The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins on 26 May this year and with it, followers of the world's second most popular religion will start their period of fasting and prayer. In keeping with the teachings of the Quran, Muslims across the globe abstain from intercourse, drinking, eating and any kind of activities which are deemed worldly. This daily period of abstinence begins at sunrise and ends only at sunset.
Giving up food and drink are only part of Ramadan practices. More importantly, the period is meant to be done for self reflection and spirituality.
With an international population of over 1.8bn Muslims, there is a high chance that even as a non-Muslim you will come in contact with people following Ramadan, on a day-to-day basis. During these interactions, it is important to be respectful of their religious practices and sensitive to their efforts.
In keeping with this, IBTimes UK lists basic etiquette guidelines that non-Muslims can follow when meeting with practicing Muslims.
Wish people for Ramadan
Despite it being a time of fasting and penance, the holy month is a celebration of spirituality and an opportunity to strengthen one's relationship with God. So a great way to start a meeting with Muslim friends or colleagues would be to wish them Ramadan Kareem, Ramadan Mubarak or Happy Ramadan.
Accept Iftar invitations
Even if you do not properly understand the essence of Ramadan, there is no harm in joining your friends as they break their daily fast each evening. This is a wonderful way to get to know more about the religious practices, not to mention the delicious food you will get to try out!
Eating in front of your Muslim friends
Most Muslims first begin keeping the Ramadan fast when they hit puberty, so they are capable of holding it together while you have your lunch. While most people would not mind sitting at the same table as you eat and drink, there is no need to make it more difficult for them by raving about how delicious your meal is.
In the business world, planning lunch, dinner or coffee meetings are a regular occurrence but if you are aware of colleagues fasting, try to schedule them without a meal involved.
In most Muslim countries, eating, drinking and smoking in public are banned during the fasting period. Non-Muslims are also advised not to play music loudly during the day.
Easing off the work load during Ramadan
Most Muslims would not ask for preferential treatment during the time of Ramadan, but keep in mind that they fast through the day, and spend a large part of the evening and early morning praying. So, it would be appreciated if you could cut them some slack if possible, especially if it involves strenuous physical work.
Most of Ramadan takes place in summer, so it is going to be hot. Now, imagine running around in the heat but not being able to drink any water. Try scheduling work that will keep you Muslim colleagues/employees indoors rather that out and about the city.
Why practicing Muslims keep their distance
There is one simple reason why Muslims will keep a bit more distance when around you and it has nothing to do with the way you look or smell. Halitosis, or that ripe breath that comes with not having any food or water can be pretty strong and most people practising the Ramadan fast would prefer not to put you through the pain of smelling it.
Things not to say to Muslims following Ramadan:
"So... you must lose a lot of weight from all that fasting."
Ramadan fasting is meant to cleanse the body while preparing the mind to strengthen its focus on God. It is NOT about weight loss.
"But you eat so much in the evening so it is not really much of a fast."
If you think that fasting, even if it is only from sunrise to sunset is easy... try it out sometime and find out just how wrong you are.
"Have a bite of this, I won't tell anyone."
Ramadan fasting is about self discipline, so sneaking in food or water would complete negate the whole practice.
"Aren't you hungry/thirsty?"
Obviously people who keep the fast are hungry and thirsty... that is but natural. Asking if they are hungry just makes it all the more difficult to keep their mind off food!