Ramadan is a special month in the Islamic calendar when practicing Muslims show their respect for the time in which Allah revealed his teachings to the Prophet Mohammad.
Since the words heard by the Prophet are believed to make up the Islamic holy text, the Quran, the month is of huge importance across the Islamic world as a chance to show reverence to Allah and escape from the pace of everyday life.
It involves a focus on being one’s best possible self, with the hunger, thirst, frustration, irritation and sexual attraction felt by everyone all put to the test during of self-restraint followed by celebration.
As such, being a Muslim in a country where not everyone is fasting can be difficult.
Here are five ways to show solidarity and respect to people observing the Islamic holy month:
Be aware of the basics around Ramadan
The holy month runs according to the lunar Islamic calendar, and begins upon the first glimpses of the crescent moon.
Sunni Muslims traditionally use a telescope to spot the light creeping across the moon, while Shia Muslims traditionally look with the naked eye.
This explains why Ramadan starts slightly later in Shia-majority countries, such as Iran, than in Sunni-majority countries, like Jordan.
Everywhere else, it depends which branch of Islam is being practiced.
Understand that 'fasting' does not mean dieting
Some Muslims say the month is sometimes confused with a kind of dietary “detox”, but that this interpretation is a misinterpretation of its real scope.
It involves abstinence from eating, drinking water, and smoking between the local sunrise and sunset times – and trying to abstain from sensual and sexual pleasures throughout the entire month.
These are manifestations of a kind of spiritual fast, in which followers of Islam do not lose their temper, become angry or try to pursue their own selfish interests.
Be sensitive to the possible effects of abstinence on Muslim friends
“I’ve found controlling anger and language (among other things) to be much more challenging while fasting than anything else,” said Adeel Arif.
“I find that I get very cranky due to hunger and thirst, and controlling that takes some effort.
“So, if I could ask non-Muslims anything, it would just be to deal with us with a bit more patience, and try to avoid getting into arguments with us.
“But those are things that we need to be working on more than you do!”
Understand that the month is not necessarily an unpleasant experience
“For me in one word, Ramadan is fun,” said Dania Faruqui.
“What’s the really good part? The Iftar, the feast set on the table once the fast is over.”
Throughout each day during the month, many restaurants in Islamic countries are closed, and then open to the whole community to break their fast together once the sun has gone down, bringing with it a sense of comradarie and closeness with Allah.
“Lots of people say it must be so hard for you but actually you get used to it,” said another Quora user.
Abstinence during the period has also been shown to have health benefits, although anyone who is sick or frail is excused.
Try not to eat, smoke and drink in front of those fasting
“What you can do to help is not tempt [Muslims observing Ramadan] or talk about delicious food deliberately, and definitely do not smoke or drink in front of them,” Fizza Jaffer said on Quora.
“Also, you might just cook something for you friend for the Iftar and celebrate a successful fasting day!”