“Ramadan Kareem” In The Work Place

by admin on August 4, 2011

I write to you today because I am very unsure of what to do and have had little luck using even your informative site to find out  the proper manners/social courtesy.

I have many clients at my job that are Muslim.  Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan, a very holy month for faithful Muslims.  I myself do not believe in any deity or organized religion.  However, I feel very strongly about the right to believe what one wants and that no one is wrong if they have found a spiritual path/belief that gives them a strong sense of faith and foundation for life.  I would honestly fight to the death to defend any individuals right to believe in Jesus, Allah, Shiva, or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster.    Living in the south, my Muslim clients have never brought up the subject of beliefs unless I’ve asked for information from them.   I do not believe the work place is the correct venue for any of us to talk about such a personal subject  (and my own non belief of anything often makes me a target of well meaning believers.)

I understand that the holy observation has something to do with when their prophet Muhammad was spoken to by Allah/ or an angel.  Please forgive my ignorance if I have the reason for the fast wrong.   I know that Muslims observing Ramadan cannot eat or drink while the sun is up during the month.  I am careful not to schedule any business lunches with my Islamic clients during this time and I have instructed my front desk staff to not offer anyone water during August.  (It is very hot down here and I have my front ladies offer bottled water to everyone that walks in, post man, lost people..everyone!  During August we’ve placed a sign by the cooler that says, “Just ask! We’ll be happy to get you a bottle of water!”)    I want to give anyone that would like refreshment from the southern summer weather, but I do not want to offer it to anyone that must say no. Most people that come into our building are repeat clients that are used to the water (or coffee/hot tea during the winter.), so the neon sign telling people to just ask seemed like a good option.

What I’d like to know is if it would be wrong for me to say “Ramadan Kareem!” to the clients that I know for sure are observing?    I say  “Merry Christmas” during December to my Christian clients, although I am not of their faith.   I would like to acknowledge my clients’ sacrifice of fasting for their beliefs, but I do not want to offend or appear to not respect the holiday.  Is there anyway for a non believer (of everything!) to quietly and politely show respect and knowledge of religions, especially in the work place?   0802-11

I’m confused as to how you can state a belief that discussions about religion are private and not appropriate for the work place and then violate your own beliefs by asking clients about their religious practices.   It seems to me that your belief in the privacy of personal religious beliefs is the central tenant of a business policy towards clients.  So, I’m not sure why you are taking the initiative to ask your clients about a private matter that probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the operation of your business.

Are you assuming that because they are Muslim that they practice certain rituals and celebrations?  Just as with other religions, there are nominal, “secularized” or what I would call “cultural” Muslims.    In the Mormon religion, these nominal believers would be referred to as “Jack Mormons”.   In my own context, we use the phrase “cultural christian” (uncapitalized “c” is intentional) to describe someone claiming a religious affiliation but no evidence of actually practicing their religion.    Not all Muslims may observe Ramadan.  Even among  devout Muslims, there are exemptions to who observes the Ramadan fast.    So, I would caution you to be careful to not presume farther than the direct information available to you as given by each client.   For example, there are Christian denominations that do not celebrate Christmas so wishing them a “Merry Christmas” might not be appropriate.   (And btw, I believe it is gracious to acknowledge that people are well-intentioned and trying to be friendly when they offer holiday greetings that may not agree with one’s own religious beliefs.  Just go with it and enjoy the sentiments behind the words.)  So, wishing “Ramadan Kareem” to a client you know for a fact is observing Ramadan is a perfectly fine greeting.

In matters of courtesy, it is best to err on more rather than less courtesy, imo.   But one can go way too far trying to not offend everyone.   Not scheduling business lunch meetings with known Muslim clients is a kindness but again I caution you that trying to arrange your business interactions in such a way that your clients are never in a position to have to say “No” to honor their religious convictions may not be a realistic business model.  For example, do you avoid restaurants that serve a killer bread basket with the meal so that your Jewish clients observing Passover are not tempted by the smell of warm, delicious leavened bread just begging to be slathered with butter?  Are your business lunch restaurants Kosher?  Do you see where I am going with this?

