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How to be a good coworker and friend to those celebrating Ramadan

Women await the start of prayers at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati during Ramadan 2022. They sit in groups, wear head scarves, and care for children.
Samina Sohail
Women await the start of prayers at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati during Ramadan 2022.

Almost a quarter of the world's population is Muslim and will start celebrating Ramadan, one of the religion's most revered traditions, this week. Here in Cincinnati, Muslims account for just over 11% of city residents. So how can non-Muslims be good neighbors and coworkers to those celebrating?

Samina Sohail, a board member vice chair at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, says Ramadan is a kind of "spiritual boot camp" where Muslims work to be closer to God, increase their charity and understanding of people less fortunate than themselves, and avoid negativity during a time of spiritual growth. They also fast from sunrise to sunset, waking up as early as 5:15 a.m. to have a full meal before sunrise and abstaining from food and beverages until after evening prayer.

She says people know they're still responsible for their workloads and other responsibilities during Ramadan, but there's still plenty that can be done to empathize with Muslims as they embark on roughly 30 days of fasting until Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holiday.

Men pray at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati during Ramadan 2022.
Provided by Samina Sohail
Men pray at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati during Ramadan 2022.

Be mindful of what you schedule during this time

She says step one is knowing when Ramadan is happening because it's celebrated on a lunar calendar and changes every year. This year it's from the evening of Wednesday, March 22 to the evening of Thursday, April 20. Then, employers can try not to schedule big events, like annual fundraisers or picnics, during those dates.

"Try avoid scheduling those during that time of the year because if you have Muslim employees, they're probably — even if they do come — they're not going to be eating," she said.

LISTEN: What it's like being Muslim in the Midwest

It's also helpful to not have important meetings toward the end of the work day when people are generally feeling more tired and it's harder to focus. Year round, but especially during Ramadan, having access to a quiet, private area (like an unused office or conference room) also gives Muslims the opportunity to pray.

Schedule flexibility for those who usually work at times when Muslims generally break fast at sundown is also helpful.

Take part in the celebration

Neighbors and friends can pitch in and celebrate Ramadan the way they'd celebrate any major holiday, like Easter or Christmas. It's appropriate to share baked good or meals that can be eaten after or before fasting.

The greeting "Ramadan Mubarak" means congratulations or blessings during Ramadan and is also appreciated.

Aside from general support, Sohail says Ramadan is also an opportunity for non-Muslim people to learn more about a different culture and religion. For instance, her roommate in medical school fasted with her for the entirety of Ramadan as a show of solidarity. She also goes to her son's school twice a year to give a talk about Islam.

"Last year, it was during Ramadan, and the teacher knew that in advance and gave the kids the opportunity to fast with me. So the class of 25, 30 students, they all got up early — except for one or two kids — got up early in the morning voluntarily and chose to fast that day," Sohail said. "So later on, she had them write some reflections of how it felt and what it meant and she shared some of those with me. And that was really powerful. So, it's really your level of comfort; how much you want to go."

Make time off equitable

Eid al-Fitr happens at the conclusion of Ramadan, which is April 21-22 this year. It's when Muslims break their fast and celebrate.

RELATED: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine during Ramadan raises questions for Muslims

Sohail says it's the equivalent to Easter or Christians. If possible, she says employers should offer Muslims the day off in the same way they often give Christians time off for Easter. Employees should not have to use a vacation day on Eid, especially if others are given time off during other religious holidays.

"Celebrate the employee, offer the employee or student an opportunity to share their experience," she said. "If you want to give them a small gift or ... eat cake, there's just ways of showing empathy."

Updated: March 21, 2023 at 4:36 PM EDT
This article was first published on April 4, 2022, and has been updated.
Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.