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The Holy Month of Ramadan

Updated on February 2, 2017

Ramadan — A Guide for Non-Muslims

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. That doesn't mean September. This year, 2017, it will begin on May 27 and end on June 25. The Islamic year has twelve lunar months, totalling 355 days. Each month starts on a new moon. This means that Ramadan begins about 10 days earlier each year (compared with the Gregorian Calendar used in the West). The Islamic New Year also advances by 10 days per year. The current Islamic year, 1438, began on October 3, 2016 and will end on September 21, 2017.

Ramadan Kareem

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Why is Ramadan Special?

According to tradition, it was during Ramadan that the Archangel Gabriel selected Muhammad to receive and speak the words of Allah which are preserved to this day as the holy Quran. Unlike the Christian Bible which is nearly always read in translation, the Quran is normally read in its original Arabic language. Thus, in Islam, the Quran is especially sacred as the direct word of God. (The classical Arabic of the Quran is of a higher, more complex, form than the Arabic of modern books and newspapers).

Fasting for Ramadan

Muslims mark Ramadan by fasting each day from sunrise to sunset. This is a strict fast: no food and no drink of any sort, not even water. It is hard for smokers because that too is disallowed, as is any sexual activity while fasting. The faithful rise early in the morning and take a meal, Suhoor, before dawn and first prayers. Their next meal is called Iftar and is taken after the sunset prayer. Within the faith, exceptions are made for the old and infirm, young children, and pregnant and nursing mothers.

Throughout Ramadan, families get together to share food and company in the evenings and night-time, and the emphasis is always on reflection, prayer, and charity. Ramadan is not a commercialised festival.

Fresh Dates, Perfect for Iftar

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Some Tips for Non-Muslims

If you live in the West, your life goes on as normal. Nevertheless, it is good to be aware that your Muslim colleagues may well be fasting. It is considerate to respect this, and not to make a show of eating and drinking in their presence. It is good to say 'Ramadan kareem' in greeting. It will be appreciated, as I'm sure you would appreciate a 'Merry Christmas' from the locals if you were working in Saudi or the United Arab Emirates.

If you live in an Islamic country, Ramadan is enshrined in law. It is not simply a religious option. You are not obliged to fast, but you are required to respect the traditions. Here are some tips to avoid accidental offence:

  • Take a good breakfast in the privacy of your apartment before venturing out for the day. If you must have lunch, take a packed lunch and find a private place to eat it. Better still, try to do without. Most of us carry a few extra pounds anyway.
  • Don't snack. Avoid coffees, cakes, biscuits and sweets during the day. Chewing gum is also frowned upon. Most of our grazing is habit, rather than necessity, so it's a good discipline to avoid it. You'll want to drink water. Try to find a private place.
  • Try not to smoke. If you really must, find a private place, but also consider why you must!
  • Be careful on the roads! Driving standards are low in the Gulf States at the best of times. Around sunset, the roads are full of people rushing home to break their day-long fast with their families. Many are dehydrated and very tired. Seriously, be careful!

Ramadan 2016 (1437) was particularly tough for those fasting because its four weeks almost exactly straddled the longest day, June 20. Ramadan 2017 (1438) though ten days earlier than last year, still includes the Summer solstice and will not be easy. In Northern countries, the effect is further amplified, with very early sunrises, very late sunsets and only a few hours of darkness to fit in all meals. And what about the lands with the midnight sun? Mercifully, Islam allows certain compromises in the fasting regime for these impossible climes!

Extra Tips for Gulf Travellers:

Shopping, business and Government office hours change during Ramadan. Most establishments post a notice of Ramadan timings at their entrance. Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food outlets do not open in daylight. However, food shops do open and you can buy food to cook at home. Expect hotel restaurants to be closed during daylight. International hotels will provide room service.

Dress code during Ramadan is more restrained. Legs, shoulders and arms should be covered. In stricter quarters, even the wearing of jewellery is frowned upon, though this is not universal.

Alcohol outlets (if any) usually remain closed throughout the month. In Dubai, hotel bars open in the evenings (after Iftar) but with no live music. The Filipino bands are usually allowed home for the month. In stricter states, bars are closed for the whole month, even for residents (though minibars may be stocked).

