From mid-May to mid-June this year, over one billion people worldwide will be observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The date is fluid and depends on when the new moon is sighted. As noted by New York Daily News, it can be "confusing for non-Muslims to keep track of when Ramadan is — about 10 years ago it happened around Christmas and Hannukah. This is because the Islamic calendar is lunar, as opposed to the civil calendar, which is solar. The lunar year is shorter than the solar year, so Ramadan begins about 11 days earlier every year.”
The timing isn’t the only thing that is foreign to many Americans.
Even though roughly one quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, many of us in the United States know little to nothing about Ramadan. That’s one reason CNN’s Saeed Ahmed recently provided “A Ramadan etiquette guide for non-Muslims” where he offers some advice on how to accommodate your Muslim coworkers during this holy time, although he suggests it isn’t necessary to go over the top to do so. “Is there anything you should do so you don't come across as insensitive to your fasting friends in the US?” he asks rhetorically. “Short answer: No. Long answer: No.”
His tips include simple courtesies like avoiding work lunches – observant Muslims fast from sunup to sundown during Ramadan – and allowing flexibility if employees ask to come and leave a bit early – it’s important for Muslims to actually see the moon at the start of Ramadan.
While most of Ahmed’s tips are meant to be lighthearted, they touch on an important point: even though so much of the world’s population practices Islam, very few Americans have much familiarity with their holiest time of year.
As our domestic population becomes more diverse and our business environment becomes increasingly international, it will become increasingly important to be aware of and respectful of the cultures of groups we may have had little or no previous contact with.
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