Updated: Oct 16
Last week, over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide began observing the holy month of Ramadan, where believers take on a waterless fast during the day and engage in other spiritual activities such as increased worship, prayer, and remembrance of God. Ramadan is a time of penance, self-reflection, charity, and community building. Mosques fill with worshipers and volunteers hosting community iftars, where Muslims gather to pray and break their fast at dusk. They may eat again before dawn, after which they resume fasting.
Going about daily activities without food or drink is already challenging, but observing Ramadan in a Muslim minority country like the United States poses further stress on Muslim Americans. Here are five ways to be supportive of Muslim friends and colleagues observing Ramadan.
1. Be considerate and inclusive. Though fasting can be physically and mentally draining, observing Muslims continue to attend work regularly and adhere to social commitments. When scheduling long meetings in the workplace, opt for early morning meetings, when your coworker will have recently eaten, rather than afternoon discussions. If you make plans with your Muslim friend, choose a location open after dusk; keep in mind, they may have family commitments during iftar time. Suggest a night time walk, an evening at the theater, ice cream, second dinner, or other creative activities that accommodate their fasting schedule.
2. Ask about special accommodations. As a supervisor, asking whether your fasting employee requires special accommodations shows respect for their religious commitments. If practical, discuss arrangements for the employee to leave work by 5 PM so that they can reach home in time to prepare for iftar.
3. Don’t ask why a Muslim is not fasting. Your Muslim friend might forgo fasting for health, personal, or faith based reasons. Muslims who are menstruating, pregnant, or experiencing medical issues may be exempt from fasting. However, the decision to fast is personal and asking why someone is not fasting may appear judgmental and invasive.
4. Don’t hide your food or apologize for eating. When approached by their Muslim colleagues, non-Muslims might frantically and conspicuously attempt to hide the snack they are munching at their desk or apologize for eating. Though both of these behaviors are well-intended, they only serve to make your Muslim coworkers feel awkward. The purpose of the holy month is to practice abstinence; thus it’s likely your coworker can exercise self control, whether or not you hide your chocolate chip cookie.
5. Don’t associate fasting for Ramadan with weight loss. As a general rule, discussions critical of body image and about weight loss serve to create a toxic environment, be they in office or among friends. Moreover, hunger and thirst during Ramadan remind the observer of their spirituality and are NOT a means to lose weight. Insinuating that a Muslim has taken on the fast for weight loss or vanity is offensive and may also trigger those suffering from eating disorders.
Being kind to and considerate of our fasting colleagues and friends not only shows solidarity but also fosters inclusive workplaces and social environments. Ramadan Karim and Ramadan Mubarak to all our Muslim friends, coworkers, and family, from Project Stree!