Lewd or offensive gestures or speech, never popular in Islam, are particularly to be avoided during this month when people are trying to keep their minds pure. But that's always good advice!

Extra Tips on Fasting

Sometimes, non-Muslims living in the Gulf states choose to take part in the Ramadan fasting regime, either as a token of respect or in some cases simply because of circumstances. If you are not used to fasting but decide to try it, the following suggestions may help:

  1. For your pre-dawn meal, choose slow energy release foods like pasta, rice or whole meal bread. Avoid empty calories (sugar and sweets) and avoid fried or heavily salted foods that will make you thirsty all day. Drink plenty of water with this meal.
  2. During the day, unless you wish to be very strict with yourself as a discipline, drinking water is better for your health than doing without, especially in hot countries. Dehydration is not good for the body.
  3. When you break your fast at sunset, take a little fruit and water first (dates are traditionally served) to take the edge off your hunger. Then take dinner later in the evening.
  4. Go to bed early as you will be rising early to eat. Sleep deprivation has no health advantages.

As an aside, there is concern often expressed in the local papers that some Muslims, though they fast through the daylight hours, may over-indulge in the evenings and through the night, socialising to excess with friends and family, even to the extent of putting on weight through the month. This is contrary to the true spirit of Ramadan and has parallels in the West in the over-commercialisation of Christmas.

Ramadan Kareem! And thanks for reading.

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    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 6 months ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Coming in four more days, Courtney.

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      Courtney 6 months ago

      Is ramadan here

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Most welcome, Ata, and thanks for commenting.

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      Ata 2 years ago

      Hi Paraglider & all

      ((Peace comes from people, wars from governments.))

      its a golden words

      one of the best discussion iv ever read. its a confirmation of the above great words.

      my greetings and respect to all people with clean mind & heart like you.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thank you, and yes, we should all make space for each other.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Very hard for a 12 year-old, I'd say, especially in the West. And in Oregon the days are very long at this time of year. (But at least you don't have temperatures in the mid 40s Celsius (about 115 F) like we do here in the desert!)

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      McKenna Meyers 2 years ago from Bend, OR

      Thanks for writing and sharing this. My 12-year-old son has a friend who will be observing Ramadan, and we know so little about it. His mother told us it's more difficult to observe it here in Oregon because they don't have a large Muslim community to support them. I can't imagine going to work all day without consuming food and water. My productivity would be low!

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      Dave McClure 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      jlpark - I've been to Malaysia but never around Ramadan. I would imagine the fasting routine there is more of a personal choice. Here in Qatar, everything changes for the month as Ramadan is enshrined in Law.

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      Jacqui 3 years ago from New Zealand

      We visited Malaysia at the end of Ramadan one year, not knowing it was Ramadan until we heard the celebrations in the street outside our first hotel. This was my first experience of Ramadan, and we partook in Adilfritri Hari Rya (I forget which way it goes..sorry) feasts at the resort - yum!.

      I then worked with a man who is Muslim, and has his Ramadan period very much respected where we worked - I learnt a lot from him, but I have certainly learnt a lot here - thank you for sharing!

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      Ana Maria Orantes 3 years ago from Miami Florida

      Happy Holidays for the good muslims people.God bless those around them in a good way. I like your hub. Thank you for writing about other culture 's religion. Some of their food dishes around Ramadam are delicious. I tried some of their food in a multicultural parties From work invitations a few years back.Thank you Mr. Dave.

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      Keneizha 3 years ago

      It was interesting. I am a non Muslim thanks for the tips . Oh and happy Ramadan Kareem

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Zulfikar - There are certainly muslims who drink alcohol all year round, even during Ramadan in some cases, but not during the fasting hours. However, as a non-muslim visitor to an Islamic country, I am not qualified to speak on whether this negates the fast within the faith. Maybe someone else can answer?

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      Zulfikar 4 years ago

      Assalaam Alaykum i want to know one thing there are muslims who do drink alcohol, but when its ramadhan they stop but as soon as ramadhan ends after eid they start drinking alcohol as usual. is this correct? will your fast be accepted ? please brief

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thank you, Grace-Wolf. During Ramadan, in a predominantly Muslim country, the whole ambiance of the country changes. This is now my eleventh Middle East Ramadan - just starting...

