Ramadan kareem, everyone!
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness. Out of the 7 billion people in the world, 22% (a whopping 1.6 billion) are fasting from su up to sundown everyday for an entire month.
While ramadan in the Philippines isn't as big a deal as it was when I was growing up in the Middle East, this is the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, to commemorate the first revelation of the Qur'an to Muhammad.
So what if, like myself, you're not a Muslim, but being a caring, considerate person, would like to support your Muslim brothers and sisters by being culturally aware of what you should and shouldn't do around them. Here are 5 dos and don'ts that I learned growing up surrounded by Muslims:
1. Stop continuously asking if it's ok to eat around a Muslim.
Yes, you can totally eat around Muslims during ramadan. Just because they have chosen to abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours doesn't mean that you shouldn't. But continuously asking their permission to have lunch or enjoy a snack will get on anyone's hungry, raw nerves.
2. Don't take offense if they cover their mouths when talking to you.
One word: Halitosis. I'm serious. You try not eating or drinking anything for an entire day. It's totally normal to see conversations happening with people standing a foot away from each other during the period - breath mints are still a type of food.
3. Do join in for Iftar.
Iftar is the breaking of the fast after sundown, and when I was growing up, they were also a fantastic excuse to party! Malls would be open 'til 3 o'clock in the morning and the restaurants would be full. Traditionally, dates are the first thing eaten to break the fast, followed by juice or jallab — a sweet drink made from dates, rose water and carob that is usually served with floating pine nuts and raisins. If you know of a Muslim friend who is currently fasting, gifting him Medjool Dates to share with the rest of the family would be considered very thoughtful.
4. Don't compare fasting to going on a diet.
You may think fasting in order to lose a few pounds is a good thing, but Ramadan isn't about that, obvs. Plus, one of Ramadan's side effects is actually putting on the pounds after all that post-sundown overeating! How would you feel if a Muslim came up to you during lent and said something insensitive like, "I should abstain from meat, too. My clothes are starting to feel snug on me." You won't believe how often I hear people say this, so I'm putting it out there.
5. Do greet them - it isn't a "War on Christmas"
I've heard some pretty silly things after moving to this predominantly Catholic country whenever Ramadan comes around, more out of ignorance than fear. Greeting your Muslim brothers and sisters doesn't equate you converting to Islam. Say "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" which means blessed or generous Ramadan. Hey, they greet you a Merry Christmas regardless of their faith, you should do the same.
And after the 30 days of fasting is over, don't forget to celebrate their struggle and greet them with a joyful, "Eid Mubarak," which means blessed celebration.
In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God, much like how us Christians go through the Lent. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations such as anger, cursing, and greed, so being mindful of what they're going through and their reasons behind it will hopefully also make you a little more understanding while they observe Ramadan.