How To Support Your Muslim Friends During Ramadan
Muslims around the world are ending the second week of Ramadan in the second year of observing the holy month in lockdown. Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar is a month of focusing on prayer and deepening the spiritual connection with God. A time for self-reflection and practising self-discipline through fasting and abstaining from food and drink during the hours of sunrise to sunset. “Ramadan to me means strength, it means faith, it means determination and it means focus. I think it is about so much more than just depriving your body of food and water, it genuinely is amazing to see what the mind can do and how much you can push yourself, I think that is my favourite part,” says Director, Film Maker and Stylist Basma Khalifa.
Whilst this month may be physically and mentally challenging most Muslims will also tell you that Ramadan is their favourite month, a time to gather with family, friends and their community. With COVID restrictions still in place however, there is the additional emotional challenge of not being able to share this time with family. We asked Basma to share a few pointers on how we can all be more supportive of our Muslim friends or co-workers and whilst how each individual engages with the month of Ramadan can vary from person to person depending on cultural background, location and personal preference these tips will give you a little insight into how Muslims partake in Ramadan and hopefully help you become a better ally.
How should you wish someone a happy Ramadan?
Wishing someone a happy Ramadan is super simple, you just say Ramadan kareem. It’s a lovely way of acknowledging the month, even if you aren’t Muslim. You can say it in passing or even when you are ordering your favourite takeaways from a restaurant where they may be practising, for instance a Turkish, Malay or Egyptian restaurant.
Are gifts appropriate and what should you give as a present?
Gifting isn’t a necessity during Ramadan, the gift is in giving to charity. It’s one of the most important parts of Ramadan.
How does your daily schedule change during Ramadan aside from when you eat?
I don’t plan on scheduling any calls before midday during Ramadan. The idea is to stay out late and sleep in late to make the day shorter. I struggle with it as I am an early riser but will probably force myself to stay awake just a bit longer so that I sleep in. Luckily being in a pandemic means there is no office commute or need to socialise in venues over the month but hopefully I will get to dine outside one evening with friends.
Be conscious of when you contact someone who is observing Ramadan as they will most likely be sleeping and praying at different times.
For those who want to support their Muslim colleagues, be mindful of when you schedule in meetings and calls, offer to swap shifts if possible so that your colleagues can attend prayers and be empathetic to team mates who may not be as productive or as quick as they usual.
“I don’t plan on scheduling any calls before midday during Ramadan. The idea is to stay out late and sleep in late to make the day shorter.”
Are there any activities or social gatherings that you avoid during Ramadan?
Exercise is a big one, I am constantly on the move and took up skipping during the month. I am going to miss not being in the park at 7am but I might try this year to do a bit of exercise later in the evening, I’ve always been envious of those who can do that. The hardest part pre-lockdown and I am sure after is the socialising around food. Meeting later in the day is always easier and also not doing anything too strenuous. Friends who want to go for bike rides or for a hike I hide from. I am lucky to have very understanding friends who have offered to fast a day with me or cooked us a dinner that was in time with breaking my fast. I prefer people to just eat as normal and don’t feel awkward or apologise for offering food when they are eating. It can always get a little bit awkward when that happens, more so for the person offering. As much as it is for every Muslim to make the decision to fast, it’s not by force so I feel it’s the same for those not fasting.
Some Tik Tok users have started putting disclaimers on their videos to warn Muslims of content that may not be suitable for them to view during Ramadan, what is your take on this?
I think it’s really nice to be so considerate and shows empathy towards those fasting. I am not sure I would personally mind; it might even give me some tips of what to cook to break my fast!
What else would you like to see more or less of on social media during this time?
I love food tips and seeing how other people are breaking their fasts, it’s nice to be connected via a community online.
How are you feeling about another Ramadan in lockdown, do you think this year will be different to the last?
It’s a bit disappointing having another Locked down Ramadan but what’s good is that we have been here before so It doesn’t feel as alien. The set up is different as the mindset is now different. I know how and when to check in with everyone, how to manage my own time and energy, everyone around me is aware as it’s not their first rodeo either. This year I am hoping to embrace it a bit more too. Leaning into learning more about my faith, slowing down and taking the time to understand my body. My best advice would be to make sure you check in on your friends and colleagues every so often, offering to have Iftar together even if you aren’t practising maybe even sending sweet treats for them to eat after Iftar could be nice. It’s the little things that make a huge difference during lockdown.
What changes would you like to see in societal attitudes and approach in general?
I think it would be really cool if more entertainment outlets were open later or at alternative times, and if we were able to switch our working days around a little, I often try to sleep in as much as possible. I would love to go swimming at midnight or visit the cinema, if these were not currently closed due to the lockdown. To be able start my day around midday so all those infamous zoom calls can be postponed till later in the day and for takeaways to be open just that bit later. I am lucky that I live in London and nothing closes too early.
Are there any stereotypes and assumptions that people should avoid?
I think people sometimes assume that it’s really bad for you. The human mind and body are incredible things, you would be surprised what you can do when you just put your mind to it. No one is going to die as people assume they will. Also, Ramadan isn’t by force nor is faith or religion, you should want to do it, if you can’t for any health reasons or pregnancies then you shouldn’t. So when people think it’s killing us, for the 2 billion or so Muslims on average around the world, no one is dying from Ramadan. Think of it as intermittent fasting which is one of the newest trends hitting the fitness industry. Sometimes it’s about the psychological impact of the word more than what it actually is.