In 2022, referee Matthias Jöllenbeck paused a top-flight German football match in the 63rd minute to allow defender Moussa Niakhate to break his Ramadan fast for a drink of water.

During Ramadan, those observing can’t eat or drink anything during daylight hours – and since the game between Mainz and Augsburg started in the early evening, Niakhate hadn’t been able to hydrate himself all day. So when the sun set halfway through the second half, the referee recognised the need for a short break.

This was the first time in history that a Bundesliga match had been paused for this reason, and Jöllenbeck’s actions were an example of non-Muslim people showing respect, solidarity, and support to those around them who are observing Ramadan.

With this in mind, there are many ways that we can follow in Jöllenbeck’s footsteps and do the same for others in our community, whether it be our family, friends, neighbours, or colleagues…

What is Ramadan?

What is Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar. It’s the month when, in A.D. 610, the angel Gabriel revealed the holy book, the Qu’ran, to the Prophet Muhammad.

Ramadan begins and ends with the appearance of the crescent moon. And because the Islamic calendar is shorter than the Gregorian calendar (the calendar used by much of the Western world), it falls between different dates each year. In 2024, Ramadan lasts from 10th March to 9th April.

For many Muslims, Ramadan is a time to practise religious and spiritual discipline. This typically involves fasting between sunrise and sunset to teach self-restraint, practise gratitude, and devote time to their faith.

The fast is normally broken directly after sunset with a meal called ‘the Iftar’, followed by another just before sunrise called ‘the Suhoor’.

Although fasting is one of the most widely-recognised ways Muslims can observe Ramadan, many people refrain from other things during this time too – such as smoking, sexual activity, and forms of immoral behaviour. Ramadan is a time to spend with family and friends, and do good deeds (such as charity work or helping those in need).

Many Muslims read the Qu’ran in its entirety at least once during Ramadan and attend various special services and prayers at mosques.

“For me, Ramadan is a month of self-reflection and being close to Allah (God). Fasting reminds me of the things in life I take for granted and should be grateful for, such as food and water.

“This time of year also helps me re-focus on my faith by praying more, refraining from immoral behaviour, and being more generous and kind - whether that’s contributing to a charitable cause or giving a friendly smile!”

8 ways to show respect and support for people observing Ramadan

1. Take the time to learn about Ramadan

Take the time to learn about Ramadan

One of the best ways you can show respect, solidarity, and support for the people observing Ramadan in your community is to learn as much as you can about it.

Educating yourself will help you to follow the proper etiquette and avoid doing or saying something inadvertently offensive. It’ll also prevent you from asking too many obvious questions that can be easily answered with a quick Google search (and which the Muslim people in your community may be asked over and over again throughout the month of Ramadan).

Plus, the simple act of taking the time to learn more about your friend/colleague/neighbour’s religion and the reasons behind their customs can go a long way in helping them feel supported throughout the holy month of Ramadan and beyond.

2. Ask considerate questions

Ask considerate questions

Although people observing Ramadan might not appreciate answering the same questions over and over again – this shouldn’t deter you from asking any questions at all. In our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society, learning about each other’s beliefs by asking respectful and thoughtful questions can be a great way to bridge gaps between people and communities.

However, aside from obvious questions like, “So you don’t drink water during Ramadan?”, which can be answered with a little research, it’s generally best to avoid questions that are overly confrontational and personal.

It’s also best to avoid asking rhetorical or redundant questions. For example, asking someone who’s fasting, “Aren’t you hungry?”, in the late afternoon. If they haven’t eaten for 11 hours or so, the answer is probably yes.

Instead, try asking considerate, open-ended questions such as, “What does Ramadan mean to you?”, “How do you observe Ramadan?”, and “What are you making for your iftar meals?”

3. Remember that people observe Ramadan in different ways

Remember that people celebrate Ramadan in different ways

Ramadan is a highly personal and individual time for many Muslims. It’s about reflecting on their relationship with their faith and community, and doing good deeds. This means that different people observe Ramadan in different ways.

For example, just like other religions, some Muslims are more strict in their practices than others. So, while some people will fast completely from sun up to sundown, others might simply use the time to do more charity work or abstain from habits such as smoking or social media use.

Also, some people, depending on their situation, aren’t expected to fast, even by the most devout Muslim doctrine. This is because, although fasting is perfectly safe for many able-bodied adults, there are some cases when it’s not advised from a health perspective – such as if you’ve not yet reached puberty (usually under the age of 14), pregnant, on your period, or suffer from various health conditions.

