Ramadan etiquette: A guide to your Muslim neighbor’s holy month

Jessica Hill AP This Wednesday, July 20, 2011 photo shows personal trainer Mubarakah Ibrahim, right, as she watches client Mari … Continued

Jessica Hill


This Wednesday, July 20, 2011 photo shows personal trainer Mubarakah Ibrahim, right, as she watches client Mari Walker, left, run, during Ibrahim’s early morning boot camp class in New Haven, Conn. Ibrahim, who is Muslim, is planning on re-arranging her training schedule to mostly mornings during Ramadan when she has the most energy.

Contributors to AltMuslimah.com

In the next few weeks, you may come into work and find your co-worker taking a power nap at 9:30am. At break time, you’ll notice she is missing in the discussion about Harry Potter over at the water cooler. At the staff meeting, you will be shocked when she is offered coffee and cookies and
! By lunch time, your concern about her missing at the water cooler compels you to investigate the situation.

Then you remember what she had mentioned last week over a delicious Sushi lunch. Flooded with relief, you go up to her desk, and proclaim with much gusto, “Ramadan Mubarak (Moo-baa-rak)!” Ramadan’s Blessings to you!

The month of Ramadan is a happy occasion; it is the month that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, was revealed to our Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are called by their religion to celebrate the month by coming together in worship, fasting each day for thirty days from dawn until sunset.

While this may seem like a tremendous feat, consider this: Fasting while working is an even greater endeavor. Make it a little easier on your Muslim colleague by following a couple of simple rules:

The Greeting. The next time you find yourself in line for the copier with your Muslim colleague, feel free to wish him or her “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem” or simply “Happy Ramadan.” We absolutely love it when people acknowledge Ramadan and are happy about it.

Positive Reinforcement. Keep in mind that we’re fasting voluntarily and, actually, pretty joyously (despite the tired, sad look on our face). We’re not forced to fast. In fact, we wait for this month the whole year, so you don’t have to feel sorry for us. We are not trying to be rescued (other than by that ticking clock taking us closer to sunset!).

The Lunch Meeting. Most of us understand that life goes on, and so do lunch meetings, and if we are participating in them while fasting, don’t worry about eating in front of us. This is just part of the test. We appreciate your acknowledging our fast, but don’t feel the need to discuss it every time you show up in our line of sight holding food.

Just try not to eat smelly foods. . . and please ignore our stomach when it growls at your sandwich.

No Water. It’s true — we can’t drink water either. Again, this is part of the Ramadan test and our exercise of spiritual discipline. This is probably why you may not find your friend at the water cooler. Try switching the break time conversation to another location in the office. You should probably also let them skip their turn for the coffee run this time.

Halitosis. While God may tell us that the breath of the one fasting is like “fragrant musk” to Him, we know that you’re not God – and aren’t enjoying it. Understand why we’re standing a good foot away from you when speaking or simply using sign language to communicate.

Iftar Dinner. Consider holding a Ramadan Iftar dinner . Iftar is the Arabic word for the meal served at sunset when we break the fast (it’s literally our ‘breakfast’). This will be a nice gesture for Muslim coworkers and will give others the opportunity to learn about and partake in Ramadan festivities. Although there is no specific type of meal designated for iftars, it is is tradition to break the fast with a sweet and refreshing date before moving to a full-on dinner.

Fasting is not an excuse. Although energy levels might be low, the point of fasting is not to slack off from our other duties and responsibilities. We believe that we are rewarded for continuing to work and produce during our fasts. Fasting is not a reason to push meetings, clear schedules, or take a lighter load on projects.

That said – we don’t mind if you help work in a nap time for us!

Ramadan is a time for community and charity. There are iftar dinners held at mosques every night (you are welcome to join the fun – even if you’re not fasting!) and night time prayer vigils throughout the month. We give charity in abundance and make an extra effort to partake in community service. Throughout it all, we maintain an ambiance of joy and gratitude for all that God has blessed us with, and reflect on those in this world who have been given much less. This is a time for all of us–not just Muslims–to renew our spiritual intentions, increase our knowledge, and change ourselves for the better.


