Diversity is the spice of life, and one of the most beautiful parts of the human experience is the fact that we all share this earth, yet we all have different backgrounds, stories and outlooks. That is a beautiful thing, and navigating these relationships successfully is crucial. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that you show your appreciation for cultures that you may not know too much about without being disrespectful.
Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and it is one of the most sacred times in Islam. During this period, Muslims do not eat or drink during the day, and they break their fast each night. Here are five things that you can do to be more culturally aware for your Muslim friends this Ramadan.
Be conscious of how you talk about food.
While your Muslim friend is observing Ramadan, it is imperative that you are sensitive to their needs and that you try to be polite and conscious. It would come across as tone-deaf and disrespectful to flaunt the food you’re eating in front of them or to offer them food as a joke. Be respectful during this sacred time — wait for them to inform you of when they plan on breaking their fast for the day, and then proceed to offer them food at the suggested time.
Do not be showy about being considerate.
While your kindness and consideration would be greatly appreciated, it would only come across as rude if you make a spectacle out of being conscious not to eat in front of them. Just because your friend is observing the requirements of their fast does not mean they are presenting you with an opportunity to make it about yourself.
Do not make any rude remarks.
Ignorance often manifests itself in many forms, and one of these forms is through “lighthearted” jokes and seemingly “harmless” statements. Refrain from making negative comments about Ramadan or joking about how you could never last if you were Muslim. Insensitive jokes like these can feed into negative stereotypes about the religion, and they can give the impression that you view Islam as an after-school activity that people can sign up for or unsubscribe from when it gets too tough. Remember that this is a lifelong commitment for your Muslim friend.
Do not guilt them.
There are a few reasons why your Muslim loved one may not be fasting during Ramadan, as Islam makes exceptions in certain cases, such as when a person is traveling or ill. If you notice this, it is never a good idea to ask them why they aren’t fasting when other people are. Wait for them to feel comfortable enough to come to you with their reasons, and be content with the fact that they might not feel comfortable doing that at all. Rest easy in knowing that it’s ultimately their business and not yours.
Do not trivialize their fast.
Make sure that you’re careful not to link their fast to a fad diet or reduce it to simply being a great way to lose weight. To your friend, this is a deep and highly important religious practice, and they sacrifice their time, appetite and energy because they are committed to their faith. It would be offensive to commend them on how much weight they have lost or how much weight they may potentially lose. In addition, you may never know if your friend has a healthy relationship with their body or not, and such comments may trigger them.
Ramadan is a period of reflection, kindness and all-round humility. Make sure that you treat it as such for the sake of the people who matter the most to you and for the sake of humanity. Observing and respecting beliefs, traditions and practices that are foreign to you is a stepping stone to knowing more about yourself, the people you love and the world in general. Remember that you don’t get to decide what your friends should not feel sensitive about, if they communicate their discomfort to you.