I think you should trust that your Muslim clients (and all the other religions)  know how to navigate through a secular world in a way that honors their beliefs without compromising them and that they will be gracious in viewing your staff’s hospitality as a kindness even if they must decline the offer of beverages.

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Tara August 4, 2011 at 6:03 am

I thought Muslims observing Ramadan were allowed to drink water as needed, during the day, though nothing else. At least, when I worked with a Muslim, she drank water when she was thirsty, but didn’t eat until after sunset. I don’t think it’d hurt for the OP to offer everyone water.

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Harley Granny August 4, 2011 at 6:08 am

While,I, myself applaud you for wanting to Coexsist…I must get me that bumper sticker…when many go out of their way redicule and discredit others beliefs, I agree with admin you might be taking it too far.

Beliefs are a personal matter and should only be addressed by the clients themselves.

It’s hot in August…offer them water and if they say “no” move on. You’ve done your part. Schedule a meeting when you can and if they say “no”…have them suggest a date that’s good for them.

My brother is Jewish and if I forget about one of their High Holy Days and want to do something, he’ll just say “no I need to be at the temple or where ever”. And we’ll find another day.

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Echo August 4, 2011 at 6:54 am

Mmm, warm, delicious leavened bread just begging to be slathered with butter… Back to the OP, I agree with Admin and also think that perhaps you should reconsider not offering water to your clients. So far as I know, it’s only the devout Muslims who don’t drink during Ramadan (I could be wrong about that, I just know from observing my Muslim friends) and even if they don’t, I don’t think it would be an offensive offer.

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Kristen August 4, 2011 at 7:23 am

Well, I do applaud the OP’s cultural sensitivity. I wish more people were so accepting. However, I would agree with Admin in saying that you can strike a balance where you are still respecting others’ beliefs without having to tie yourself into knots.

In this case, I think not scheduling business lunches is very courteous; were you to invite a client to lunch who could not go, they would either have to decline over and over again or simply explain that they are observing Ramadan (which, in our cultural climate, they may not be very open about). However, I wouldn’t think it’s necessary to stop offering water as a blanket policy. Surely the person would feel comfortable enough saying, “No, thank you,” and THEN the polite thing for you to do would be to simply let it drop. And as for the rest of us, it’s good to keep in mind that some people–like myself!–are shy about asking for things, even when we’re assured it’s fine to do so. I would gratefully accept a cup of water offered to me, but I would be very hesitant to ask for one.

However, again, it’s refreshing to hear about someone trying to be TOO accommodating, rather than the other way around!

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mstigerlily August 4, 2011 at 8:08 am

I grew up with several Muslim friends observed Ramadan. When we were in school it was always so hard to watch them sit through lunch period while all the rest of us were eating (I knew they were hungry). However they never asked us not to eat.

What I’m saying is, your intentions are good, but maybe a little too far. It’s great that you are not scheduling business lunches for clients you know are Muslim. I would offer water to all your clients, not making them ask for it. It feels like not being a good host/hostess otherwise, imo. I don’t drink coffee but I still appreciate it being offered.

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Lily G August 4, 2011 at 8:23 am

I give the LW total props for trying, though. ESPECIALLY in the South. Gold star from me.

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Wink-n-Smile August 4, 2011 at 8:29 am

When in doubt about a holiday greeting, just smile and say, “Have a wonderful day!”

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Just Laura August 4, 2011 at 9:27 am

I liked that the OP referenced the FSM. RAmen.
I did not like that the OP says “Merry Christmas” to Christian clients. How do you know they are Christian? Does the OP wish Jewish clients a good year on Rosh Hashanah? A simple, “Good morning/afternoon” is a professionally-appropriate greeting.

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Michelle P August 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

I admire the OP for having respect and courtesy toward all. Admin’s advice is right on, although I have to say the first paragraph of it was a little harsh. I think it’s wonderful that the OP is asking how to be respectful!

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Roslyn August 4, 2011 at 9:44 am

Wow, I wouldn’t worry about it. I mean do you honestly go out of your way for every religious belief? Do you end your conversations with “Blessed Be” for your Pagan clients? Most Pagans don’t announce their personal beliefs.