  • YEAL9

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy” named Gabriel. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of this legend. Said legend is also the major source of Islamic violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for non-believers.

  • joe_allen_doty

    The Gabriel of the Bible is an angel. When an angel is mentioned in the Scriptures, wings are not. Cherubs have wings; but, they are NOT classified as angels in the Bible. Every time a person saw an angel, the person thought the person was an adult male human being.

  • joe_allen_doty

    Eating at night and not eating during daylight isn’t really fasting. As far as I know, I don’t have any Muslim neighbors in the retirement community complex where I live.

  • Sajanas

    I really feel bad for people trying to keep Ramadan prohibitions on drinking water during this 100 degree heat wave on the East Coast, though I suppose that is always a problem in the Middle East. I’m all for having a spiritual journey, but this one seems a little dangerous, especially if you have to work outside.

  • rentianxiang

    This type of fasting is simply unhealthy. It has even been linked to birth defects when women engage in the fast when they don’t realize they are pregnant. To each his own, and if someone wants to engage in some ritual then fine but noone should expect any special treatment simply because they choose to believe in one religion or the other. And, for the record, ramadan is not “a time for all of us-not just Muslims-to renew our spiritual intentions etc”. No religion has the right to define such times for people that don’t follow their beliefs. For many non-Muslims in Muslim countries, ramadan is a time to be invconvenienced by being forced to follow the rituals of a religion they don’t believe in.

  • YEAL9

    It is called the Angelic Con (with or without wings)

    Joe Smith had his “horn-blowing” Moroni.

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tin-kerbell” got around). (Some say Gabe was gay)

    Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented.

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these “pretty thingies” to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

  • AnneElk

    I find it really sad that all anyone can do is be negative and nasty about such a light-hearted and welcoming article.

    Thank you, Asma and Shazia. Ramadan Mubarak!

  • Allsmiles17

    For all of you Non Muslims who think this is unhealthy, think again. I know so many people who had horrible addictions and when they fasted this month it changed them for the better. Obviously if your pregnant you are not allowed to fast. its not that bad. It purify s you and helps your digestive. I’m not going to lie its hard to WORTH IT. It helps me grow as a better person every year. and if you haven’t done it you have no right to criticize it, judge it or even act like you know anything about it

  • Allsmiles17

    That’s why its recommended to drink plenty of water when your not fasting and if conditions are horrible, people are excused from fasting

  • Egy_Copt

    Why would anyone want to care about their rituals when they always show complete disrespect to everyone else’s beliefs and rituals?

  • abrahamhab1

    The author says; “Fasting (Ramadan) is not an excuse.”

    My personal experience living once in a Muslim society (Kuwait), Ramadan was a big excuse for many things. For not hauling a refrigerator to a second floor, to sleeping in the classroom, to being grumpy, to chiding me for smoking in my office, to a public lashing of a Lebanese guy who was seen eating. It was also the excuse to stay up all night and “celebrate”, each according to his heart’s desire.

  • crazy_kafir

    Who cares, as long as they keep their holidays and traditions to themselves and don’t force them on non-believers. Such is the case in Islamic countries where kuffars are expected to also expected to observe Ramadamn.

    Anyways this is nothing. During Ramadamn they pig-out before sunrise and then have another pig-out after sunset. Big deal.

  • crazy_kafir

    Who cares as long as they keep their traditions to themselves and don’t force them on non-believers as is the case in Islamic countries where kafirs are forced to observe Ramadamn. Probably years from now when the Muslim population has swelled the same thing will occur here in the US.

    Besides during Ramadamn many Muslims will pig-out before sunrise and then have another pig-out after sunset. What’s so remarkable or disciplined about that?

  • haveaheart

    When you say that “no one should expect any special treatment simpy because they choose to believe in one religion or the other,” may we assume that you include Christianity? After all, the only religious holiday for which the government shuts down and almost all businesses close is Christmas.

