American Civic Life

What is Ramadan? Your Guide for Supporting Muslim Colleagues During Ramadan

By Silma Suba and Jenan Mohajir
Business team standing by meeting table in conference room, focus on Muslim woman wearing headscarf standing by African-American colleague

Ramadan is a sacred month in which Muslims seek spiritual rejuvenation through many acts of worship, the most prominent of them being fasting. What are some things to keep in mind regarding your Muslim colleagues? (SeventyFour/Getty Images)

This week, millions of Muslims around the world will begin fasting for Ramadan.  

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is the month when the Angel Gabriel visited the Prophet Muhammad to reveal the first verses of the Quran. It is a sacred month in which Muslims seek spiritual rejuvenation through many acts of worship, the most prominent of them being fasting. For the next 29-30 days, Muslims around the world will fast from before sunrise to sunset. They will also spend this time engaging in community around prayer and charity. The beauty of Ramadan is that every family will have certain unique traditions (mostly tied to their cultural/ethnic heritage) and at the same time, there are specific religious practices that tie the global Muslim family together during this special time.  

When does Ramadan begin?  

Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Ramadan begins after the sighting of the new moon. There are two ways to “sight” the moon: by relying on scientific projections on when the new moon will be “born,” and by actually going out and trying to sight the moon visually. This is not a practice required by individuals, but by communities and mosques. Each mosque board or leaders decide how they would like to practice. There are national and /global volunteer- run organizations who connect and verify moon sightings. As a result, sometimes you will hear of Ramadan beginning on different days for people living in the same city.  

What is the best way to greet Muslims at the beginning of Ramadan?  

“Happy Ramadan,” “Ramadan Mubarak,” “Ramadan Kareem” are all great ways to greet those celebrating Ramadan.  

What do Muslim do during Ramadan?  

  • Fasting: They abstain from food, water, and intimacy from before sunrise to sunset.  
  • Extra prayers: They attend (if possible) special community prayers every night (at a mosque or equivalent). One of the goals of these special prayers is to finish a recitation of the entire Quran in 30 days. These prayers are called “Taraweeh.”  
  • Charity and service: Many mark this month by donating money and by engaging in acts of service throughout the month.  
  • Individual practice: This is also a time for each person to engage in individual worship and to seek to strengthen their relationship with God.    

Who fasts during Ramadan?  

The key answer here is everyone who is able. Although fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, children and those who are ill, elderly, pregnant, nursing, menstruating, or traveling are not required to fast. Those who are not fasting can make up their fasts later. If they are not able to do that, they can also pay “fidiya”, meaning they will feed one person in need for each day missed. This year, fasts will be an average of 14 hours or longer in North America.  

What are some things to keep in mind regarding your Muslim colleagues?  


  • Wish your Muslim colleague a “Happy Ramadan,” or “Ramadan Kareem,” or “Ramadan Mubarak”  
  • Go about business as usual.  
  • Ask your Muslim colleagues any questions about this month.  
  • Ask for an invitation to participate in the breaking of the fast or to view prayer at the office.  
  • Practice caution when asking a female Muslim colleague if she is fasting. (Muslim women do not traditionally fast when menstruating. It would be equivalent to asking her if she had her period.)  
  • Supervisors, please check in with your staff who observe Ramadan to ask if there is anything that would support their fast. One option might be to temporarily shift their work schedule.  


  • Schedule important meetings or too many meetings that require Muslim attendance very late in the day. People may understandably be more productive in the mornings (at least at the start of Ramadan as the body gets used to the changes), so scheduling meetings earlier for mornings rather than afternoons might help.   
  • Fasting can affect people in different ways. Be mindful of those that are maybe quieter or more tired but equally do not assume that Ramadan always has an adverse effect. Many Muslims report feeling energized, and they mostly view this holy period as a positive experience.  
  • Offer food or drink to Muslim colleagues.  
  • Remind those practicing of how hungry and tired they must be 

What happens at the end of Ramadan?  

We mark the end of Ramadan by Eid-ul-Fitr, a three- day holiday. Each family marks the celebration of Eid in their own unique way, but there’s plenty of good food, gift giving, and gatherings with family and friends! This year, depending on the moon sighting, Eid will start on April 21 or 22.