Personal beliefs are just that, personal, and a part of accepting all religions is allowing people to have different beliefs without constantly bringing them up and making them explain themselves. Especially in the work place.

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Wink-n-Smile August 4, 2011 at 9:57 am

Just Laura – the OP knows the Christian clients the same way he knows the Muslim clients – they converse, and the clients mention it in the conversation. Perhaps the Christians wear prominent crosses, and the OP mentions their lovely jewelry. Perhaps the Christians mention going to church Wednesday night, and the OP asks where they go. It could be anything.

If you don’t assume that because you are living in X area, you will be X religion, but let the beliefs be revealed in natural conversation, then it is good manners and quite charming to remember that detail about a person, and offer good wishes on their holy days. If you know the religion and the greeting, then go for it. If not, just wish them a good day, as you would to anyone else who was not celebrating.

If I know that a person is a practicing Jew and I know that it’s Purim (because a Jew mentioned it – I never remember, otherwise), then I’ll wish them an easy fast. I’ve fasted myself, and know it can be hard, so it would be sincere, although I’m not Jewish.

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Jay August 4, 2011 at 10:08 am

Your heart is in the right place. My opinion is to be polite and respectful of all faiths, without worrying about who’s a member of what faith (in a business setting). I see no chance that anyone would be insulted by the offer of a bottle of water and taking a “no thank you” answer without question (“Really? It’s so hot out!”)

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Hellbound Alleee August 4, 2011 at 10:11 am

Those of us with tiny little “differences” are used to saying “no.” What kind of a jerk would I be if I got all mad at people for offering me hot, delicious leavened bread just waiting for butter to be slathered over it–because I have diabetes? In my workplace, I am offered candy all the time, which I must refuse. I can’t expect the world to know I have diabetes. I politely say “no,” or even take a piece and give it away later.

Most of all, I cannot expect anyone to know I follow the Church of Slack, Praise “Bob!” If I told anyone, their eyes would glaze over and start drooling as I attempted to explain it. I can’t expect anyone to solemnly respect this religion in any way, since it is a religion of Mockery–a major, important, dearly held tenet of my faith. Mockery done away from the prying eyes of others, just as Jesus suggested prayer should be. REPENT! Praise “Bob!” And go ahead and offer me candy–you couldn’t know.

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Powers August 4, 2011 at 10:11 am

Admin makes an interesting assumption. The writer merely said “Living in the south, my Muslim clients have never brought up the subject of beliefs unless I’ve asked for information from them.” There’s no reason to assume that the subject is brought up inappropriately. This could be, for instance, a counseling practice where religious beliefs are an important part of the normal business operations. Or it could be a lawyer’s office where someone making out a will wishes to bequeath money to the mosque where they worship.

There are many reasons why one’s religious beliefs could be relevant even in a business communication, and it’s unfair to assume that someone who is very careful about not offending Muslims — and specifically says “I do not believe the work place is the correct venue for any of us to talk about such a personal subject” — is coming out and asking people about it with no reason.

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Ruth August 4, 2011 at 10:41 am

I think if you know they’re Muslim, it’s still appropriate to offer water (in my experience water is ok, or at least considered that by some), and even food. If they’re not able to fast or are doing a modified fast, it may be welcome. If they decline and cite religious reasons for declining, then simply keep a mental note not to offer that person things during the month because now you know for sure.

As for greetings, I generally stick with the usual ones for everyone.

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Melissa August 4, 2011 at 10:45 am

As an active and devout Mormon, here are my $.02: it isn’t rude to attempt to be a gracious host or hostess by offering beverages or food items even if you think that the other person may be obliged to decline. Once a client has declined, you should not press them into accepting something though you may offer again after a significant time has past if the client hasn’t stated that they will not be accepting at all or if there are multiple clients (or other guests) in the meeting.