    Isn’t this a spot-on illustration of people being “inconvenienced by being forced to follow the rituals of a religion they don’t believe in”?

    Why should Christmas have more of an impact on society than any other religious holiday?

  • mossheg

    We Muslims care. Islam is not just any ordinary religion, it is that with a foundation of peace and trust. No one forces anything upon anyone, but we all need to learn to coexist with each other in this society.

    In Ramadan** we do not “pig out.” We prepare ourselves with a small, light meal, and hydrate ourselves so we can engage in daily activities.

    Ramadan is not about the hunger or thirst. Fasting is about self control, thankfulness, and good deeds. good habits are made, bad habits are broken, and you learn to appreciate that you at least have something to break your fast on. It serves as the best reminder, not discipline, how many things you take for granted every day. Ramadan is one of the five requirements of Islam, but is not enforced upon any one, as it is entirely voluntary.

    I hope you can consider this and change your insight into the life of Islam, instead of attacking something you did not know.

  • Secular1

    This past Saturday, I had posted on this blog and my posting has disappeared. Washington Post ought to invest in better software to keep such incidents from happening. This wasn’t the first time and I am certain it is not the last time. So much for my whining and griping.

    Coming to the much vaunted fasting by muslims during this month is silly. First of all eating to the gills between sunset & sunrise and not consuming anything between sunrise and sunset is really not such a big deal. That is a maximum of 12 – 13 hours without food, with belly full of everything just before that. If this were that impressive then in India some of the so called pious and stringent Hindus, do not eat 6 days of the lunar month – 5th, & 11th day after full/new moon and the full/new moon days. That is more than 20% of the days. By the way they generally do not eat anything after the previous day’s supper, until the following day’s breakfast which works out to be over 36 hours at a stretch. I am as impressed with these fastings, as I am impressed by the folks who do not cross the path of a black cat for half hour. But you Secular, cat crossing is superstition. Of course it is, I agree – so is this fasting ritual.

    The thing that bugs me that the Hindus, the Cat non-crossers do not impose their superstition on the rest of us nor they brag about it constantly. If I were in one of those Dau-ul-Islam paradises, I would be flogged publicly, if I was caught having a late breakfast of my favorite – Ham & Eggs with a few slices of crisp bacon. So my advise to Asma and all keep your superstitions to yourself, don’t brag about them. And this nonsense about being good for health extra is just that whole bunch of nonsense. don’t shove the damn thing down our throats.

  • Secular1

    Mossheg, you are talking from your south end, when you are heade north all you fours. Ask any infedel living in any of your 47 Dar-ul-islams outside of them, whether they are forced or not. your religion is one of the thousands that existed or existed, it is superstitious..

  • Secular1

    Read my post above. Have you ever lived or done any other religious rituals & superstition? Then per your admonition above, I hope you do not criticize any other religion. That said, we are not obliged to follow your advise. You claimed “hink again. I know so many people who had horrible addictions and when they fasted this month it changed them for the better.” Oh! really? Then by your claim, there should be no addicts in all your 47 paradises, as every one is forced to observe, over there, anyway.

  • Secular1

    Curious minds want to know when did the sky daddy create all these angles, along with flora & fauna on day what?

  • thecat7

    So sad that there’s so much hate in these comments. I wish all the Muslims out there a great Ramadan. I hope you find true spiritual awakening during this time, and remember the teachings of your Prophet–giving to the poor, peacefulness, all things in moderation, love for your fellow man, and worship of the higher power.

  • Sajanas

    I think the big problem is that, while the various rules give you permission, I don’t always see other Muslim’s doing so. You just have to look back a year or two to see Pakistani’s refusing to give food to refugees from floods because it was Ramadan. While you get people fasting for Lent, I don’t often hear about it as something that is obligatory, and that’s my main problem with Ramadan, that you don’t always have an easy way to opt out.

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