Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a sacred month for Muslims. Muslims believe that it was in the month of Ramadan that the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad commenced.
Observing Ramadan means recommitting oneself to Allah and a holy life, humbly connecting with those less fortunate and appreciating one’s blessings, and practicing self-discipline and self-denial in relation to worldly indulgences and distractions. For all daylight hours the entire month, the Muslim is to refrain from such activities as sex, gossip, and smoking, and is to strive even harder than usual to avoid sin in general.
Most notably, the Muslim is enjoined to observe a total fast-no eating but also no drinking of any kind-for the daylight hours throughout the month of Ramadan.
There is an obvious difference between the observance of Ramadan in a primarily Muslim country and the observance of Ramadan in a primarily non-Muslim country. In a Muslim country, public opinion, social behavior, even the laws, all come together to facilitate, if not compel, abiding by the restrictions of Ramadan. Work schedules are drastically altered, restaurants are closed during the day, it may be illegal even for non-Muslims to eat in public during daytime, etc.
In a predominantly non-Muslim country, however, the Muslim finds him or herself in much more challenging circumstances. Instead of being in a supportive environment of like-minded people engaged in the same self-restraint, sharing the same faith, the Muslim is surrounded by people living their normal lives, oblivious to Ramadan, if not hostile to it and Islam.
In such circumstances, it is all the more important to rely on family and the Muslim community, however small. Rarely will a Muslim be literally alone amongst non-Muslims during Ramadan. Even if he or she has no family in the area, at the very least there will usually be a mosque not too far away. If friendships, relationships, have not been made there, Ramadan is an appropriate time to rectify that and establish ties to other Muslims.
Unless the atmosphere is especially hostile, it is a good idea to be open with people about Ramadan practices and their religious significance. Employers, co-workers, friends, classmates, teachers, etc. often simply don’t know about Ramadan or don’t understand it. Talking about it openly can often lead to their behaving in a more sensitive manner. An employer might be amenable to making certain adjustments in one’s schedule or work duties. Classmates might suggest a study session at the park, rather than at a coffee house.
You might even offer to give a short talk at your workplace or for your child’s class to explain about the Ramadan fast. Some people will be indifferent, and some people may even be antagonistic, but there are also plenty of people who will respect the idea of putting such restraints on oneself for moral and religious reasons.
In the end, the environment in a primarily non-Muslim country will likely never be as conducive to observing Ramadan as if one were in a primarily Muslim country. But this can be seen as a welcome challenge. It means that abiding by the Ramadan restrictions is an even more praiseworthy feat of faith. The value of a spiritual cleansing period like Ramadan, after all, is not enhanced by making it as easy as possible.
Amad, “Work: Ramadan in a Muslim Vs. Non-Muslim Country.” Muslim Matters.
Huda, “What is Ramadan?” About.com.
Lauren Monsen, “US Muslims Observe Ramadan In Supportive Environment.” Consulate General of the United States, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.