For me, the issue is being offered coffee, I don’t drink it for religious reasons but I recognize that in the business world, offering it is a commonly accepted practice, that my hosts are merely being hospitable and that I have nothing to be offended over. What may be offensive would be someone who knows I am Mormon, knows I follow my religion’s dietary rules, and is familiar with what those rules are kept trying to push something on me (this has never happened in a business setting).

As for restaurants, if we are planning a business lunch, I typically ask if there are any restaurants that the client would recommend on the assumption that if they have dietary restrictions, they will be aware of which restaurants they can eat at (I do not typically deal with out of town clients) or I will give the names of two restaurants and ask if the client would find either of them convenient.

I am not familiar with Muslim rules regarding to fasting, but I do know that in my own religion (one Sunday per month is set aside as a fast day, though people are encouraged to fast more often if they feel the need), women who are pregnant or nursing and people with health concerns are not expected or encouraged to fast, some may modify the fast to what they are capable of (I know someone who needed to eat for medical reasons but would only eat bland foods and drink water on Fast Sunday). A person in that sort of situation may actually be more comfortable in accepting a kind offer than requesting something.

Finally, be careful about using the term “Jack Mormon,” my experience is that it is currently most commonly used as a historical term that refers to non-Mormons who were friendly with Mormons and opposed the various persecutions being inflicted in the 1800s, I believe it was originally coined and used as a pejorative by those who were in favor of (or inflicting) the persecutions. There are now other definitions, some of which are more loaded than others and which my grandmother considers to be cussing. The more commonly used term is “cultural Mormon.”

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jennifer August 4, 2011 at 10:50 am

Lily G, what do you mean ESPECIALLY in the South???? Is it to imply that all of us Southerners have no respect for other religions?

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Just Laura August 4, 2011 at 10:59 am

Wink-n-Smile,
I understand what you’ve said, but I agree with Rosalyn. How far is he willing to take it? Does he know if he has pagan clients? Are they Wiccan, or Asatru? My friend is obviously Asatru (Thor hammer tattoo on chest, various shirts and rune necklace), which is one form of paganism, and gets angry if someone wishes him “blessed be.”
Of course, I do not know what line of work the OP is in, but I can’t imagine religion comes up frequently (a devout Muslim man or Jewish man may were a head covering, and a Christian may wear a cross, but most don’t express faith so openly). Again, this sort of thing isn’t really appropriate for most workplaces.

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Just Laura August 4, 2011 at 11:00 am

I apologize – “I agree with Roslyn”

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withheld August 4, 2011 at 11:03 am

