It’s already Day 5 and the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan! Fridays are very special for Muslims. For one thing, Muslims believe that the very first man – Adam – was created on a Friday. Friday is also the Islamic community worship day; the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Sunday if you will. Muslims attend congregational prayers, listen to sermons, give charity and wish each other ‘Jummah Mubarak’, basically: “have a blessed Friday”.
Many people know Friday is important to the Muslim community and hence, make accommodation when scheduling Friday meetings for example. But how do you support your Muslim colleagues, friends or family members during the month of Ramadan, beyond saying “Ramadan Mubarak” (have a blessed Ramadan) or joining the fast? Here are some simple, but meaningful ways you can do so especially if you work or live in religiously diverse contexts:
1. Be considerate when scheduling meetings and other events during Ramadan.
This might seem like nothing, but it goes a long way. I can’t count the number of times I have had to show up for a long, drawn-out meeting during Ramadan. Granted, Muslims are expected to maintain responsibilities throughout Ramadan and cautioned against being lazy, but the reality is our bodies are on a different rhythm, and sometimes even clock, during Ramadan. The last 10 days of Ramadan are a particularly trying time since many Muslims stay up all night praying and meditating. In Muslim majority countries like Tunisia and Senegal, some companies actually have a half-day policy in recognition of the fast. By being considerate of your Muslim colleagues and workers observing the fast, you show support and respect. Additionally, you ensure productivity as they are more likely to be active participants of the meetings or events you do schedule.
As guidance, try to schedule meetings in the morning to early afternoon when many Muslims still have energy from the dawn meal (suhoor) and preferably not at a restaurant or food joint. By midday to late afternoon or early evening, our energy levels tend to dip. If you do need to schedule meetings in the afternoon or early evening, try to keep them short and to the point so your colleagues can prepare to break the fast at sunset. An alternative is to schedule meetings after the iftar meal when Muslims break the fast. Better still, have them join the meeting virtually via phone call or Skype. Again, try not to organise meetings that revolve around food and drink – something easier said than done, especially in countries like Ghana where most social events revolve around food. Again, being considerate when scheduling meetings and events will not only help you build a tolerant workplace culture, but will also help enhance productivity of your Muslim colleagues. I can assure you that your Muslim colleagues will appreciate this very simple gesture. I know I certainly would.
2. Don’t feel guilty about eating or drinking in front of Muslims – or guilt-trip us for not joining you.
A big part of the Ramadan fast is abstaining from food, drink and water during daylight hours. Observing Muslims know this and we prepare our minds and bodies to do exactly that. We make an intention each day to adhere to the fast despite urges to do otherwise. Unless a Muslim adult is absent-minded (forgetful) or not fully intent on observing the fast, we generally know how to restrain ourselves. Please don’t make it weird for us by making us feel guilty for not accepting your offering of water, food or drink when we happen to visit or see you. This might sound curious, but also, please don’t tell us how bad you feel for eating or drinking in front of us. We know, and we would rather save the energy we have than use it to console you on something you really don’t need to be apologising for. If anything, you’re helping us test those self-restraint muscles we’re building.
3. Don’t intentionally taunt, tempt, or test Muslims (with food) during Ramadan – offer a pack to go.
That said, please don’t make it your mission to see how “observant” or otherwise Muslims are. As a junior high school student, I used to eat with two or three other classmates. We would each bring lunch and share with one another. As a rule, I always ask what meat is part of a meal, since Muslims don’t eat pork, ham or bacon (and its products). On one such occasion, my classmate assured me the meat her mother had prepared was not pork, but beef. I took one bite and it tasted strange, so I stopped. I got home and was seriously sick – it was only after prodding from a teacher that she confessed that it was indeed pork and she had wanted to “see what would happen”.
Of course, this is a bit of an extreme example and we were both children, but the point is, please don’t test your Muslim friends with food or anything else for that matter. Again, we generally know how to restrain ourselves. But for some Muslims, fasting from food and drink is easy – for others not so much. A hungry (wo)man is an angry (wo)man, they say. For some, it’s easy to remain patient and calm when you are hungry and people anger you, for others not so much.
Taunting, testing or tempting a person observing a fast is not just childish; it is inconsiderate and disrespectful. Instead, I would say, be the person who will intervene when you see a situation escalating – calm people down. If you’re hosting an event with food, consider making takeaway packs available for Muslim guests – especially if it is a paid event. It may be hard to control food posts on your social media timelines – and honestly, that onus lies more on the person observing the fast – but you can definitely help make things easier in your in-person interactions with Muslims observing fast. Again, it may not seem like much, but it really does go a long way in offering genuine support.
4. Consider sponsoring an iftar or share your meal with fasting Muslims (instead of asking for an invite to Eid, the end-of-fast feast).
So, I’ll be honest. This was going to be the first suggestion on how we can better support Muslim friends and colleagues observing Ramadan. But the spirit of Ramadan moved me, so it is suggestion four.
“Oh, so you are fasting. Remember to invite me to the feast (Eid)”. This by far has been the most consistent response from non-Muslims whenever Ramadan rolls in. In fact, the same thing happened this year, when I was counting down to Ramadan and even after I shared my article on what Ramadan entails. I know a lot of it is actually in jest, fun and games, but it kind of gets old. Why? Because most Muslims are thinking about the hurdles and spiritual challenge they are about to undertake – they literally have to earn the feast. Totally different wavelength. Not to mention the fact that Muslims always seem to be extending invitations to feast during religious occasions; we hardly get an invitation and it can feel quite one-sided by way of inter-faith respect and tolerance.