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      Grace-Wolf-30 4 years ago from England

      This is a very insightful hub. And I have absolute respect for Ramadan. I don't know how people are able to fast like that. I'm so grumpy when I'm hungry! And all the people I meet who fast carry themselves as usual, as though there is no change in their diet. I've really learnt something from this hub, thank you.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      ketage, agvulpes, Dolores - thank you for commenting. This article ticks over all year then comes alive at Ramadan. More than 1,000 visitors today!

      Fasting without water is very hard, especially when Ramadan falls in high summer. Here in Qatar, the daytime temperatures now are mod to high 40s (Celsius). In very northern countries, though cooler, the very long days can leave not enough time for iftar, suhoor and the associated prayers. In extremes like this I am told it is permissible to adopt Saudi hours for the regime.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Thank you for the information on Ramadan. It takes a serious commitment to religion to adhere to such strict fasting. Going without water is the worst! If I was a Muslim, I should not want to live in the northern regions of the world. What with Ramadan falling in summer, the long days would be quite punishing.

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 4 years ago from Australia

      Paraglider thanks very much for this very informative Hub. In the past I have not understood what Ramadan represented to the Muslim religion but now it is so much clearer. :)

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      ketage 4 years ago from Croatia

      I used to live in Malaysia and had many Muslim friends, since we used to hang out together a lot, I actually ended up fasting with them. It takes a little bit of getting used but its an experience I will not forget.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Well, Ramadan was declared this evening, so tomorrow your friends will very likely be starting their fasting regime. Thanks for the visit.

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      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Very educational. I live in an ethnically, religiously diverse neighborhood in the United States. Neighbors on both sides are Muslim and I never really knew much about the faith. One of the neighbors puts Christmas lights up to fit in with others and the other sends his kids out on Halloween. It is kind of neat how there is a respectful blending. Now I can wish them a happy holiday. Thanks.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      I've never known anyone take offense at a sincerely offered greeting, Ramadan kareem, or Ramadan mubarak.

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      Ah Li 5 years ago

      i am a non muslim, Would he be offended if I offered him (muslim) this ramadan greeting card or email ?

      please let me know if i am not suppose to do. thank you

      email to michaellkw1@gmail.com

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      ekson 5 years ago

      i love muslims wish i was one but am a namibian oh

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      Dave McClure 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      samreen - it's certainly good to experience even if not of the faith.

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      samreen ashfaq 6 years ago

      the month of ramadan is the good month of the life

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks for that, mysterylady. Ramadan is a tangible presence here in the Gulf and affects all aspects of life for one whole moon.

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      mysterylady 89 7 years ago from Florida

      This was an interesting, very informative hub.

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      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      John - ditto, especially as regards proselytising.

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      lightning john 7 years ago from Florida

      Hi Paraglider, true that I have never met a Muslim that wasn't very kind to me, or that I didn't like. Cannot say the same of others.

      As for proselytising, I wish it were illegal here in the U.S. too.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Lightning John - It's no secret that I espouse no religion personally and have written several hubs on the subject of Rational Philosophy.

      However, I currently live in the Middle East where it is important to respect local traditions. This hub is primarily what it says in the title - a guide for non-Muslims, to help expat Westerners and others to understand what Ramadan is all about.

      For a time I lived in India where again I found it appropriate to respect local custom and practice.

      You may be interested to know that in 9 years in the Gulf, no-one has ever made any attempt to convert me to Islam. In fact, proselytising is illegal in many states and considered impolite everywhere.

      I find the spirit of Ramadan - self discipline and attempted self-purification - uplifting, and something we can all learn from, whether we believe in the same god, different gods or none at all.

