Ramadan, demystified

‘Ramadan is like Christmas’. Err, no it’s not.

Why do we do this? Why do we compare one event to another to explain its value?

Honestly speaking, I – or someone like me – may be the reason why you compare Ramadan to other faith events. While growing up in the hope of ‘blending in’, I and many others have downplayed the significance of Ramadan and other Islamic holidays. This can probably also be said for other faiths and events.

For me, explaining why I fast has always been hard. At times I have felt silly; like I am telling you something from a different era. It’s therefore easier to treat it like an event or day that we are more aware of in the western world, and to focus on what many Muslims do and don’t do during Ramadan rather than explain why. 

What is Ramadan? 

Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Hijri Calendar, also known as the Islamic, Muslim or Arabic Calendar. Like the Gregorian calendar – the one we use every day – the Hijri Calendar consists of 12 months but rather than having 365-366 days a year, the Hijri Calendar consists of 354-355 days and follows the lunar cycle. The length of each month varies. This means the timing of Ramadan shifts every year, usually by about 10 days earlier each year. This is also one of the reasons why we don’t always know when Ramadan takes place or when it’ll be Eid-Ul-Fitr [the festival that immediately takes place after Ramadan ends].

What do Muslims do during Ramadan?

During Ramadan, we fast. Fasting in Islam is referred to as sawm, and sawm is one of the five pillars of Islam. This means it is an obligation and commitment on all (able) Muslims to fast during the month of Ramadan. This doesn’t only mean food and water, it includes other things that may not be good for our mind and body too, for example swearing, back-biting, etc.  

While we fast, Muslims tend to put in more effort to follow the teachings of Islam; we practice more self-discipline and detachment, we give more charity during this period, we help others more, we pray more, and we try to show more humility. We also reflect more on life and our purpose. 

No two Ramadans are the same – what you experience one year may not be what you experience in another. 

I don’t actually remember when I first started fasting but I do remember hearing different accounts on why we fast. As things have changed in my life, the way I have prepared for Ramadan, the way I feel about it and what I do during the month has evolved.

Thinking back, the twelve-year-old me was extremely proud that I managed to keep a fast – the number of fasts I kept was associated with treats and gifts. In my early twenties, Ramadan became a time when I would break my fasts with friends and a lavish meal in fancy restaurants, or something homemade that was shareable with friends while we worked the late shift in a call centre. Once married, it became about strengthening our marriage by praying together and learning about our religion together. Now, it’s about understanding and recognising my privilege. A time when I intentionally think about how lucky I am in my life. A time when I reflect on what I have, where I am and what I do, and to really say thanks for all of this – partly because I am afraid that it can all be taken away at the click of a finger.

Ramadan is personal

So much of what I, or any other person, experiences during Ramadan is personal. Every fast is different, every prayer brings about a different emotion. How I feel in the morning isn’t necessarily how I feel in the evening; how I feel at the beginning of the month won’t be how I feel towards the end of it.

It can be tiring to communicate these feelings. Sometimes it is easier to dismiss them and instead compare Ramadan or the feeling of sawm to something that is more relatable in the western world. It’s easier to step away from the conversation and let someone else do the explaining, rather than think about how I have come across or how ‘preachy’ I may sound.

If  you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.  

As comms people, the onus of diversifying our comms and making them representative is on us. How can we do this when communicating such days or events?

  • Do your homework. Spend time learning about different days and events so you can understand their importance and what they mean to your audience. This will also help you understand the significance of words/phrases, and which are appropriate and better to use.
  • Fact check your content. Ask yourself if what you are saying is correct. If you are unsure, check using search engines or key word searches online. You can also reach out to your network, share your content with them and adapt it based on their feedback.
  • Don’t overthink or over complicate your messages. Sometimes a simple gesture is enough, and you don’t need a full-blown campaign. What matters is that you are authentic, and what you say is relevant to your audience.
  • Try to be consistent – don’t give one event or day significant coverage and nothing to another. Remember, it’s not a competition, people just want to see that you are being fair and unbiased in your comms.
  • Where possible, give examples in internal messages. If you’re working with line managers on how to support staff during religious days and occasions, simply saying ‘be flexible’ is not good enough. Give examples of what this means as this will better support managers with individual requests. 
  • Repeat and adapt messages as necessary. Be mindful of the length of religious activities and events, adapt messages based on the length of these and don’t be afraid to remind colleagues of support and guidance and to ‘check-in’ part way through. Those partaking in such activities will recognise and appreciate this.

I hope this helps with any messages you put out this month or in the future. If you are communicating Ramadan messages, get in touch. I’d love to share examples of what organisations are doing.

Ramadan Kareem! 

[Have a generous Ramadan]

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