What not to say to your Muslim co-worker when they are fasting

Ramadan office London
3 min read
Every year, as the month of Ramadan arrives, my colleagues will ask with eager curiosity what fasting entails and why I do it. I'll happily answer their questions as it allows me to impart some knowledge on Islam and about my beliefs and lifestyle.

However, not everyone's reaction is the same. Here are some of the most common comments that get thrown at me. If you know of a Muslim co-worker who's fasting this year please avoid saying any of the following:
I don't know how you can fast, I could NEVER do that:

Although this may come across as a compliment, the unnecessary praise makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

Fasting is not the same as living through a drought or in poverty. I'm fortunate enough to be able to eat a nutritious and filling meal at the end of every single day. Yes, fasting requires a certain amount of discipline, but like dieting and exercising, anyone can do, if they try.
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Surely you can drink water though, right?

A quick Google search on fasting during Ramadan will reveal that no, you can't drink water, yet this is the most frequently asked question.

My answer to this is usually met with gasps of horror and admiration. It's worth remembering that Muslims only fast during the daylight hours, so I won't dehydrate myself or die.

That's not safe – you're starving yourself!

This is probably the most condescending remark because it's said so flippantly. In fact, there are numerous health benefits of fasting if you do it correctly.
Take me for instance – I've been doing this for 20 years and guess what, I'm still alive and healthy(ish)!
Holy Quran book with date and pastries. Ramadan concept. Dubai. United Arab Emirates

Why don't you just eat? No one will know…

Statements like this undermine the sacrifices that millions of Muslims make when they fast. The reward of fasting lies solely on the fact that it is an act that only God will know about, as you can easily pretend to fast in front of others.

Hence, eating secretly makes a mockery of the entire concept. Stop trying to be the devil on my shoulder – it won't work.

I feel so bad eating in front of you!

Bearing in mind that most non-Muslims don't believe in the evil eye, this is the most puzzling statement of all. Please don't eat your desk lunch secretly in fear that a starving Muslim will yank it out of your hand – they're fasting not starving lions.

You're so lucky, you're going to lose so much weight!

Yes, there are studies to show fasting can help aid weight loss but that's not why we do it. A seemingly positive statement like this might sound fine but again, it undermines the sanctity of Ramadan by implying there are only superficial benefits to doing it.

What you could say instead…

Why do Muslims fast?

I really enjoy discussing Ramadan and the wisdom behind fasting and welcome genuine questions about it. It's only through conversations like these that Muslims can educate others and remove stereotypes and presumptions.

Do you need any support during this month?

Fasting at work can be hard, especially if you're the only Muslim in the team so by offering support you are taking off some of the load.

What are you going to eat tonight?

There's nothing a fasting person loves more than to talk about food. Chances are they've been daydreaming about the iftar meal from the moment that got into the office so they'll be more than happy to indulge you with their meal plans.

Sami Rahman is a freelance writer based in London. 

Follow her on Twitter: @bysamirahman