Ramadan: a guide for non-Muslims


The sighting of the new moon on the evening of the 15th of this month will signal the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan, when Muslims around the world take part in ritual fasting. The act of fasting teaches Muslims self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, and encourages actions of generosity and compulsory charity.

For one lunar month no food or drink, not even water, is taken between sunrise and sunset. Smoking is also not allowed. It is a trying time, and hunger and thirst are not the only difficulties to contend with. Withdrawal symptoms from caffeine and nicotine abstinence are bound to occur and blood sugar levels to drop, so people can be moody, especially during the first few days.

Considerate non-Muslims may wonder how to behave around their fasting friends and colleagues. Here are a few pointers.

  1. You can eat in front of them, but it is also good if you prefer not to.
  2. Try not to schedule a working lunch, or if it is unavoidable, understand if they don’t eat.
  3. You can join them for Iftar, the first meal after the end of a day of fasting. If you are invited, you should not refuse.
  4. Be understanding if they need to leave work early. Many prefer to make up lost working time by starting work earlier during Ramadan.
  5. Do not assign physically demanding tasks. Fasting people are low on energy. Women especially get up extremely early to prepare food so that everyone can eat before sunrise.
  6. Give your friends/colleagues space if they keep their distance from you. Fasting causes halitosis.
  7. Please do not tell your Muslim friends you want to fast to lose weight; that is not what Ramadan fasting is about. In fact, the irregular eating patterns and heavy meals at Iftar frequently leads to weight gain!

The appropriate greeting during the fast is Ramadan mubarak, meaning “may Ramadan bring us blessings”.