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How to support your Muslim coworkers who are fasting during Ramadan

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  • Millions of Muslims around the world will soon begin observing Ramadan, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset.
  • If you're wondering how to support your Muslim colleagues without offending them, consider the advice from Ibrahim Hooper, the communications director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Reem Nasr, communications associate for healthcare company siParadigm Diagnostics.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions: Your Muslim colleagues most likely appreciate your interest in talking about Islam.
  • At the same time, don't make things awkward by apologizing if you eat in front of them. And whatever you do, don't make a joke about their fasting.
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Reem Nasr is communications associate for healthcare company siParadigm Diagnostics in New Jersey. She's also a woman in her 20s observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset.
Like millions of Muslims around the world, Nasr will begin 30 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset later this week. The exact date depends on the interpretation of whether one follows the Islamic calendar or visibly sees the new moon. Most will observe between the evening of Thursday, April 23, and end the evening of Saturday, May 23, though some will end the evening on Sunday, May 24.
"For me, Ramadan is an exercise in discipline," Nasr told Business Insider. "It makes you really appreciate what you have."
For many Muslims, Ramadan means abstaining from food and drink during the regular 9-to-5 work day. So, how can colleagues be supportive, while also not accidentally making a micro-aggression toward someone who is observing Ramadan?
Here's some poignant, personal advice from Nasr, as well as from Ibrahim Hooper, the communications director at advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

1. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Many non-Muslims might not know a whole lot about Ramadan, Hooper says. He said some people mistakenly believe Muslims go the whole 30 days without eating, when in reality they eat when the sun's not up.
You might be embarrassed by the lack of knowledge, but most Muslims welcome questions from colleagues and friends. Being open about Ramadan can also help employees plan their meetings during the daytime when fasting Muslims have more energy.
"By and large, it's a period of time people look forward to every year despite the self-deprivation," Hooper added.
Ramadan

2. While it's not necessary, managers can privately ask their direct reports if they would like any special accommodations.

This month, most American-Muslims will observe Ramadan in social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic. This actually may make the holiday more difficult, as Ramadan is traditionally a social holiday: Muslims break their fast with family and friends, and visit mosques more often for additional prayers.
But working remotely might make giving your employee flexible work hours easier, Hooper said. Fasting Muslims lose energy as the day goes on, so employers could establish earlier work hours during Ramadan.
Muslims don't expect any extra accommodation, but "it really feels nice and good to be recognized when people try to do something extra for you," Nasr said.
At one office where Nasr worked, a boss privately asked her if she needed any special accommodations while observing Ramadan. Nasr asked to be able to leave on time, at 5 pm, rather than staying late, which she habitually did. The gesture made her feel appreciated and recognized.

3. Wishing a coworker "Happy Ramadan" isn't offensive or inaccurate.

Most Muslims use the Arabic translation "Ramadan Mubarak" to greet each other.
You can also say "Ramadan Kareem," which means "have a generous Ramadan," according to USA Today.
Ramadan Iftar

4. If you notice a coworker isn't fasting, try not to publicly ask why.

Muslim women don't fast when they are on their periods — and since menstrual cycles don't make for the best office chatter, you might not want to publicly point out when a woman isn't fasting.
Plus, there are many other reasons why Muslims don't fast, like during illness or travel. If you notice a coworker who normally fasts but is abstaining, it's best not to nudge them unless they bring it up themselves.

5. Don't apologize for eating or drinking in front of a colleague observing Ramadan ...

While you may think you're being considerate not eating in front of your coworker, you could be doing more harm than good.
"It gets awkward when people apologize when they eat or drink around me. The whole point of the month is for me to do something for myself. It's supposed to be challenging, and it's supposed to be hard. I don't need anyone to feel guilty or awkward," Nasr said.

6. But don't make jokes about your colleague not having coffee or eating lunch, either.

Ramadan, Iftar
This one goes without saying, but even small quips can be very offensive.
"Be sensitive," Nasr said.
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