Non-Muslims should be respectful of the fact that during Ramadan, Muslims will feel tired and may not be at their sharpest either at work or school. Having said that, Muslims will not use Ramadan as an excuse not to do work. Ramadan is their duty and something they will do to feel closer to God, not as a means to do less work.
Please take your time to respect the festival this year and wish all Muslims a Happy Ramadan.