    • lightning john profile image

      lightning john 7 years ago from Florida

      Hi ParaGlider I mean no disrespect to you. You seem like a very educated man. I have seen your opposing comments on other religious peoples hubs. So what I am saying now you will understand. All religion is based on fear of punishment or the hope of some unrealistic reward, such as everlasting life in heaven or the earth transformed to paradise. I grew up in a fanatic religion, and even as a child I could see that all religion was flawed. So now that a culture is saturated in oil money we are all supposed to convert to their thinking or suffer the consequences? What if the Hindu people had all the oil and money, then what? Do you see what I am saying?

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      NEMIR BAKEER 7 years ago

      Ramadan Kareem May God SAVE ALL Muslims

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      gul rahim 7 years ago

      congradulate the new ramadan to all muslims brothers i proud on muslims inshallah islam will be for ever thank u dear readers

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Ramadan hub updated today for 2010, Islamic year 1432.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi Sweely - thanks for the compliments! I'll certainly visit your site, but I should tell you that I am not a Muslim, myself. I'm an ex-pat Scot, living and working in the Qatar and sometimes UAE. I wrote this hub just to give something back to the region that has been my adopted home for the last several years.

    • Sweely profile image

      Sweely 8 years ago

      Wow, this was a really good hub! I actually read through it all. You used pictures, good English... it had everything! Great job. Do you think a job as an Islamic Blogger would fit you nice?

      I/we have a website about Ramadan. On the website, we have a blog, a forum, and lots of information about what Ramadan is. You seem like a good writer, and I'm interested in having you as an author on our website. Visit our website and see if you're interested: http://www.ramadanonline.com

      Have a nice day!

    • prettydarkhorse profile image

      prettydarkhorse 8 years ago from US

      hi Dave, yes for me I just take away one of my usual addiction like I will not drink Coke for one week, then I will be back to drinking again LOL! I think the Muslims are more die hard with their beliefs! Or I will not go shopping LOL! But I remember during Lent in the Philippines, I accompany my mother to the church for three hours, hmmm, it is boring for me usually because I am still young then, and then my mother will pinch me if i make noise,

      hmmmm, but every year I always celebrate it on my own, like having some kind of penance!

      You have a good day, Always, Maita

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi Maita - in the Philippines do you fast throughout Lent? That's quite a major undertaking. In UK some people give up one or two luxuries (chocolate, alcohol etc) for Lent, but fasting, Ramadan-style, is unusual.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image

      prettydarkhorse 8 years ago from US

      hi Dave, I came acroos this article of yours, am I late already, last month is their Ramadan, but I learned a lot from this one, as always with your other article.

      Respect for their tradition is a must also, I think that this is somewhat equivalent to Lenten season (Catholic tradition) wher eyou also fast for the duration of Lent. I have a Muslim friend and I always repsect her during this times!

      Thanks again and have a good day always! Maita

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Bbudoyono. I look forward to reading some of yours from Indonesia.

    • Bbudoyono profile image

      Bbudoyono 8 years ago

      Para, your hub is not only informative but also touching. Thank you very much.

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      johnny 8 years ago

      Very well written hub .....

      very much informative ......

      Thank you very much for your great hub, for good advice, good wishes and support. Thanks for sharing your experience with all of us.

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      Nita D. 8 years ago

      Thank u for giving good advice..I will marry a man from Egypt soon and i want to learn as much about his religion as i can. I want to respect his beliefs as i respect him. Ramadan Kareem

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Shalini & Quicksand - thanks for visiting this old hub as it approaches its third Ramadan! I refurbed it this year with a couple of new photos. I enjoy my Qatar Ramadans. Though not a believer, it's still a peaceful time.

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 8 years ago

      The world would be different if we are different! When we choose to remain the same, life too will! ... But that's what makes life worth living! Diverse mentalities! (If I may call it that!)

      Hey! Gives me an idea for a hub! I am starved of ideas as I am participating in the 30 day challenge!

      Thanks Paraglider!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      If only more people respected and were considerate of another's way of life..... it would be a different world!

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      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks nettech - Ramadan Kareem to you and yours too :)

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      nettech 8 years ago from London (UK)

      Some great information there, its a great remonder to those who maybe new to Arab Muslim culture. Ramadan Kareem for 2009.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hey, thanks Tony. I've been a guest in Islamic countries for the last seven years. This is just an attempt to give something back in return for much hospitality.

