Ramadan Etiquette: A Guide for Non-Muslims

We are partway through Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. The month lasts for 29 or 30 days like all lunar months in the Islamic calendar. This year, it began on May 26 at sundown and will take place through to June 25, varying by country depending on the first sighting of the crescent moon. If you’re a non-Muslim, you may want to learn more about this month and what you should be mindful of as it takes place.

What’s Ramadan?

Ramadan is celebrated as the month when Prophet Mohammed received the first revelation of the Quran. Ramadan for Muslims is a month of introspection and reflection as well as a time to limit bodily needs and focus on spirituality. This month of physical discipline is a way to critically remind us of the basic needs we take for granted and to which many do not have access.

During this time, Muslims do not eat or drink, smoke or engage in sexual activity from dawn to dusk. Muslims will typically eat a meal before dawn and break their fast at sunset, usually by eating dates and drinking water. Breaking fast by eating a date is Sunnah, and reflects how the Prophet Mohammed broke his fast.  It is therefore out of respect for his tradition. You are also likely to see major donation campaigns run by Muslim non-profits during the month of Ramadan as many choose to pay Zakat (an obligatory payment made on assets for charitable purposes) during the month. The end of Ramadan, Eid Al Fitr, is a cherished holiday for Muslims and a time for family, friends, and celebration.

As a non-Muslim, what should I be mindful of?

  • Ramadan holds greater significance for Muslims than only refraining from drinking and eating. Try learning what the month means for different Muslims around you.  Some Muslims may not be able to fast (e.g. due to health reasons) or choose not to but might still be reflective on other aspects of the month.
  • You can eat in front of Muslims, but you should avoid scheduling events during the day that focus on food, such as work lunches or happy hour mixers. If your Muslim coworkers or friends opt not to attend, it is understandable. Also, don’t be “sorry” that they are fasting, they chose to do so!
  • You don’t have to fast with Muslims, but you are more than welcome to break fast with them. This is called Iftar, and joining in the communal meal is a great way to learn about and partake in Ramadan festivities. But remember, some may need to leave for Taraweeh, a long prayer held right after Isha’ (the last prayer of the day) during Ramadan so don’t overstay your welcome. You can also choose to donate to a cause during this month alongside Muslim colleagues who are paying Zakat.
  • You might not know exactly when it begins, but try to be flexible. Since Ramadan is determined by the lunar calendar, the dates vary every year. If your friends or coworkers need to be a little more flexible once it begins, try to be as accommodating as possible. It’s no caffeine time for some coffee addicts, so the beginning can be tough! Also, a rough guide is that Ramadan starts ten days earlier in the Gregorian calendar from when it happened the prior year.
  • You can extend Ramadan greetings, but don’t talk about how fasting will help you lose weight. Saying ‘Ramadan/Ramzan Mubarak’ or “Ramadan Kareem” to your friends and coworkers is a great way to acknowledge Ramadan and show your thoughtfulness. However, don’t liken it to a dieting fad: that’s not what the month is about.
  • Educate yourself, attend a workshop, ask big questions and look for big answers, check out useful online resources.

In general, being mindful and thoughtful during Ramadan when you are with Muslim friends or coworkers will go a long way so be sure to consider these points this month.