OP here…(Please forgive my spelling this comment, I do not see a spell checker on the comment box!)
I should have been a bit clearer about the climate of my work place. My company is very small, family owned. Most of the customers I deal with are also “Mom & Pop”. Since I work in a family business that deals with other family businesses, it is common for customers to be much more open and intimate here than at big corporate jobs I’ve worked. I’m often into a conversation about personal things before I even know what has happened. Often, I am meeting with second generation owners who knew my mother, so there is a feeling of familiarity in place even if we two are actual strangers. I’m very very familiar with the “bean dip” plan, but sometimes an abrupt subject change isn’t possible. Thankfully this site has also given me a small arsenal of phrases to politely shift the conversation, but I’ve still been into awkwardness before I knew what hit me. Additionally, in the South many old school people view asking what church you belong to to be on the same level as asking if you think it will rain today. Faith and religion are very much a part of life here and not viewed as “personal” subjects by many residents. This continually boggles my mind, but I’m getting used to it.
Often the nature of what my company does provides a great deal of insight to what religious or charitable groups a customer supports. To do my job I am given such private information as part of conducting my business’s services. I wish I had noted this in my orginal submission so that it would not be assumed that I am assuming something about a client. There are some clients with work that does not give me any clue at all about their backgrounds and I am very thankful for those few files as I know I won’t find myself staring blankly wondering how to classify expenses from a whatever a “mission trip” happens to be.
I am not assuming they are Muslim. I have been told, invited to weddings, dinners, and other events. I deal mostly with extended family members, and some of the younger ones I know have taken a more “Western” way of life, but not all. It is very apparent by dress and spouse choice if one of the family members is traditional or western. After 9/11, many of the younger ones of this family group of customers came to me one on one with many questions about Western views on Islam. Often the cousins just finishing the citizen ship class seek me out to ask me about things in our culture they dont understand (one of the funniest was me trying to explain Barbie dolls when a very young and new to here couple’s oldest daugher wanted a “Bardy” like her neighbor. There are actually two dolls from the Arab world that are like Barbie, but more modest.)
Additionally, the people I wish “merry Christmas” in December have a little gold or silver cross around their necks. I have not yet met what our Admin refers to as “cultural” (raised, but not devoted) in my Muslim clients; the lines of devout-ness are much clearer for some reason than with other faiths. I can not comprehend some one wearing an icon for a religion if they do not believe, even the often seen cross. In my family, it was explained early and often that totems/icons are for “believers” and that some one wearing such accepts others will view them as being alligned with that group. Young children in our family often have a hard time understanding why their school mates wear necklaces with charms and he/she is not allowed to wear them. For someone raised in a hardline free-thought, Athiest family in the south, it is extremely hard to find anyone to ask for information only. I either am treated to a recruitment speach, told my grandfather is a terrible man for his publications, or find myself having to defend what I do (not) believe. Or worse, I’m chastised for even asking in the first place because I have no idea where the politeness lines are drawn. When one lives in a very devoted and faithful society but was not raised that way (or raised to be disrespectful toward all organized religions), there are a lot of questions that are hard to answer. In (public) highschool, I once asked what exactly “communion” is. I still have no idea, but I know to never ask again. I only have three Jewish clients and they are not regulars that I see at least every other week, so I have not had to familiarize my self with traditional Jewish cultures outside of the “big” events. There is a good sized Jewish community here, but they are very insular so I have not had the opportunity to gain many friends or clients of Jewish descent or faith. I have been trying as a grown up to be comfortable not only in my beliefs, but unlike my elders, adopt a very relaxed do as thou will opinion on what anyone else wants to believe.
Yesterday one of my long time clients invited my boyfriend and I to a big dinner tommorrow night to celebrate the holy month with lots of friends and family. I am extremely excited to learn more first hand. I plan to ask some of my guys tommorrow night if it is ok to offer water or not if I can find something correct to wear in this heat. We hit 106 (F) yesterday inside the city and I don’t care what diety you do or don’t believe in, we decided to offer water to everyone, including the crews doing work on the other side of the road late yesterday.

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Calliope August 4, 2011 at 11:16 am

I have to say, I have a teensy problem with the “cultural christian/Muslim/Jew” thing. Just because you don’t see evidence of someone else’s faith doesn’t mean that person’s faith does not exist. It’s one thing if someone labels himself, say, a “cultural christian,” with that diminutive c, but assigning terms like that to others seems incredibly presumptuous to me.

As for the OP, like previous posters, I appreciate the OP’s respect for others’ beliefs, but I agree with Just Laura: “Good morning” or “good afternoon” is a much more business-appropriate greeting. If a client greets you with a holiday-specific greeting, it would be nice to respond in kind. But otherwise, no need to bring it up.

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Psyche August 4, 2011 at 11:21 am

I heard somewhere that pregnant women, the sick and children were exempt from fasting on the grounds that those, y’know, were people whom fasting was a bad idea to attempt. I could be wrong. If any practicing Muslims are commenting, please correct me.

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AS August 4, 2011 at 11:34 am

OP, first of all, I applaud you to try to see the convenience of all your clients.

I was brought up in India, which has lot of religions. What I learnt is, if in doubt ask them. You can ask your Muslim clients “can I wish you Ramdan Kareem”? It shows that you don’t know much about the religion, but want to accept and learn other ways of life. In my experience, most people don’t mind someone else trying to learn their way of life (religion or culture) and unless you know something about the religion or culture very well, there is no harm in asking them. It irritates me when someone tells me something about my culture which is absolutely wrong but the person is pretty convinced it is the case. But I wouldn’t mind someone asking me.

