How to support your Muslim friends during Ramadan?

  1.  Know what it’s about

It is exhausting having to educate people all the time, especially things they can just google. Asking a friend what Ramadan means to them or why they fast are examples of insightful and thoughtful questions that you can ask a friend, but asking “What is Ramadan?” is plainly lazy. Google it! Your Muslim friends shouldn’t have to serve as an “Islam-dictionary”, show you care by making an effort. 

Additionally, misconceptions about Ramdan and islamophobia are particularly common during Ramadan. Learning about Ramadan so you are better prepared to be an ally by tackling prejudices against Muslims, can relieve your Muslim friends of a huge burden and represent great support as they fast and observe Ramdan (& in general). 

  1. Understand Ramadan (just like religion in general) is personal and individual

While you are encouraged to educate yourself, don’t assume everyone practices religion the same way – that everyone observes Ramadan the same way. After learning about Ramadan, either through your own search or through another Muslim acquaintance, you might feel the urge to make comparisons, assumption and maybe even pass judgement on how those around you observe Ramdan. Push past those urges and accept that religion is personal and individual and they may choose to fast and observe Ramadan differently. 

Additionally, people could have various reasons to not be fasting (e.g. periods, medical conditions)  – and they don’t owe you them. Asking someone why they aren’t fasting is invasive and can make someone feel uncomfortable.

  1. Understand that fasting during Ramadan is not a diet

“You must lose so much weight” or “You probably can’t wait till Iftar or Eid” 

First of all, commenting on someone’s weight is never the way to go. This comment is rooted in a fatphobic culture that is incredibly harmful and can be triggering for your Muslim friends with eating disorders.1 Yet, beyond the general insensitivity of these comments, it also reduces Ramadan to simply not eating and drinking rather than the time for personal reflection it is intended to be. Fasting during Ramadan is about faith and spirituality, not a diet. 

  1. Use common sense

You can eat! While it’s certainly kind of you to be mindful of your friends while they fast, nobody is expecting you to abstain from food. However, some of your Muslim friends might disagree and want you to avoid eating in front of them – if you have your doubts just ask. The point is that awkwardly attempting to not-so-subtely hide your food when your Muslim friends arrives, is uncomfortable for everyone involved. 

Another thing to use your common sense for are your expectations of your Muslim friends during Ramdan. Ramadan is a spiritual time filled with personal rituals and moments of reflection, it isn’t fair to expect of your Muslim friends that they are able to engage and participate in your social group in the same way as usual. Your Muslim friend might be quiter and more absent from social gatherings, might take extra time to reply to your messages and etc. Use your common sense and kindness towards your Muslim friends and respect their additional boundaries during Ramadan. 

  1. Don’t exclude your Muslim friends from your social groups (unless they ask you to) 

“Wait, you just told me that they might not want to participate in social gatherings” Yes, but the key word here is “might”. Your Muslim friends aren’t monolith! They are individuals that (as aforementioned) observe Ramadan personally and individually. If you are uncertain of their boundaries during Ramadan, ask them! 

Don’t just exclude your friend from a nice walk through the park because you assume they wouldn’t want to go because they’re fasting. That might be just what they need at the moment, or they could choose to observe the day further at home – regardless taking away the choices from your Muslim friends due to your assumption can be incredibly exclusionary. 

How can institutions support their Muslim employees and stakeholders during Ramadan (and beyond)? 

  1. Be flexible and fair with days off

In the Netherlands, Christian holidays are nationally recognized and are included in the statutory holidays. Meanwhile members from other religious groups must take extra steps to request days off to honor their religious holidays. Even so, there are still various strings attached. For instance, in Amsterdam school children can request up to 1 day per religious holiday.2 Which means that while a Christian student receives around 10 days off to celebrate Christmas, a Hindu student may only receive 1 (out of the 10 days of festivities) to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi3. Furthermore, people working must often take from their vacation days to observe their religious holidays and even provide proof that they practice their faith.4

As an institution, being flexible and fair with days off can help lessen the gap among your employees of different religious groups. Particularly during Ramadan, Muslim employees might need to accommodate their working hours and work load to complement their altered eating schedule, sleeping schedule and other rituals. While not everyone might need to take days off, being flexible with people taking longer breaks, coming in later, working from home or not wanting to participate in certain meetings or activities can be of great support. Additionally, providing employees with the opportunity to exchange Christian holidays with their own religious holidays (depending the possibilities within your type of organization) or simply giving these days off with “no strings attached” can create an environment that doesn’t put people at a disadvantage for not practicing Christianity.

  1. Provide quiet and adequate spaces for prayers.

People fasting during Ramadan might choose to pray various times a day. Therefore providing spaces that are specifically reserved for this purpose, that are quiet and have enough physical space, can support employees (or students/ consumers / stakeholders) that choose to come to work or can’t stay home. While of course a conference room reserved for the occasion would work, organizations can also opt to have a specific prayer room. Here are some things to keep in mind about prayers in the Islam faith5 :

  •  Men and Women pray in separate spaces or in separate zones within the same space
    Tip: Have more than one room, have a spacious room or enable reservations for the room.
  • Muslims pray facing the qibla
  • Muslims (generally) stand, kneel and/or sit during prayer
  • Muslims offer prayer up to the five allotted times a day
    Tip: prayer breaks could be very useful
  •  A person might need to wash different body parts before engaging in prayer
    Tip: include a sink or a small bathroom in the prayer room
  • A person might require a mat to pray
  1. Don’t make assumptions about how people observe Ramadan

As aforementioned, people may choose to observe Ramadan differently. Just like religion in general, how people observe Ramadan and fasting is a personal choice. Therefore avoid excluding Muslims from lunch lists because you assume they’re  fasting, always ask if they’d like to be included and don’t judge if they say yes.

Conversely, don’t assume that every person from a prominently Islamic country is Muslim by default or the other way around, that someone who isn’t from a prominently Islamic country couldn’t be Muslim. If you want to communicate that you are flexible and mindful of those observing Ramadan or would even like to invite those observing it to come to your for any leniency, do it in a more general way (e.g. during a general meeting or an office wide email), don’t target those that you assume “look like Muslims”.

PSA: Not every Muslim woman wears a hijab.6 

Sources

1 For Muslims With Eating Disorders, Ramadan Can Pose a Dangerous Choice

https://www.thecut.com/2016/06/muslims-eating-disorders-ramadan.html

2 Gemeente Amsterdam – religieuze feestdagen 

https://www.amsterdam.nl/sociaaldomein/onderwijs-leerplicht/leerplicht-scholen/religieuze/#:~:text=Op%20feestdagen%20van%20uw%20levensbeschouwing,Nederlandse%20grondwet%20erkende%20levensbeschouwelijke%20overtuigingen.&text=De%20school%20bepaalt%20wel%20zelf%20wanneer%20toetsen%20of%20examens%20kunnen%20worden%20ingehaald.

3Ganesh Chaturthi 2020: History, Importance and Rituals of Vinayaka Chavithi

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/events/ganesh-chaturthi-2019-history-importance-and-rituals-of-vinayaka-chavithi/articleshow/70877033.cms

4 Recht op vrije dagen tijdens islamitische feestdagen (NL) 

https://www.vanzijl-advocaten.nl/artikelen/arbeidsrecht-actueel/recht-op-vrije-dag-tijdens-islamitische-feestdag.php

5 How to perform salah 

https://muslimhands.org.uk/latest/2020/07/how-to-perform-salah

6 12 Absurd Things You Should Never Say to Muslim Women Who Don’t Wear Hijab

https://www.lemonsandluggage.com/never-say-muslim-women-who-dont-wear-hijab/