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      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Great, caring and respectful Hub - would that we all could be so accepting and respectful of the beliefs and feelings of others.

      You have set a great example here, Para, and I appreciate it very much indeed.

      Salaam aleikum!

      Tony

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      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Nasheed - 25 days to go, yes. This year it starts Aug 21.

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      nasheed 8 years ago

      lovely month of ramadan is 25 days ago.

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      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Usman - thanks for the visit. You've reminded me I must update the hub with this seasons' Ramadan dates.

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      usmanali81 8 years ago

      Great informative hub.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Ohood - thank you for visiting. The whole character of the city (Doha) changes during this month. People's priorities are reassessed and their perspectives change. I agree that it is good for all of us to experience.

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      Ohood 9 years ago

      ramadan is teaching us "Muslims and even our brothers and sisters who are non-Muslims" patience and also to respect each other and understand mercy .

      hunger is a great lesson for us to beleive in chraity and help.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      It's quite simple - as I explained in the hub, Ramadan is not simply a religious choice in some states. It is also the law of the land. So, you just don't eat or drink or smoke in public during the daylight hours. It's no hardship and actually quite refreshing.

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      SweetiePie 9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I believe in Qatar and Egypt you would need to do as you say. I hear it is even wrong for non-Muslims to drink in many places during Ramadan, so I see what you mean.

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      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      SweetiePie - Thanks for visiting. I'm not saying non-muslims (in the west) shouldn't eat in the presence of colleagues who may be fasting. I'm specifically talking about 'making a show' of eating. It's a subtle distinction, but a real one, I think. But mainly the hub's about what to expect if visiting an Islamic country, especially in the Gulf region. And I've just noticed I need to revise this hub with this year's dates. Ramadan is coming around soon!

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Interesthing hub with good tips.  However, I must say I disagree with your point about not making a show of eating in front of other Muslims.  Many work places have a ritual of bringing goodies in for co-workers and I am sure a good Muslim would not be offended if others partaked during Ramadan, just as I am not offended if my co-worker tells a high school student working with us part-time that college is about drinking and smoking.  I offered my two sense on this issue by saying I think smoking and drinking is not healthy, but I would never say "No you can talk about this". 

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      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks for the comment, topstuff :)

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      topstuff 9 years ago

      Im commenting now as the Ramadan is over.But the message was nice and conveyed in a good way.

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      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thank you - I travel a great deal (in fact I am rarely at home) so I've learned to value the differences in cultures and religions.

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      Kathryn Skaggs 9 years ago from Southern California

      Paraglider -

      I appreciated this Hub very much. There is a reverence in your writing that touches my heart. Thank you, for sharing a glimpse of how others worship. It was truly beautiful.

      tDMg

      LdsNana-AskMormon

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      Dave McClure 10 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      That is a wonderful story and very much of the kind I'd hoped this hub might attract. I am much travelled, and still travelling, and see more harmony than disharmony among ordinary people. Peace comes from people, wars from governments.

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      Cory Zacharia 10 years ago

      A few of years ago, an Islamic couple who were neighbors of mine prepared me a dinner to break the Yom Kippur fast (a Jewish holiday) and some time later, I prepared them a dinner to break the Ramadan fast. We all decided that peace on earth was possible. A few years later, at my wedding, that same woman who was my neighbor read a poem by Rumi as part of my wedding ceremony. We are sealed as friends for life.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 10 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      I was in UAE for three years and am now in Qatar, which is a stricter society, more akin to Sharjah than to Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Though non-Muslim myself, I enjoy the spirit of Ramadan in these countries.

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      Rmnathan 10 years ago from Sharjah

      I am here in UAE for 14 years now, and am familiar with various aspects of Ramadan. Irrespective of religion, whether you are a Muslim or not, every one is allowed a reduced working time during this period. Therefore many of the non-Muslims too can manage to avoid the lunch by usual 1 P.M. As you said this is a matter of mutual respect. Ramadan Kareem.

    • Paraglider profile image
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      Dave McClure 10 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      And to you, habibi !

    • Guru-C profile image

      Cory Zacharia 10 years ago

      Ramadan Kareem!