8 Things to Remember for Non-Muslims Living in a Muslim Country During the Holy Month

A few years ago, I lived as a non-Muslim American expatriate in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the Holy Month of Ramadan. At that time, I worked in a European firm that was cognizant of local laws and customs governing corporate practice during the days of fasting, introspection, and alms giving. I spent the arid weekends at the pool, or attending apartment parties, but I never dared to bring anything edible or drinkable into the suffocating Gulf heat or to public places. It was an enlightening experience, from which I would like to share a few tips for people who are not observing Ramadan themselves, but living in countries that legally observe the holiday, perhaps for the first time:

1. Above all, learn and respect the regulations and customs governing expatriate dining during Ramadan, as they may differ from country to country, or province to province.

2. Although the United Arab Emirates and several other Muslim countries are developing at a rapid pace and host many non-Muslims as residents, many (if not all) are legally observant of Ramadan, and take the regulations surrounding the holiday very seriously.

3. Do not be afraid to eat lunch at the office during the workweek, but if possible, do so in a closed room that's far away from your fasting colleagues (e.g., a conference room, executive office, or oversized broom closet).

4. Avoid foods that have a distinct smell (e.g., fast food, curries).

5. Avoid talking about lunch, dinner, or weekend dining plans as much as possible.

6. If you smoke, note exactly where public smoking is allowed ahead of time.

7. Minimize outdoor running and exercise, unless the end of the route is near your residence, at a friend’s place, or an indoor public area where you can drink water and sports drinks legally.

8. Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can about Ramadan and its importance in the Muslim world.

For those of us living in secular or non-Muslim countries, like the United States, it is still important, to be sensitive to and admire our Muslim compatriots and counterparts who are observing Ramadan and honoring traditional religious customs and values. 

If you have any more tips, feel free to share!

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Brian Principato

Brian works as the Director of Communications for an international business advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. He recently finished his Masters in International Trade & Security Policy at George Mason University.

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