With Ramadan set to begin next week, with a probable start date of April 12, now's a good time to reflect on how we approach the holy month.
This mindset does not only apply to those fasting, who refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, but to those – such as our dear friends and colleagues – not observing Ramadan.
There are a number of small and common-sense things to bear in mind, to accommodate the month's change of pace, as well as the physical and psychological state of those fasting.
Here are seven potential faux pas to avoid in the workplace and at home during the holy month, for those not observing Ramadan.
1. Keep the food and drink aside during online meetings
Just because Zoom is our new best friend at work, it shouldn't mean Ramadan etiquette is discarded online.
It is advised to refrain from eating and drinking in front of fasting colleagues, whether in person or on a computer screen.
If you simply must have that coffee, then ensure you turn off your camera before getting your caffeine hit.
2. Keep conversations on point
Everybody loves a bit of banter. However, even if the spirit is well-intentioned, it is best to avoid such exchanges during the holy month.
This is not because your fasting friend or colleague has suddenly lost their sense of humour during Ramadan.
Rather, the cumulative spiritual and psychological effects of fasting can only be realised by maintaining a clear mindset throughout the month. This means limiting idle chatter and absolutely refraining from any vulgar conversation.
3. No such thing as smoke breaks during Ramadan
The first few days of Ramadan are the most difficult – and that's not only for those fasting. Even non-Muslim colleagues will take some time to adjust to the different social rhythms of the month – one of which is the smoke break.
Smoking is banned for those fasting.
So, if you value those few minutes spent outside chatting with your fasting friend, not to mention your health, then go on that stroll but keep your cigarette pack stashed away.
4. Don’t engage in unnecessary arguments
A common Arabic phrase heard during the holy month is "ana sayim".
Translated as "I am fasting", it is more of a courteous excuse than a statement of intent. The phrase is often used as a handy circuit-breaker when a discussion becomes uncivil.
This illustrates the importance of not engaging in or instigating arguments or heated discussions.
If such a situation does occur and you are met with a brisk “I am fasting", don’t be offended. It is just a way to say "I need to cool off".
5. Cancel that early morning and late-afternoon meeting
The last 10 days of Ramadan are viewed not only as the most spiritual period of the holy month, but a time when many Muslims transform to night owls as they partake in extra prayers held in the early hours.
Therefore, it is recommended not to schedule unnecessary work meetings in the morning. The same thing goes for planning any work events in the late afternoon at any time during the holy month, as those fasting prepare to go home for iftar.
Rescheduling that late-afternoon meeting is not only considerate, but also a responsible decision to avoid a rush on the roads.
6. Never refuse an iftar invitation
Want to upset your fasting friend in the blink of an eye? Then decline their invitation for iftar.
Understand this: an iftar request is not the same as being asked to pop over for a lazy lunch.
While the meal could be simple, the request to share that reverent moment when the first date is eaten and a glass of water sipped at the end of the fasting day is a sign of how your relationship is valued.
Say yes and leave with your heart and belly full.
7. Keep the volume low on the roads
While the weather remains breezy enough to lower the car roof and cruise down the Abu Dhabi Corniche with your favourite track blaring from the speakers, keep the noise to a minimum.
Once again, the fast is not merely an act of refraining from food from dawn to dusk – it is about abstaining from things and behaviours deemed not spiritually enriching.
This is why you may find the melodious recital of the Quran or evocative lyrics of nasheeds heard from cars during the day as opposed to pop tunes.
Don’t be the person who ruins that vibe by pumping Justin Bieber at full volume.
At the very least, pull your windows up.