So the time comes yet again, that month of fasting. If you share a dorm room or apartment with a Muslim who will partake in the holiday this year, you may notice a few things. They may wake up a little later than usual. They may try to take more naps throughout the day. They may sound tired —just a tad— and may disappear at night around sunset. Don’t worry, just Ramadan at its finest. A month when Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
In all seriousness, Ramadan for most of us comes as a reminder of our blessings in life, our ability to endure and our connection to God and other human beings. We experience real hunger, learn compassion for those more impoverished than us and then come together at the end of the day to feel grateful for everything God gave us. Despite everyday troubles, we still get to sit around at a table together and enjoy a fine meal. A truly special time, Ramadan means more to us than starving ourselves for a month. If a part of you constantly walks on eggshells, wondering how to react or what not to do around your friend, fear not. I may know a few tips that can help you.
DO: Ask questions
I know it sounds intimidating to talk to your Muslim friend about Ramadan for a number of reasons. For one, you don’t know if your question will unintentionally offend them. For another, you don’t know if you should “bother” them while they’re starving. All these fears? Myths to debunk. I’ve got roommates in the past that always started their sentences with “You don’t need to answer if this is offensive…” and I appreciated the sentiment and all, but I don’t know why you guys think we get offended when other people clearly want to know and understand more. No, we can’t drink water either. Yes, we can eat all the way up until sunrise. Most Muslims love sharing their culture and knowledge about Ramadan. When you show you care enough to ask, we see that and it means a lot.
DON’T: Bring fresh food into the dorm.
Now, this one sounds obvious, but let me clarify something. Most Muslims don’t care if you eat around us. On the contrary, we don’t want you to feel like you can’t eat if we don’t eat. And we fast for a month long. At some point, a lot of us just kind of go immune to the effects of food in our vicinity. Don’t worry too much about that. When I say fresh food, I mean more like anything steaming or with a powerful smell, and maybe don’t bring it into the same room with your Muslim friend. Again, your friend most likely won’t care, but you know, manners. Anything that might leave a strong scent in the air will make our stomachs grumble, like a pizza fresh out of the oven, a warm burrito, a fresh-baked cake or pastry. Or, at least don’t bring it in the morning. We can’t eat or drink till sunset, remember.
DO: Ask to join iftar.
Iftar means the meal at the end of a fasting day, and it means everything to a Muslim during Ramadan. The time we wait for, the time we beg for, and when it finally gets here, it feels like the day finally started. For the most part, Ramadan days come across as quiet and dull. When the sun sets, however, and we get to enjoy iftar, our nights light up and the real fun begins. Muslim iftar consists of energy, lights, chatter and laughter. Don’t worry about offending anybody by asking to join in. At a Muslim household after sunset, you will most likely see the TVs all turned on to high volume, guests chatting over dessert and coffee, all the hallway lights on as music played from one room and conversations sounding from one corner to another. Iftar doesn’t mean a time when only those who fasted can enjoy a meal. Iftar means community. Coming together over conversations, laughter, entertainment and food. You won’t sound like an outsider, trust me. Like I said, we want to share.
DON’T: Treat us like glass.
Yes, we can’t eat or drink anything. Yes, we get a little more tired during the day. That doesn’t mean, however, that we will break at the slightest poke. What does that mean? It means we will not break down over school or work pressure. Well, no more than we usually do. We will not snap at you for talking to us. We will not spend the day on the verge of passing out. From the outside, I understand that Ramadan seems like a grim or scary prospect. For that reason, I heavily emphasize my earlier point of asking questions. Because on the inside, we don’t feel tortured, okay? Not even close. Ramadan might feel a little difficult throughout the day, but outside of craving a cup of coffee every morning, we’re fine. Ramadan feels like a fun time to us, especially after sunset. Not a terrible one.
Obviously, and this goes without saying, but I will say it anyway— everyone feels differently. I only share my experiences here and what I know from my Muslim friends and family. Maybe some people disagree with this list, but everyone I know would approve wholeheartedly. We all have good and bad days during Ramadan. Days when we feel more thirst than hunger, days when our stomachs grumble so loudly all we want to do is lie down in bed and watch TV as we wait for the hours to whittle away. But again, Ramadan means more than just the struggle. If anything, I feel like it teaches us to endure and appreciate more than anything else could. In my opinion, not a bad way to spend the month.