I don’t think you’ll have to worry about offering water. I once was working at a place where 50% of my coworkers including my boss (we had a total of only about 10 people) were Muslims. The first day of Ramdan I was feeling very awkward eating my lunch, but a friend of mine said not to worry because they chose to fast, and they are perfectly happy with it. BTW, my boss did not observe fast.

Also, you probably don’t have to worry about offering water and all. It is a nice gesture, and if they are not drinking water, they’ll say “no”.

Just FYI – Shiva is not the only God in Hinduism :) .

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vanessafga August 4, 2011 at 11:36 am

I too live in the South and in my husband’s business they found that not saying Merry Christmas to clients upset them more than not. So they now say it.

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Love Ice Cream August 4, 2011 at 11:44 am

Muslims can’t eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. It iis because God has said to do so in the Qur’an. It teaches us spirituality, and abstinence from things not allowed. It also gives us perspective on how poor people feel and teaches me compassion for others. If God accepts your fasts, He can forgive you your sins as well.

I think admin is right in some aspects but not all. I personally appreciate the fact that the OP doesn’t schedule lunch meetings. It puts the person fasting in An awkward position. It would look bad if he/ she didn’t’t partake In the meal.
OP should offer water to everyone.
FRom my understanding, most Muslims to my understanding do try and fast. Of course not everyone
fasts. But I have seen people who don’t pray their prayers, fast in Ramadan.
Nobody minds it if some says Ramadan Kareem, Ramadan Mubarak etc. It is another way of congratulating another person on Ramadan. Ramadan is the month when Muslims believe the devil is chained and is a month of great reward. Every good action has more reward to it. Since the devil is believed to be chained, it makes one more aware of one’s self actions as well.

Just some information….
Ramadan Kareem to everyone!

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Love Ice Cream August 4, 2011 at 11:55 am

Oops! I didn’t mean to post Ramadan Kareem to everyone- I dont want offend anyone.

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Twik August 4, 2011 at 11:59 am

There are all sorts of people who may not be able to partake of everything that’s offered them. This, eventually, becomes their responsibility. One should not have to do a full religious/ ethical/ dietary/ health questionnaire before offering a drink of water, chocolate cake or whatever.

The letter-writer’s heart is in the right place. But I must admit, I don’t *know* the religious stance of my customers and coworkers. I think that it is perfectly acceptable to offer water to people in general, and allow others to make the decision for themselves (as other posters have mentioned, some Muslims can drink water during Ramadan due to exceptions for things like health).

The only rudeness would be to nag or pressure – “You don’t want WATER? But it’s hot out. You’ll get dehydrated! Everyone knows we should be drinking more water….”

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Enna August 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm

@ Tara, I knew a Muslim who drank water – like with Christianity there are different interpreations I think it is the same Islam.

I do agree with Admin, if you are so considerate to Muslim clients make sure you are the same to your other clients OP. Some Muslims might not partice Ramadan, so if you see a client eating a sandwich or busicuit this month then you know it’s safe to offer a lunch meeting. But even if you do slip up I wouldn’t loose sleep over it – you can’t be 100%. My boss is Muslim and my collegue offered him a piece of ham forgetting that he didn’t eat it. She then offered me some,even though I’m a vegitarian I just found that funny.

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Riri August 4, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Wow! OP is so considerate and sensitive. Agree with Admin about arrangements and trusting the individual to inform you of their own requirements. In a place as culturally diverse as the States, people of pretty much every culture is probably used to being offered things they cannot accept, and have learned to not be offended by the well-meaning giver. If they cannot, they’ll say “no”, so no need to worry yourself sick about offending! The thoughtfulness is definitely admirable, though!

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--Lia August 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

May I recommend a book? It’s _How To Be A Perfect Stranger_. I forget the authors, but it shouldn’t be hard to find them on Amazon or in a library catalog. The book gives a one page description of the major religions that you’re likely to run into in North America. I found it to be clear and respectful. It gives a brief overview of the beliefs and rituals. It tells something about the rituals you might be invited to, what to wear, how to behave, and how to avoid putting your foot in your mouth when you’re a guest. I don’t have the book in front of me, but it should answer the OP’s question about communion. If the book doesn’t, I should think google would provide the answer.

