Respecting Ramadan: a guide for non-Muslims
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when healthy Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset as a mark of their submission to God’s will.
It is one of the basic five tenants of the Islamic faith but there is a lot more to it than just a rumbling belly. Fasting is to abstain. Not just from eating and drinking, but from any negative behaviour like losing your temper, unnecessary extravagance and pride. Can you imagine being stuck in UAE traffic and remaining calm? That takes control.
For Muslims, then, it is a period of prayer, self-reflection and resolving to be a better person. For non-Muslims living in the region, Ramadan can sometimes confuse as much as fascinate, but as a practicing Muslim, it is important that people from all cultures understand what it is about.
So, with help from Sanaa Alladin and Saqib Moosa, here are my tips for embracing Ramadan… or at least respecting it.
It’d be nice if you…
1. Showed some common courtesy
While this may seem obvious, and the government has rules against eating, drinking or smoking in public, not everyone is aware that many cafes and restaurants in the Emirates are closed during fasting hours. Some places still do delivery and bringing your lunch to the office is perfectly fine, but it’s welcomed if meals or cigarettes aren’t brazenly consumed in front fasting colleagues.
2. Didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening at all
Muslims take Ramadan as an opportunity for spiritual rejuvenation and that sentiment is echoed in mosques and homes as well as out in public. So if you’re rocking out to Avicii or Calvin Harris on Sheikh Zayed Road or at home, can you keep those windows closed? Thanks.
3. Make an effort to understand
Things are a little more conservative during the holy month. While there aren’t many hard-and-fast rules, little things like minding your language, and avoiding excessively short, revealing or transparent clothing while out during the day are always much appreciated.
It’d be even nicer if you…
1. Ask questions
In the UAE, the Ramadan joy is contagious, and everyone is all too keen to share it. In our experience, the best way to learn is to ask. Get your friends who are observing the fast to share the history and stories with you. If you’re one of those who takes their storytelling seriously, ask the grandparents.
2. Ask smart questions
The answer to the question “not even water?” doesn’t change no matter how many times the look of shock comes over you.
3. Get those good deeds going
Volunteer and charity work is highly encouraged among Muslims during the month. Not just as a way of helping others, but also to remind themselves of the things they should be grateful for. Many charities organise activities specifically for Ramadan, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. Why not score a few karma points? Get your friends or colleagues together and make a weekend of it.
4. Accept an iftar invitation
Another thing Ramadan is (ironically) famous for is food, and while restaurants and hotels have a range of Ramadan specials lined up, you can be sure that your Muslim friends will be hosting their fair share of suhoor and iftar parties. Accepting an invitation is always respectful; you could even really get into the spirit of things and host your own. Iftar potluck, anyone?
5. Try it for yourself
Possibly the best way to truly experience what Ramadan is all about is to try it for yourself, maybe try fast for a day or two. You may discover something new about yourself, get a better idea of the Muslim culture or even want to carry on with it. It’s not every day you get a whole month dedicated to spiritual TLC.