What Your Muslim Friends Wish You Knew About Ramadan

Alia Youssef for MuslimGirl.com
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In June, Bustle is partnering with Muslim Girl to highlight the voices of millennial Muslim women as they observe the holy month of Ramadan. Read on as they share stories of how they personally observe this holiday, and why this year's Ramadan is especially significant.

It is Ramadan: the month when your Muslim friend stops eating and yet won’t stop watching foodie tutorials, when there are no more water-cooler gossip sessions because your coworker has given up both water and gossip. What does this month mean to your Muslim neighbors, friends, and coworkers — and what is your role in supporting them during this misunderstood Muslim pastime?

This month means so much to us, and so do our friends and allies. These are two elements of our lives that often exist separately, and it is time to fix that. Ramadan is all about enriching and improving ourselves, and building a deeper connection with our friends and communities during this time only makes this holy month that much more meaningful.

Put on your marching boots and fire up the grill (but not until sunset). Here are 10 ways to be a good friend and ally to your Muslim buddies during Ramadan.

1. Understand Why We’re Fasting

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Understanding why Muslims fast is key to being a good ally to your fasting friends during Ramadan. This is not a juice cleanse, a three-day fast, or something we can just decide to forego; fasting during Ramadan is a sacred way of deepening our connection with God, with our families, and with our communities.

We fast (that means no eating or drinking) from sunrise to sunset during this particular month, because this was the month in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Each year, as we commemorate the miracle of revelation, we also strive to remember those who hunger and thirst simply because they have no food or drink. While we remember those less fortunate, we also try to change our behaviors. We abstain from indulging in bad habits, curb our anger, and step up our community engagement through giving charity and helping those in need.

2. Understand That Fasting Isn’t Unhealthy & We’re Not Going To Stop, Even When It Gets Difficult

While fasting, some of us may experience light fatigue, mild to moderate dehydration, and sleep deprivation. It’s normal to be concerned, but don’t tell us not to fast. Fasting, even for a month, is not unhealthy; in fact, it helps us cleanse our bodies of toxins and impurities. Medical News Today reported on a number of recent studies which have shown that intermittent fasting may offer benefits including lowered blood pressure and improved immune system response. Fasting also helps us evaluate and change for the better the bad diet habits we may have fallen into during the year.

Beyond the health benefits of fasting, we want to reap the spiritual benefits of fasting. This is very important to us, and makes fasting one of the most spiritually fulfilling things we can do as Muslims.

So if you see a friend having a difficult time during their fast, rather than offering us food or drink or asking us to perhaps stop fasting, ask if there’s a way you can help. Ask your friend if they would like to sit or lie down, if there is a task you can help them manage, or if you can prepare them a nutritious meal ahead of time. Your friend will thank you for your understanding and for your hands-on attitude of support.

3. Be Positive & Supportive With Your Language

When you discover that a friend is fasting or the topic of fasting comes up, be supportive and positive with the language you use in that conversation. Rather than balking at this rather strenuous ritual by saying things like “I could never do that,” or everyone’s favorite, “Not even water?!” commend your friend on their dedication to their fast. You could say things like, “Wow, you must be very committed to your faith,” or “That sounds difficult, you must be very tough.”

Want to go the extra mile? Try fasting. Try going a half day without food or water, a whole day without just food, or even a whole day abstaining from both food and drink. Combine your fast with focusing on breaking bad habits and maintaining a peaceful demeanor. Meditate, do breathing exercises, and practice mindfulness and gratitude. The next time you see your fasting friend, your conversation will develop a whole new depth.

4. Stay In Touch

During Ramadan, you might see some of your Muslim friends fall off the radar; adding fasting, nightly trips to the mosque, and volunteer work to our already-full schedules means you may not see much of us over the course of the month. But don’t take that to mean that we don’t want to hear from you. Make an extra effort to keep in touch with us during Ramadan, because our minds are very preoccupied this month and we are almost sure to forget. Send us a text message, call us up, send us some funny Ramadan-themed memes through Messenger. Even if we can’t connect with you face to face, we’ll feel so supported by a thoughtful text or a simple heart emoji.