In fact, printed information about religion is so easily available that I’m letting the people off the hook who answer in too personal a way or in a manner that suggests that they’re proselytizing. I expect that the people who answer like that are thinking “if she just wanted to know in a remote way, she would have gone to the library. Since she’s asking me, she must want to be invited to my church with an eye towards converting.”

As for wearing symbols when you don’t hold the beliefs, there are tons of reasons people might do so. For one, there’s an enormous amount of free-thinking within a religion. Within a congregation of folks who attend the same church (or synagogue or mosque), there can be a lot of (hopefully friendly) disagreement about particulars. It would be unlikely for 2 people to agree on absolutely everything. Even within a marriage, there can be varying interpretation on exactly what a religious symbol means. I know plenty of atheists who are active in their religious congregations (and not the least secretive about their beliefs). You might wear religious symbols out of warm association for the people who gave them to you. Maybe it’s something from a long deceased grandparent who was a believer. So don’t jump to too many conclusions just because you see a cross, star of David, turban, kofi, or Aries symbol.

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Hillary August 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Wink-and-Smile ~

>>> If I know that a person is a practicing Jew and I know that it’s Purim (because a Jew mentioned it – I never remember, otherwise), then I’ll wish them an easy fast. I’ve fasted myself, and know it can be hard, so it would be sincere, although I’m not Jewish. <<<

Just curious: were you referring to the Fast of Esther that precedes Purim (and which few cultural Jews observe), or did you mean Yom Kippur, when even many cultural Jews fast?

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Love Ice Cream August 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Muslims aren’t allowed to eat, drink, get a shot during their fasts. That is the universal view. If they eat, drink, get a shot intentionally, them they break their fast. If it is done in a forgetful moment, them they dont break their fasts. Fasting is only obligatory on those who have hit puberty. The elderly, sick, pregnant and nursing women are not required to fast since it affects their health. They give money in lieu for each fast- money to feed people.
At the end of the day, fasting is between an individual and God.

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Sharon August 4, 2011 at 3:23 pm

The OP sounds like a great person.
To me, it is better to treat people with dignity and respect all year, no matter what race, creed, religion, or color. It sounds like the OP does this. So, I think anyone would be happy to have her help them whether she acknowleged individual holidays or not.

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Just trying August 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I am a church-going Christian.

We had an Interfaith Group, where various people from various members of our local faith communities could share their history and practices.

One thing I remember one of the Muslim group members saying is this: “There is no compulsion in Islam.” A devout Muslim observes Ramadan because he or she wishes to observe Ramadan, not because of compulsion. Thus, various Muslims of various levels of personal observance might observe Ramadan differently.

Just offer politely, then take “no, thank you” for an answer.

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Darcy Sharman August 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I lived in a Muslim country for five years as a non-Muslim expatriate.

I wouldn’t think any Muslim would have a problem with you wishing them Ramadan Kareem. Any Muslim people I have known in Canada, in the US when I lived there, and abroad are quite open about their faith and happy to talk about it any time (though of course personal experience may vary!). My Muslim co-workers always made a point of wishing me well on Western holidays–in our context it was seen as polite, respectful and appropriate.

I am sure any fasting Muslim would appreciate your thoughtfulness in not scheduling meetings at lunch. For non-fasting Muslims and people of other beliefs…well, you’re just not meeting during lunch, and how is that a problem for anyone unless it is a matter of prior commitments? I don’t see why the reason for not meeting for lunch even has to come up, most cases.

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Raven August 4, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I think people would sense that OP’s heart is in the right place, and not be offended. You can’t know everything about everyone. I have a severe gluten intolerance; if I went crazy every time someone offered me tasty bread or a cookie, I would have been in prison a long time ago. A polite smile, followed by, “No thank you” should suffice. I think it’s great that OP is thinking about her clients, but she shouldn’t stress.

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b-rock August 4, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I agree that the OP’s heart is certainly in the right place, but that she is taking too much upon herself. As a Jew who fasts during Yom Kippur, I would never be offended by a gracious offer of food or drink, unless the person offering made a big deal of me refusing and tried to force it on me, which is obviously not the case here.

