Ramadan Mubarak!

Drawing from a decade of my Ramadan experiences in Maine, questions often arise about appropriate conduct around those fasting and celebrating this Muslim holy month.

One common query is whether it’s acceptable to eat lunch near someone observing Ramadan. Additionally, there’s confusion about the proper greeting: Is it “Happy Ramadan,” “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak”?

Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, is obligatory for most healthy Muslims. Fasting individuals should not be bothered by non-fasting individuals eating during the day. While it’s advised to avoid eating provocatively in front of those fasting, the act of fasting should not be disrupted by others consuming food.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at noriftin@gmail.com.

People can make mistakes at times and forget that it is Ramadan, especially longtime Mainers who are not used to Ramadan rules. If someone offers a drink or cheese and crackers to a fasting person, he or she might respond, “Thanks, but I am fasting today,” or they might absent-mindedly have some. The person who offered the cheese and crackers should not feel bad or have a sleepless night over it because they provoked someone to eat. It happens. I can’t even recall the many times I accidentally ate or drank water during Ramadan. It is sometimes easy to forget that it is Ramadan, but it is forgivable if we forget.

It’s perfectly acceptable to inquire, “Are you fasting today?” It does not make you seem ignorant. I ask fellow Muslims if they are fasting. It’s important not to assume someone’s fasting or Ramadan observance status because various circumstances, like illness or travel, may exempt them from fasting. Pregnant women and children under 15 are not required to fast. Nonetheless, some children may choose to fast alongside adults as a form of training and children can break their fasting anytime during the day as they wish. High school or middle school teachers should be informed that fasting is optional for younger teens.


Understanding the five pillars of Islam is crucial for Muslims, but it is important that our non-Muslim neighbors be aware of them as well. These pillars are daily prayers, charitable giving (Zakat) to the needy, performing the Hajj pilgrimage, believing in one God and His messenger, and fasting during Ramadan.

While the Hajj may not be feasible for everyone, the other pillars should be observed anywhere. During Ramadan, many Maine Muslims prioritize Zakat by sending funds to feed those in need, particularly in their countries of origin. Non-Muslims can also contribute to Zakat, which can include various forms of assistance, such as food, clothing, furniture or monetary donations. As long as you are not giving out things that you or your family need, that extra couch in your garage would qualify as Zakat.

Hosting an Iftar party for fasting Muslims is permissible and definitely fun, provided the food at sundown to break the daily fast is Halal and does not contain pork or alcohol. Based on my experience, most Muslims in Maine prefer communal Iftars, like the Biddeford Community Iftar which brings together Muslims and non-Muslims alike for a feast. Often, guest speakers address the community, emphasizing the significance of Ramadan and the other four pillars of Islam. Additionally, fasting members of the community are afforded the opportunity to pray in open spaces and invite other communities of different faiths to join or watch.

While mosques are traditional places of worship, Muslims can pray at home or in the open space. During prayers, Muslims should maintain focus and avoid speaking or reacting to distractions. Joining the prayers is permissible, even if one is not of the Muslim faith. Observing and learning are integral parts of the Ramadan experience, even for those unfamiliar with Islamic practices. By respecting traditions and engaging with curiosity and respect, everyone can share in the spirit of Ramadan. My favorite part of the Ramadans here in Maine is talking about Ramadan to our neighbors and friends who are not used to fasting or observing Ramadan.

And yes, it’s perfectly fine to say, “Happy Ramadan,” “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.”

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