At Large

Etiquette for Ramadan

Back in the day,” as they say, fasting and abstinence during Lent was not just required but taken with utmost seriousness in Catholic Filipino families.

In my own family, meatless Fridays were strictly observed during Lent. We actually looked forward to these, as it prompted my Mama and the family cook to come up with seafood dishes that would make us forget our carnivore tendencies. But it was a different story with fasting. Having to skip a meal seemed the height of mortification, and we would come up with all sorts of excuses to be exempted. In adulthood, fasting and abstinence became an optional exercise, though I think it’s still “in the books” for the serious Catholic.


Maybe it says something about our attitude toward our faith, living as we do in a predominantly Catholic country. We can “afford” to take our faith — and its practices — for granted. But for those of a minority faith, adherence to religious tenets can become an emblem bolstering identity, asserting uniqueness, comforting and celebratory.

An article by Ayunan Gunting, “Empowering and recharging through the fasting of Ramadan” (Lifestyle, 5/29/18), is an account of one man’s Ramadan, a month during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown, eschewing all food and liquids including water. Little known to non-Muslims, however, is an additional caveat: During Ramadan one is constrained from indulging in “negative thinking and behavior.” It is also a time for charity and sharing, a practice that local Church authorities in decades past sought to adapt through “Alay Kapwa,” complementing fasting and abstinence with generosity of spirit and material benevolence.


Gunting’s account of how he “survives” Ramadan shows how coping during the season can be daunting indeed. Getting up at 1 a.m. for early prayers then preparing the predawn meal, taking time to bathe before performing the rituals before sunrise. During the day, Muslims go through their normal workday responsibilities, including taking time for noontime and mid-afternoon prayers, though Gunting says he takes care to slow down and ease up on unnecessary physical activity.

A friend says that the biggest “hardship” of Ramadan is having bad breath, which is a by-product of a dry mouth. I can imagine how this waterless routine could be especially trying these days, what with the nearly unbearable heat.

Circulating on Facebook is an advertisement for Coca-Cola showing a non-Muslim woman offering a bottle of Coke to a veiled Muslim woman. About to gulp down her soda, the woman notices her companion staring out at the horizon, waiting for sunset which signals the time to break the day’s fast. She waits with her companion for the sun to dip below the horizon before they drink their Coke, sharing an instant friendship born of tolerance and companionship.

The “iftar” is the meal that marks the sundown breaking of the fast. It is usually a family or even communal affair, with everyone gathered around the table or mat to share victuals and drinks, and then repair to the nearest mosque for the evening prayer, followed again by feasting. Indeed, says a post on “how not to offend Muslims during Ramadan,” observant Muslims often gain weight in the course of this month of sacrifice, tending to overindulge during the nighttime meal.

The same guide on etiquette for non-Muslims during Ramadan says that it’s all right to eat and drink during the day even while in the company of a Muslim. I would imagine it adds to the element of sacrifice and sanctity demanded of Muslim believers in this season. Although I believe it is but polite for non-Muslims to refrain from overindulgence while in their company or else to move to another place where one could wolf down without causing undue distress.

After all, we live in an increasingly multicultural world, where acceptance of individual and communal quirks — such as religious identity — is encouraged and supported. We can all just get along together.

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TAGS: At Large, fasting, meatless Fridays, Ramadan, Rina Jimenez-David
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