The Do's and Don'ts for Non-Muslims During Ramadan
By Layla Zbinden
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year in Islam. It is the 9th month of the Islamic/lunar calendar, and moves back 10-11 days each year since the lunar calendar is about 10-11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Muslims who observe Ramadan fast (no food or drink) from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. It starts on a new moon and continues for one full lunar cycle. As with new moons, this month brings a period of setting new intentions, new beginnings, and cleansing. With dedication, self-discipline, and honest intention of heart, the sins of your past are forgiven. Ramadan is a period of intense self-reflection, heightened spirituality, and a strengthening of one’s relationship to Allah. After the month of Ramadan, we celebrate with one of our major holidays, Eid al-Fitr or “Festival of the Breaking of Fast” where we come together with family and our communities and exchange gifts, eat, pray and play! Here are some basic Do’s and Don’ts for non-Muslims during Ramadan, and before you ask, no, not even water.
Don’t make comments about wanting to do Ramadan to lose weight! Ramadan is not about weight loss or dieting. It is about self-discipline, gaining spiritual enlightenment and insight, deliberately breaking bad habits, and submitting to Allah. We do not fast to lose weight.
Don’t tell Muslims that fasting is “dangerous”. Muslims have been fasting for hundreds of years, since Islam was founded in 610 AD. People who are pregnant, menstruating, nursing, young, old, traveling, or sick (this includes mental illnesses as well) are not required to fast. However, fasting is a personal and spiritual decision, so if you see someone who falls into one or more of these categories fasting, do not tell them how they should be practicing their faith. That is between them and Allah.
Don’t take it personally if we don’t grab morning coffee or go to lunch with you. And, if we do go, don’t apologize or project guilt for eating/drinking in front of us! It’s annoying and erases our autonomies.
Don’t say that Islam is patriarchal because people who are menstruating are not allowed to fast. This is a common misconception and is very white-feminist-y. People who are menstruating are not required to fast. There are some interpretations explaining that menstruating bodies are at their holiest already. There are others saying that the point of Ramadan is to not put undue burdens on your body and like the old, sick, pregnant, nursing and traveling, a menstruating body needs extra nourishment and rest.
Don’t strip the spirituality away from Ramadan. For some of us growing up in the West, we found it easier to explain Ramadan as being meant to teach us what it is like to be poor, but this is incorrect, as poor people fast as well. The pull to divorce of Ramadan from its religious and spiritual roots is a sneaky colonization creeping in, as this is often a more palatable explanation for whites and non-Muslims. Be sure, Ramadan is a spiritual month, it is religious.
Don’t think that big companies making Suhoor ads (MAC I’m looking at you) or recognizing Ramadan as a niche market is our goal. The inclusion of our practices in mainstream media that still upholds capitalism, ableism, racism, and gendered hierarchies is not what we want.
Do be excited for your Muslim friends! Ramadan is often something that Muslims look forward to, it is a time where we feel extra connected to Muslims around the world, it is something that brings us great joy and fulfillment, it cleanses our souls, and it reminds us that we are part of something larger than the individual.
Do be supportive of your Muslim friends, for some, Ramadan is really difficult, and is not something they look forward to. For some, it can be a really isolating time, especially for folx who do not have access to a Muslim community or Mosque. For some, it can be a really triggering month – regardless of people’s feelings about Ramadan, or how people choose to practice, just having folx around who are supportive and somewhat knowledgeable can make the entire journey.
Do celebrate Iftar (or the breaking of fast at sunset) with us! We love any excuse for a party and celebrating with friends at sunset is always the highlight of the day. We like to break fast with a glass of water and dates, then dive into a delicious meal. Make dinner plans with us☺
Do be patient with your hangry friends, especially in the first few days. We are adjusting to a major lifestyle change, and our bodies need patience as we adjust. Just like you, we go through caffeine withdrawal, nicotine withdrawal, sugar withdrawal, etc. This is part of the cleansing process.
Do be understanding of any Muslims in your workplace, and work with us to adjust our schedules to best fit with Ramadan (i.e. if your Muslim co-worker has a closing shift, offer to trade with them so that they can have a proper Iftar at night instead of working through it. If your job involves physical exertion, give Muslims in your surroundings the less physically intensive tasks, our bodies are running on lower reservoirs of energy than usual. If you have a night class, let Muslims – and really everyone – eat in class.) These little things can make us feel seen, especially in the West, whereas back home, everything adapts to accommodate us (restaurants, doctor’s offices, cafes, etc.) It can feel really isolating in the West. These accommodations make a huge difference.
Layla will start their PhD in American Studies and Ethnicities at the University of Southern California inshallah August 2019, where they will continue to explore the various ways that technologies of state surveillance ultimately seeks to control communities of color, and what this means for the futures of activism and liberatory potentials of technologies of the state. Their desire to crip and queer the very technologies that surveil, murder, and disappear Arabs, Muslims, Black, Indigenous and other communities’ stems from a deep investment in decolonial feminist, queer of color, and disability studies frameworks. Methodologies – the frameworks of how and why we create the knowledge that we do, of which knowledges we uphold and why –is an integral component to Layla’s academic writing and the work they do. They seek to push past conventional understandings of what can and cannot count as academic writing, often integrating raw prose and tapping into visceral affective responses as modes of learning, and unlearning. Layla’s work, their pedagogy and the essence of their projects (academicpersonalpolitical, as these all intersect) is fundamentally rooted in a transnational, decolonial, and (Arab) Feminist frameworks, ultimately rooted in material resistance.