7 things non-Muslims need to know about Ramadan

Dos and don'ts during the month of Ramadan

If you live in a predominantly Muslim country or have Muslim friends, you’ll no doubt be aware of Ramadan. But as a non-Muslim, what do you need to take into consideration during this month? We’ve got you covered with this handy guide, which will tell you everything you need to know about Ramadan as a non-Muslim.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is a 30-day fasting period observed by Muslims around the world during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. During this time Muslims will be abstaining from drinking, eating and showing affection from dawn until dusk.  The aim of Ramadan is for Muslims to spiritually cleanse themselves, improve their sense of self-control and become more charitable. After these 30 days it’s the start of the Eid al-Fitr festival, when Muslims will celebrate the end of Ramadan with feasts, charitable donations and parties over a period of three days.

When is Ramadan?

It’s not much use learning how you should behave as a non-Muslim during Ramadan if you don’t even know when it is. So what exactly does the ninth month of the Muslim calendar mean? The Muslim calendar is a lunar based one, so the start of Ramadan fluctuates from year to year. However, even if you don’t have a clue when Ramadan is, you’ll soon be aware when the build-up starts. During this period you’ll notice shops advertising Ramadan promotions, businesses preparing to change their hours, and even an increase in the sale of dates (more on that later).

Be discreet in public

As a non-Muslim, your number one consideration during Ramadan should be how discreet you are during the day. During daylight hours you should abstain from eating, drinking or even chewing gum in public. If you think about it, this is an understandable request – how would you feel if you were trying not to eat and someone started stuffing their face in front of you? This isn’t really as bad as it sounds though, as many restaurants will have separate rooms or sections where you can eat out of sight of fasting Muslims.

Be polite and encouraging

Although Muslims do not expect you to involve yourself in Ramadan, a bit of positive re-enforcement can go a long way. Feel free to use traditional greetings such as ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ (have a blessed Ramadan) or ‘Ramadan Kareem’ (happy Ramadan) when you are conversing with Muslim friends or colleagues. You can also offer them encouragement if they are lagging at any stage due to fasting, and let them know that you respect and admire the dedication Ramadan demands of them.

Limit public affection

One of the biggest Ramadan goals for Muslims is to achieve a calm and pure mind-set. How are they going to do that if you are distracting them by smooching up a storm in the middle of the street? Over the top displays of public affection are not encouraged, and you also need to wear appropriately modest clothing. Even if it’s hot, you need to be covered up as much as is reasonably possible – you are certainly not going to be popular if you walk around in a bikini.

Have a flexible schedule

During Ramadan you may as well throw your regular schedule out the window. Muslims are not expected to work for as many hours as usual during Ramadan, so you can expect the usual rush hour times to change completely. Schools also regularly closed early to allow children to return home to their families. Around the time it starts to get dark prepare for a huge surge in traffic and use of public transport, as Muslims will be heading home en masse to enjoy Iftar; the fast-breaking meal.

Iftar meals

Even as a non-Muslim, you can still expect to be invited to an Iftar meal by your Muslim friends. This is the post-sundown meal enjoyed by Muslims every evening during Ramadan to break their fast for the day. This meal is traditionally started with the eating of three dates (one of the many health benefits of Ramadan) followed up by some energy-filled food to recover from the day of fasting. It can actually be considered rude to turn down an invitation to an Iftar meal, so you should do your best to attend.

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