Most of the Muslim world starts fasting tomorrow (it varies due to moon sightings done in each country). Having been raised a Catholic, I can understand how non-Muslims are unsure how to interact with Muslim friends and colleagues for this entire month. So here are a few pointers:
1. Ramadhan (or Ramadan) is actually the name of a month. The Muslim calendar, which is lunar-based, has Arabic names for the months and fasting falls on this particular month.
2. Two simple ways of greeting Muslims are: ‘Ramadan Mubarak’, which simply means ‘Blessed Ramadan’ or ‘Ramadan Kareem’, which translates to ‘Generous Ramadan’. (‘Happy Ramadan’ sounds reaaally awkward; it’s like greeting a Christian ‘Happy Good Friday’)
3. In this entire month, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. Smoking is also forbidden, as well as sexual activity between spouses. (NB: Sex outside of marriage is completely forbidden.)
4. Throughout this month, there are special prayers at night called ‘taraweeh’. Taraweeh prayers are quite rigorous, as they involve reading long portions of the Qur’an (i.e. standing for long periods of time) and a lot of physical movement, as well (bowing, prostrating, etc). These prayers are not obligatory but many Muslims try to do it because (i) they can only be done in the month of Ramadhan and (ii) it is said that “Whosoever stands in the nights of Ramadan, with faith and in hope of receiving Allah’s reward, his past sins will be forgiven”.
5. Fasting, combined with taraweeh, can take a physical toll on the fasting Muslim. If you think hunger and thirst are the hardest part of fasting, you’re wrong. It’s actually the fatigue and sleepiness that pose the greatest challenge throughout the day, especially from noon onwards.
6. Ramadhan is a good time for families to eat together twice a day — once in the morning for the suhoor and once in the evening for iftar. When people go out for iftar (or buka puasa, as it is called in the Malay-speaking world), it is often as a family. Personally, I prefer to break fast with my family at home, and would usually politely decline invitations from business associates to have iftar at a hotel or restaurant.
7. Children are not required to fast but are encouraged to practice waking up for the pre-dawn meal and to try to fast for as long as they can during the day. It helps them get used to the process so that by the time they hit puberty (and fasting becomes obligatory upon them), it would not come as a shock.
8. Ramadhan would always be either 29 or 30 days only. The end of fasting depends on the sighting of the new moon.
9. During the month of Ramadhan, good deeds are said to be given “manifold reward”, with each good deed receiving ten times or up to seven hundred times the usual reward. So during this month, Muslims give a lot to charity, especially towards the last 10 days of Ramadhan.
10. In Malaysia, it is quite common to see a good number of Muslims spend the last 10 days (and nights) of Ramadhan in mosques to immerse themselves completely in the recitation of the Quran and in prayers. This is not obligatory either.
11. Dates are abundant at this time of the year because they provide energy and fibre. They are often served as the first item for Muslims to break their fast with, together with a glass of water. They’re not an obligatory form of food either.
12. Some people are exempted from fasting, such as people who have illnesses, pregnant women, lactating mothers, as well as women who are having their menses.
13. When Ramadhan ends, the month of Syawal (or Shawwal) begins. The celebration of the end of Ramadhan is called Eid ul Fitr (or Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Malaysia, often shortened to Raya) and is, technically, only for a day, even if it is celebrated for an entire month in Malaysia.
14. On Eid ul Fitr, people take a bath, wear their best clothes (new clothes, if they can afford it), and go to the mosque to listen to a special sermon and to pray. Then they go home and share a meal with the family…and go out and visit family and friends and have even more food!
15. After Eid ul Fitr, it is recommended to fast another 6 days through out the month of Syawal as it is said that, by fasting in Ramadhan and adding 6 days in Syawal, it will be as though one has fasted for an entire year.
16. Throughout the year, Muslims can also fast as an ‘extra’ form of worship or to replace the days when they have not been able to fast.
17. It is perfectly all right if you forget that we are fasting and you eat or drink in front of us but it can be quite challenging, especially when your food or drink has a strong aroma like coffee or chocolate, which can trigger hunger pangs, so yes, it would be good to avoid having those things in the office! Unless you pack some for us to eat later 😁
Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments for anything that you’ve always wanted to ask Ramadhan but did not know who to ask!