5. Know When It’s OK To Eat Around Us (& When To Refrain From Devouring That Burrito)

Many Muslims don’t have a problem with people eating around us while we are fasting. Some of us work in hospitality or food service, or are moms serving a never-ending buffet to hungry toddlers. Others of us, however, have a hard time when lunchtime rolls around and everyone digs into cheeseburgers while we try to ignore the incessant Jurassic Park noises coming from our stomachs. If you’re not sure if your friend is comfortable with people eating near them, just ask.

6. Get To Know Us Even Better

Jenna Masoud for MuslimGirl.com

In fact, ask us all the questions. If you want some more knowledge about anything from fasting to headscarves to why you sometimes catch us with our feet in the sink, just ask us. The best way to really understand things about Islam is to get your information directly from a Muslim. This way, there are no misconceptions, and you get to know your friend and their faith better. Even if your Muslim friend does not have the answer to your question, they can point you in the direction of a reputable video, article, or book that might have what you need.

7. Help Us Increase Our Impact In The Community

Ramadan is a month for giving back to the community. That’s why helping us organize a canned food drive, collect donations of clothing and non-perishables from the neighbors, and distribute things to food banks, local charities, or the homeless community is a great way to show your support. Volunteering together will not only bring you closer to your friend — it will help you form new relationships with other members of the community, and allow you to see which people in your community need and benefit from your continued help and support. Ramadan comes once a year, but people are in need year-round. During this month, you and your Muslim friend might find a volunteer position or a way to help your community, which you can continue doing for the rest of the year.

8. Create A Supportive Atmosphere At Work

If you have Muslim coworkers who fast during Ramadan, try to create a supportive atmosphere at work. The smell of a constantly full coffee pot and doughnuts in the break room may not be helpful to a fasting office mate. If your office decorates for other holidays, consider asking your Muslim coworker if they would like to give the office a festive makeover. Try to ensure that your Muslim coworkers get adequate breaks for praying and for resting, that meetings don't always take place over lunch, and that there are vegetarian or halal (kosher) options for a Muslim friend to break their fast with if they have to work late or attend an after-hours meeting or function.

9. Show Up & Be Present

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This one is important: show up. If your friend invites you over to dinner, show up. If your friend invites you to an interfaith or community iftar (sunset meal) at their mosque, show up. If your friend knows of a rally or march you can attend to show support for Muslims, show up. Being a true friend and ally is a hands-on, boots-on-the-ground, full-time job. Especially considering the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, the increase in Islamophobic media rhetoric, and the blatant use of racist and anti-Muslim policies by the current administration, showing up is a must if you want to be a true ally. Showing support by showing your face at community events is easy, fun, and a solid way of showing your Muslim neighbors that you put action into being an ally.

10. Feed Us

Last, but certainly not least: feed us. Yes, Muslims in America are fasting until nearly 8:40 p.m. this month, and while that might be a bit late for dinner, if you host a Muslim friend and their family for dinner, you’ll cement your place in their heart as a true friend. Ramadan for Muslims across many cultures is a month of sharing — literally breaking bread with one another — and this is a month not only for sharing food, but for sharing customs and traditions. Whether you’re getting food-truck tacos with your convert friend, cooking for your longtime neighbors, or inviting a recent immigrant family to an all-American barbecue, feeding people is one of the best ways to show them that they are at home here, in this country, in this moment, with you.

Recently, an old friend called me up to invite me to a barbecue. When I reminded him that I would be fasting, I was elated to hear him reply, “I know, but the party starts at 7 p.m., we’ll have food after dark, and I’m grilling veggie options for you.” After a long day of hunger and thirst, having a friend remember me in such a simple and personal way feels so comforting.  During this month, fasting Muslims can feel separated from their non-Muslim or non-fasting friends; inviting a Muslim friend to share a meal during this time is a great way of reaching out and letting them know that you’re not the type to wait around until this month is over to engage with them.

These simple acts of kindness and generosity, and the commitment to learning more about your friend’s life, shows that you are committed to your friendship as a dynamic, two-way relationship, and that you’re willing to adapt to your friend’s needs when showing that you care.  — Amani Hamed