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An Expat’s Guide to Ramadan
How to respectfully observe the tradition without fasting.
The holy month of Ramadan is an incredibly special time of year. Even those who don’t practice feel that something special in the air, as the night markets bustle at odd hours, buses come to a sudden halt during evening prayers and the streets suddenly go silent just before sunset.
Since Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, the holy month shifts by about 11 days each year. This year, Ramadan goes from June 29 - July 29, meaning the month-long fast will come with the additional challenge of 35°C weather, tourists lapping at soft ice creams, and summer vacation hours to be filled with non-food-related activities.
If you’re a first-timer, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the tradition so that you can best support your Muslim friends and coworkers.
Respecting Your Friends’ and Coworkers’ Ramadan Fast
Skip the pity party. Ramadan is an incredibly special time for a Muslim. Though you may wish you could offer your friends and coworkers a cold glass of water when they come in from the scorching hot UAE summer, suck it up. Ramadan is a spiritually nourishing practice, and skipping a glass of water here and there is all part of the process. Skip the running commentary of “It must be so hard!” and “How do you do it?” and just be supportive. It’s a challenging time, let’s not keep pointing that out.
It’s okay for you to eat! Don’t feel the need to apologize if you’re not fasting during Ramadan. Those holding Ramadan are accustomed to being around food, walking by restaurants and spending time with their non-Muslim friends. Many have children, who don’t typically fast for Ramadan until they reach puberty or later. Do your thing. No need to flaunt it, but no need to hide it either. You don’t want your Muslim friends and coworkers to think they’re making you uncomfortable. No need to make Ramadan any harder than it already is.
Be a respectful smoker. Smoking is not allowed during Ramadan, and the nicotine withdrawal can be even more tough to manage than the food cravings. Also, some would consider that inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke actually counts as breaking the fast. As a courtesy, try to smoke in a private place when possible. Or better yet, don’t smoke at all! Ramadan is the ideal time to quit.
Be in silence at prayer times. Shortly before sunset, the city streets will seem to empty out as Muslims go to the evening prayers that take place every night before Iftar. It’s a kind of magical time, when the city seems to come to a grinding halt and a peace settles into the streets. Respect the silence. Support your fasting friends by letting yourself be in peace at this time
Be forgiving. You may find some fasters a little temperamental or even a bit sleepy during the day. This is just part of the challenge of fasting 16 hours a day. Show a little extra compassion. If you get a chance to brighten someone’s day or lighten their load a little, do so. Just remember there’s a big difference between compassion and pity.
Tips for Ramadan First-Time Fasters
Assemble a support team. Ramadan is a big undertaking, particularly if it’s your first time. You’ll want to have a good support team, or perhaps partner up with another family that is also fasting. Breaking fast at Iftar (just after sundown) is an important event. Make sure you have some of your loved ones with you at this time.
Avoid coffee. Coffee can cause dehydration, which is something your body will already be battling during Ramadan. It may be tempting to sneak a cup in the morning but you’re likely to pay for it with an energy crash later in the day. Try reducing your coffee consumption in the weeks leading up to Ramadan, as caffeine withdrawal can sometimes be accompanied by headaches, unnecessarily complicating your fast.
Have a hearty, fibre-rich breakfast. It can be tempting to sleep through Suhoor, especially when the holy month of Ramadan falls during summer vacation, but try rising early to have a proper morning meal. You may try getting by on fruit and tea, since most of us aren’t accustomed to eating so early in the morning, but you’ll be better off with something more hearty. You needn’t feast on eggs and bacon, but get your fill of slow digesting, high-fibre foods like muesli, dates, dried prunes and seeds. This will help avoid constipation later, which can be a problem during Ramadan.
Eat small, protein rich meals. Contrary to what you might think, more food is consumed during Ramadan than any other time of year. This is of course due to the rich, plentiful meals served at Suhoor and Iftar. Take your time. Chew your food slowly. Eat small bites. It’ll be tempting to gorge after a long day of fasting, but try to pace yourself. Your digestive tract will thank you. Too much food can inhibit sleep as well, something you’ll badly need during Ramadan.
Check out some of our healthy recipes for Ramadan. During this special time you may enjoy food more than ever before. Savour it. Get out to the night markets and pick up the freshest foods you can find. Ramadan is not a time for suffering. It’s a time for spiritual connection and family love. Enjoy it.
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