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Four ways to support Muslim friends and family and counter Islamophobia during Ramadan

Media Uncovered  |  By Dina El-Rifai, Apr 18, 2019

Members of the community attend AFSC's Communities against Islamophobia training at Guilford College in North Carolina.

Photo: AFSC / Lori Fernald Khamala

As Ramadan 2019 rolls in, Muslims continue to face dangerous threats, trauma, and fear. Now is the time for meaningful and active solidarity and allyship.  

We are entering this Ramadan thinking of the 50 Muslims who were murdered by a white supremacist while they worshipped. They cannot enter into Ramadan with us, but we carry their memory with us. 

Many of us are entering into Ramadan with fear and outrage, witnessing Trump incite violence on Black, Muslim, refugee Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, endangering her life and the lives of Muslims living in America at large. 

Ensuring the safety of marginalized people is a critical and radical position to uphold in the face of normalized violence against them. Making them feel safe means valuing the worth of their identities and backgrounds and actively preserving their humanities. 

Polling shows that Muslim Americans are concerned about their place in society and are experiencing high levels of discrimination, and even violence. 

All of us deserve to feel safe from hatred and to live and pray in peace. And Ramadan is a happy and spiritual holiday. So here are four tips to engage in this Ramadan, brought to you by your local immigrant Muslim woman. 

1. Offer your company. 

During this month Muslims are out late every night for congregational prayers at the masjid lasting up until midnight. Many young Muslims go out for pre-dusk meals with friends after prayers. Being out late at night can feel dangerous. In 2017, Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Black Muslim girl was assaulted and killed while she was walking back to the masjid (mosque) after having a pre-sunrise meal with her friends.

It is essential that allies step up and support Muslim friends, neighbors, and family in our communities, especially after high-profile incidents of violence, such as the attack on Nabra as well as the Waffle House shooting in which all the victims were people of color. It would be kind to offer to accompany your Muslim friends who are out late at night. Offer your support and ask them what they need to feel safe and comfortable. Provide your contact information to them, and tell them to call if they feel unsafe. 

2. Be considerate of sunset time. 

During the month of Ramadan, many Muslims fast every day from dawn until sunset. At sundown, Muslims may break their fast and often enjoy doing so in the company of their community. Be considerate when setting meeting times at work, and if you are together when the sun is setting, plan to have food available so that Muslim colleagues can break their fast. 

3. Medical providers, educators, and others: Be considerate of people who may be fasting.  

Think about ways you can support the people in your life who are fasting. In preparation for Ramadan, the chief medical officer at the University of Virginia sent an email to medical staff explaining how Ramadan may affect patients. “Ask your Muslim patients if they observe the holiday and if so, discuss plans for medication taking and well-being,” the email urged. 

If you are an educator, your students may be fasting during school or class time, and your support might be welcome. Whether that’s offering your classroom during lunchtime to give students an alternative to the cafeteria, or offering early pre-dawn exam times, think about and discuss ways you can support fasting students during Ramadan. Being mindful and accommodating of people’s needs during Ramadan is the considerate thing to do.

4. De-center yourselves and your perceptions in conversations about Ramadan and fasting.  

Often non-Muslims offering comments about Ramadan and fasting can be uninformed and even unkind. We often hear things like, “that sounds like torture!,” “I would die!,” “not even water???,” “you’re gonna kill yourself!,” or “why would you do that to yourself?!” These narrow-minded comments dismiss the importance and spiritual significance of Ramadan and the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of this holy month. Not to mention that fasting is not a punishment, but something we are happy to do that is part of our spiritual practice. Most of us are actually beyond excited about Ramadan and fasting! (And yes... not even water.) 

Being an ally means recognizing that showing up for and supporting Muslim friends, family, and neighbors is an ongoing, holistic process and a commitment. Systems of oppression like anti-Muslim racism affect almost every facet of our lives like our health, education, housing, jobs, and moving through our communities. To be an ally this Ramadan, I hope you will engage in these tips and listen to the Muslim people in your life. And please feel free to wish us “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem” or simply “Happy Ramadan” when you see us! 

About the Author

Dina El-Rifai works with AFSC's Communities Against Islamophobia project. She has also served as Public Policy Fellow in AFSC's Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C.