6 ways to support Muslim coworkers who are fasting during Ramadan

  • Millions of Muslims are currently observing Ramadan, a holy month during which observers fast from dawn to dusk.

  • To support your Muslim colleagues, don't be afraid to ask them questions to learn more.

  • At the same time, don't make things awkward by apologizing if you eat in front of them.

With the holy month of Ramadan underway, millions of Muslims around the world will spend daylight hours abstaining from eating and drinking (yes, even water).

The exact date that Ramadan begins depends on the interpretation of whether one follows the Islamic calendar or visibly sees the new moon. So in 2023, Ramadan began on either Wednesday, March 22 or Thursday, March 23 and will end after 30 days. The month is one of the five requirements or "pillars" of Islam, and Muslims observing Ramadan use the month to better focus on praying, reading the Quran, and becoming closer to their faith.

For many Muslims, Ramadan means abstaining from food and drink while at work. So, how can non-Muslim colleagues be supportive, while also not accidentally making a micro-aggression toward someone who is observing Ramadan?

Here's some poignant, personal advice from Reem Nasr, a Muslim woman in her 20s who has observed Ramadan while working in a corporate office, as well as from Ibrahim Hooper, the communications director at advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

1. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Many non-Muslims might not know a whole lot about Ramadan, Hooper says. He said some people mistakenly believe Muslims go the whole 30 days without eating, when in reality they eat when the sun's not up.

You might be embarrassed by the lack of knowledge, but most Muslims welcome questions from colleagues and friends. Being open about Ramadan can also help employees plan their meetings during the morning, when fasting Muslims have more energy.

"By and large, it's a period of time people look forward to every year despite the self-deprivation," Hooper added.

dates bread
Traditionally, Muslims break their fast with dates, in keeping with the practices of the Prophet Muhammad.Georg Wendt/picture alliance via Getty Images

2. While it's not necessary, managers can privately ask their direct reports if they would like any special accommodations.

Muslims don't expect any extra accommodation, but "it really feels nice and good to be recognized when people try to do something extra for you," said Nasr.

At one office where Nasr worked, a boss privately asked her if she needed any special accommodations while observing Ramadan. Nasr asked to be able to leave on time, at 5 pm, rather than staying late, which she habitually did. The gesture made her feel appreciated and recognized.

For those working remotely, it might even make giving your employee flexible work hours easier, Hooper said. Fasting Muslims lose energy as the day goes on, so employers could establish earlier work hours during Ramadan.

3. Wishing a coworker "Happy Ramadan" isn't offensive or inaccurate.

Most Muslims use the Arabic phrase "Ramadan Mubarak," which translates to "have a blessed Ramadan" or "happy Ramadan, to greet each other. The English translation "Happy Ramadan" works just fine.

You can also say "Ramadan Kareem," which means "have a generous Ramadan," according to USA Today. Some Muslims also call Ramadan "Ramzan," the Persian version of the word.

Ramadan Iftar
Typically, Iftar (or breaking of the fast) involves a large meal with extended family and friends.Hayam Adel/Reuters

4. If you notice a coworker isn't fasting, try not to publicly ask why.

Muslim women don't fast when they are on their periods — and since menstrual cycles don't make for the best office chatter, you might not want to publicly point out when a woman isn't fasting.

Plus, there are many other reasons why Muslims don't fast, like during illness or travel. If you notice a coworker who normally fasts but is abstaining, it's best not to nudge them unless they bring it up themselves.

5. Don't apologize for eating or drinking in front of a colleague observing Ramadan.

While you may think you're being considerate by not eating in front of your coworker, you could be doing more harm than good.

"It gets awkward when people apologize when they eat or drink around me. The whole point of the month is for me to do something for myself. It's supposed to be challenging, and it's supposed to be hard. I don't need anyone to feel guilty or awkward," Nasr said.

6. Don't make jokes about your colleague not having coffee or eating lunch.

Ramadan, Iftar
Fasting is just one part of Ramadan. Muslims use the holy month to become closer to their faith and their belief in God.Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

This one goes without saying, but even small quips can be very offensive.

"Be sensitive," Nasr said.


This story was originally published in April 2019. 

Read the original article on Business Insider