Ramadan, the holy month in the Islamic calendar, has started and with it, the world's 1.6 billion Muslims will fast from dawn to dusk for the next 30 days. During this period of fasting and prayer, followers of Islam will abstain from eating and drinking until they break their fast each evening after the Sun sets.
What if you are a non-Muslim who has to interact with friends or colleagues who are keeping their fast? How do you come across as sensitive to their efforts and show respect for their religious practices?
IBTimes UK lists some basic etiquette guidelines to follow when interacting with practicing Muslims during Ramadan.
1) Ramadan mubarak
The month of Ramadan is a time of fasting and sacrifice meant to help people improve their relationship with God. It is a time of religious celebration, so feel free to wish your Muslim friends Ramadan Mubarak or Happy Ramadan.
2) It's OK to eat in front of Muslims
Muslims have been practicing their Ramadan fast since puberty so they know how to manage their food cravings and thirst. Most don't get offended if you eat food or drink in front of them, so go ahead with your meal.
Coffee, lunch and dinner meetings are still going to happen during Ramadan, so non-Muslims should not feel awkward about dining across from people who are not eating. However, if possible, it would be respectable to plan meetings outside of a meal... after all fasting is still very challenging.
3) Join for an Iftar meal
At sunset, Muslims break their fast and indulge in an Iftar meal. Don't feel shy about joining in. The community will be welcoming and the food is a delicious mix of fruits, dates and other delicacies.
4) Understand that fasting is tiring
Most Muslims in the northern hemisphere will be fasting for 16 to 19 hours of the day, thanks to summer. They will then spend the night breaking their fast and attending prayer services before waking up before sunrise to eat before their period of abstinence begins again.
This schedule for a whole month can be very draining, so try to be accommodating of your Muslim juniors and colleagues. If possible, allow them to leave work early in order to break their fast or try assigning them work that won't be too physically exhausting. Most will prefer to make up the hours by coming in to work early.
Not eating food or drinking water can leave people with really bad breath. This is why most Muslims will stand further away from you than normal, while in a conversation. Understand that it's for your benefit and not theirs.
6) Ramadan fasting is not for weight loss
Refrain from making insensitive statements about how fasting must be a great way to lose those extra kilos. It's hard work and is meant to be for a religious purpose, not a slimmer waistline.