There’s ample opportunity for non-Muslims to support and stand in solidarity with observing Muslims beyond joining them in the fast. Invite them to iftar (break fast) or dinner on your dime or at your place. Have a neighbour who has children; you can bring a dish over so they don’t have to cook. Consider providing food or clothes for the needy or vulnerable (orphans, impoverished, and so on). Have an employee who is hard-up? Buy them basic items to start and break their fast with: dates, tea, milo, bread, tinned milk, sugar, water, and fruits always come in handy. Or quite simply, you can offer water to a fasting person if you happen to be caught up past sunset together. Again, none of this is an Islamic requirement, it’s just my imagination wondering what if and trying to come up with ideas around how we jumpstart two-way compassion and tolerance in religiously diverse countries like Ghana. It’s already happening in other parts of the world – like this Christian man in the UAE who organises iftar and feeds 700 observing Muslims a day (that’s over 20,000 people throughout Ramadan) , or this Cathedral which hosted an iftar in London, there’s also this Irish hotel that prepared an entire breakfast buffet for the only Muslim guest to have before fasting. I remember similar stories from living in Senegal. Why not Ghana and/or elsewhere? As one person put it, “it’s the human thing to do”. If you do decide to organise an iftar or feed a fasting person, this quote from Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) may be of interest: “Whoever feeds a fasting person will have a reward like that of the fasting person, without any reduction in his reward.” (Tirmidhi). InshAllah, you will get the full blessings of your efforts.
5. Join the Ramadan spirit of giving charity.
Giving charity is one of the principles upon which Islam is founded and doing so is encouraged all year round. Ramadan is a particularly important period for charity because the essence of Ramadan involves recognising the blessings one has and showing gratitude by supporting those who are in need or have less. There are specific requirements spelt out for Muslims, but for non-Muslims, Ramadan is an excellent time to offer your support. For one thing, many Muslims and mosques organise fundraising drives in their various communities, like Circumspecte’s 2014 Ramadan Fundraiser. But if you don’t know of one, you can also offer a donation to an established organisation like UK-based Muslim Aid which focuses its efforts on places with the greatest need, or Islamic Appeal which focuses on development projects. One of the great things about Muslim Aid is that you can specify which cause or geographic region you would like your donation to support. In previous years for instance, I would make a donation and specify that it go to a conflict or natural disaster affected area like Syria. Another I have just come across – but never used – is the South-Africa based Africa Muslims Agency. They currently have a number of donation drives underway including one supporting survivors of the floods in Mozambique and Malawi. If you are unsure about the above, but would like to donate, leave a comment or Facebook me and God-willing we will figure something out.
6. Send well-wishes to your Muslim customers and clients, and offer Ramadan discounts or specials.
I’ve seen this happen in majority Muslim countries like Senegal and more religiously diverse African countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria. The discounts or special Ramadan packages are usually for consumer products like milk, sugar, cooking oil, dates, rice, millet flour, oats, fruits and so on. I’m willing to bet sales of such products go up during Ramadan, especially considering many mosques and observers organise community iftars for many people. I’ve mentioned it to a number of business owners in person, but I’m putting it out there. This is a HUGE business and corporate social responsibility opportunity which so far remains untapped in Ghana. Help make it easy for people to join the Ramadan spirit of giving. At the very minimum, try to recognise your Muslim customers and clients by sending a simple “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak” (read about the difference here).
7. Have a conversation with a Muslim. Try not to judge “Ramadan Muslims”.
I had this conversation on Facebook about a week ago with someone questioning the “Muslim-ness” of some Muslims who appear more practicing – not going clubbing, wearing hijab or modest dress, etc – during Ramadan. The question of “Ramadan only Muslims” is one that has come across my timeline in one way or another each year, and to be honest, one I probably helped fuel myself in the past. Not to mention the fact that not all Muslims observe the fast for any number of reasons – being sick, being pregnant or breastfeeding, elderly feeling too weak, needing to take medicines, managing a health situation which requires a specific lifestyle, women being on their period, travellers switching time zones. And yes, there are exceptions encoded into Islamic practice regarding Ramadan and fasting. To a degree, calling people out on how “Muslim”, observant or otherwise you think they are borders on judgment and can actually be a deterrent for someone sincerely wanting to be a better Muslim or person during Ramadan.
I believe our spiritual journeys are personal – a matter between us and our Creator. And yes, there are public dimensions to it, but at the end of the day, the only One who knows is Allah. He sees intent, while we do not. For this, if nothing at all, we need to be humble in our assertions about “who a muslim is or isn’t”. Ramadan is precisely about ‘returning’ to Allah and reigniting our connection with our Maker. And that implies we are not perfect – I know I’m not. My understanding and practice of Islam is in ebbs and flows. It will be more useful to have conversations, explore the significance of Ramadan practices, discuss ideas and principles, than simply judging people based on what we see on the outside. In Islam, intention supersedes everything. For those who don’t actually know any Muslims or Islam, Ramadan is an opportunity to have an honest conversation with a Muslim. Despite what the media portrays, the majority of us are not out to kill you. Reach out to genuinely learn.
Thank you for reading till the end! I really wanted to give a thorough explanation of some of these ideas since many of us seem not to know. Have other ideas or suggestions? Leave a comment below. Found this useful? Share with a family member, friend, or colleague. May we all enjoy the blessings of this auspicious month of Ramadan! Salam (Peace).
Written by Jemila Abdulai and originally published on Circumspecte.com. Follow her Ramadan insights on Twitter.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.