Come July 10th, Muslims all over the world will be commencing their annual fasting ritual during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims are required to fulfill these obligations. During Ramadan, as a basic rule Muslims are to abstain from consuming any food, water, and to avoid smoking and sexual activities from dawn until dusk; this is an opportunity to learn self-restraint so as to be closer to God.
The spirit of Ramadan also serves as a reminder for Muslims to carry out good deeds, including donating to the poor and being kind to others. It’s not that Muslims should wait for Ramadan do these things, but the holy month is a time for one to reflect on past actions, correct past mistakes, and endeavour to become a better Muslim and human being in general.
To understand our Muslim friends better, here are the top myths and realities about Ramadan:
MYTH #1: Fasting is only about abstaining from food and water.
REALITY: For Muslims, fasting is not just about avoiding consumption of food and drink, but also about cleansing the spirit. Muslims are reminded to avoid doing anything undesirable such as gossiping, watching adult content, getting into arguments, using profane language etc.
Fasting is about learning self-restraint, and this can be in various ways apart from just abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. As Ramadan is the holiest month on the Islamic calendar, Muslims also take the opportunity to become a better person through selfless acts, and be closer to God through prayer.
MYTH #2: Muslims who are fasting can’t swallow anything, including their own saliva, as it breaks their fast.
REALITY: Swallowing one’s own saliva does not break the fast as saliva is produced as part of the body’s natural process. It does not come from outside the body for the purpose of nourishment.
MYTH #3: Muslims are still allowed to drink plain water during the daily fasting period.
REALITY: Any consumption of fluids for nourishment breaks the fast, and this includes drinking plain water!
MYTH #4: All Muslims are required to fast, regardless of their physical condition.
REALITY: Muslims who are able-bodied are required to fast. However, children, pregnant women, the elderly, or anyone who isn’t physically able to complete a fast are expected to take care of their health first. They can then make up for the lost fast outside of the month of Ramadan if it’s physically possible.
Fasting at the workplace
In Singapore some 15% of the population is Muslim, so chances are you have a colleague who will be carrying out his or her fasting obligation.
In countries where Muslims represent the majority of the population, working hours are shortened or adjusted to start earlier and end earlier in the day. In Singapore, employers in general do not have to adopt such a practice. Some, however, do allow their Muslim staff to start work early and knock off by 4-5pm to prepare for their iftar, or breaking of fast.
This should in fact be encouraged across the board, so perhaps the public sector should set the example for the private sector to follow. After all, we are a multi-racial and multi-religious society, and being mindful and considerate about others’ religious practices can only help promote cross-cultural understanding and create a more inclusive society.
Another simple way for non-Muslims to be respectful of their Muslim colleagues during the fasting month is to avoid eating and drinking in front of them. While Muslims by and large won’t take any offence, it’s definitely not helpful for them to have a thirst-quenching glass of iced lemon tea staring at them in their state of dehydration!
Employers can also provide welfare for their fasting employees by allowing a meeting room to be blocked for their Muslim staff to rest or get some shuteye during lunch hour. That way, they can feel refreshed and continue to be productive even as they fast throughout the day.
While the month of Ramadan may not be observed by non-Muslims, we can all certainly make the effort to help our Muslim friends get through the month through a basic understanding and appreciation of their religious practices and observations.