4. Learn some Ramadan greetings

Learn some Ramadan greetings

Wishing someone a happy Ramadan is a nice way to let the Muslim people in your life know that they (and their faith) are in your thoughts. But, since Muslims don’t wish each other a ‘Happy Ramadan’, per se, it’s better to learn the right greetings.

Instead of saying ‘Happy Ramadan’, Muslims wish each other ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ or ‘Ramadan Kareem’. These are both Arabic terms that translate to ‘Blessed Ramadan’ and ‘Have a generous Ramadan’, respectively.

Taking the time to learn how to properly wish your Muslim friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours well in the holy month of Ramadan is a polite and considerate way to show them your respect and support.

5. Avoid mentioning weight gain or loss

Avoid mentioning weight gain or loss

During Ramadan, fasting is a sacred and spiritual tradition that Muslims use to practise self-restraint, bring them closer to Allah, consider the teachings of the Qu’ran, and reflect on what they have and what others may not. It has nothing to do with losing weight.

It might sound obvious but, with this in mind, avoid asking your Muslim friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues about the effects of fasting on their weight.

It’s also best not to compare other forms of fasting – such as those undertaken with the intention to lose weight – to the practice of fasting during Ramadan.

6. Make an effort to be flexible with people observing Ramadan

Make an effort to be flexible with people observing Ramadan

Though rewarding, Ramadan can also present challenges for Muslims observing it, such as reduced energy levels when fasting – especially towards the end of the day. So, being flexible with plans involving the Muslim people in your life can go a long way to help show respect, support, and solidarity.

For example, eating just after sunset (Iftar) and just before sunrise (Suhoor), as well as attending various services and gatherings, will present Muslims observing Ramadan with various time commitments throughout the month. So, it’s a good idea to be mindful of this when making plans that involve them.

It’s also worth considering the effect that fasting may have on your Muslim friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues. If you’re a manager with Muslim employees, you could consider making some helpful adjustments. This could mean letting them start and finish work earlier on in the day when their energy levels are highest.

7. Try to leave pity at the door

Try to leave pity at the door

During the month of Ramadan, many Muslims report receiving lots of comments like, “I could never do that” or “Oh, you poor thing!” And although these comments may be well-intentioned, they’re generally misplaced, and can be condescending and offensive.

Though Ramadan – particularly the fasting involved – presents its own unique set of challenges, it’s generally a joyous and celebratory time when Muslim people come together to spend time with one another and strengthen their bond with Allah. Many Muslims report fasting to be something they welcome, rather than something they dread.

So, if you want to be supportive and respectful of the Muslims in your community, try to keep your exchanges and messages positive, and leave pity at the door.

8. Get involved in the spirit of Ramadan

Get involved in the spirit of Ramadan

Another way to show support, solidarity, and respect to those of the Islamic faith during their holiest month is to share in the spirit yourself – and you can do this in whatever way you choose.

For example, you can do something as little as using the time to think more reflectively about yourself – and consider your thoughts, your actions, and how they affect others. Ramadan is a time for introspection and working out how to be a better person.

You could also make an effort to spend more time with your friends and family, as this is another fundamental part of Ramadan.

Alternatively, you could go a step further and get involved in a charitable cause, or even observe Ramadan yourself.

Many Muslims welcome non-Muslims to observe Ramadan through fasting, abstaining from things that are considered to be impure, and attending services. This way they too can practise self-restraint and gratitude, and reflect on how they can be a better person/part of their community.

Lots of mosques and other organisations host multi-faith Iftar events that you can attend across the country. Or, if you’re close with a Ramadan-practising Muslim family, you could ask them about how you can get involved.

However, if you want to join in with Ramadan as a non-Muslim, it’s important to do so with the right intentions. Remember that Ramadan and its traditions are incredibly meaningful to Muslim people and should always be respected.

Final thoughts…

Our various beliefs, heritages, and traditions are what make our communities diverse and unique. And learning about different cultures and religions is an excellent way to bridge gaps and develop new or stronger connections with those around us.

We hope that, after reading this article, you’ve learned a little about Ramadan, its traditions, and how you can show support, respect, and solidarity to the Muslims in your community – whether that be in your neighbourhood, at work, or in your social life.

And, to all our Muslim readers, Ramadan Mubarak, from everyone here at Rest Less.

For further reading, head over to the art and culture section of our website. Here, you’ll find more articles on culture and religion, including 9 healthy fasting tips for Ramadan.

Are you a Muslim observing Ramadan? How do you feel supported throughout the holy month? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.