Lily G, I take offense to your “ESPECIALLY in the South comment”. I don’t think I need to say why, but I do think it makes you sound biased and ignorant. If I misunderstood your intention, please correct me.

Psyche,
I’m not sure about the Muslim observances, but in Judaism you are correct. Pregnant women, children, elderly, and anyone who is too ill to safely fast are excused from that practice.

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maggieprincess August 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm

There is absolutely no reason not to offer water to anyone at anytime regardless of their religion. Offering water is not and will never be offensive to anyone regardless of their religion, medical condition, fasting, etc. They simply say “no thank you” and that’s all there is to it. Same with business luncheons, etc. You are running a business–you simply go about your business and the client that must opt out of something for religious reasons (or medical reasons, or weight reasons–whatever) will simply say so.

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Catherine August 4, 2011 at 7:57 pm

OP, thanks for your thoughtfulness!
Speaking for myself – I am a practicing Catholic, and as such I observe days of fasting on occasion, especially during the season of Lent (before Easter). Particularly during Lent, many Catholics make small sacrifices, such as giving up certain foods, and we don’t eat meat on Fridays. It happens all the time that people offer me food, invite me out for meals, etc. on a day of fasting – but that’s nothing to get upset or offended about! I simply decline with a polite “No, thank you.” If I am asked why, I’m happy to explain that it’s a day of fasting for me as a Catholic. It’s nice to feel like others are being considerate of my beliefs, but I can handle being offered food by someone who doesn’t know I’m fasting.

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Zhoen August 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Actually, in Utah at least, Jack Mormon is how somewhat lapsed mormons refer to themselves. The ones who go to church with the family on holidays to avoid conflict, but drink coffee, and sometimes beer, and don’t buy into the whole system. A Kuwaiti tech I worked with this picked this up to the point that he referred to himself as a Jack Muslim. He sort-of fasted during Ramadan, (rarely) drank, participated in his religion to please his wife, but didn’t really believe it. As a “gentile” here, I would not use the term on someone, but I know what it means.

So, yeah, unless you hear someone refer to themselves as Jack Mormon, probably best to not use the term. But if they call themselves that, go ahead and offer a beer. (So goes the joke, why do you take TWO mormons with you fishing? Because if you only take one, he’ll drink all your beer.)

So, LW, being culturally sensitive also means knowing that an individual may not ascribe to the rules of the group. Offer, ask, accept, but please quit assuming.

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Sarah Jane August 4, 2011 at 9:34 pm

It sounds as though the OP takes great pride in her cultural/religious sensitivity. However, I don’t think it makes sense to refrain from offering water to everyone simply because some people are participating in a fasting period. A fast represents a sacrifice, and I would think their ability to deny themselves especially when it’s being offered shows an even greater commitment to the sacrifice.

Incidentally, I’m uncomfortable with the “ESPECIALLY in the South” comment, as well. Who said that and why?

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AM in AL August 4, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Lily G August 4, 2011 at 8:23 am
“I give the LW total props for trying, though. ESPECIALLY in the South. Gold star from me.”

I’m from the north, came south at age 22, and have lived here for 28 years. I’ve traveled the US pretty extensively. Bigotry/ignorance is not limited by geographical boundaries… neither is common decency.

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sj August 4, 2011 at 10:36 pm

You are over-thinking it. I fast for my religion sometimes, and I keep dietary restrictions specifically for health as well. If I can’t or don’t want to eat something, I simply decline. I don’t need people to tiptoe around me and be afraid to offer me food.

Also, a well-meaning holiday wish is fine with me, but I don’t know that it is with everyone. Why not just always say “Have a nice day!”

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TheBardess August 5, 2011 at 9:13 am

OP, I applaud you for trying to be respectful, but you are way, WAY over-thinking things here. Honestly, refraining from offering water to anyone because some people *might* be fasting seems a little ridiculous to me. If someone who is fasting gets offended because you offered them water- honestly, that’s their problem, not yours. I’m a practicing Catholic, and not once have I ever been offended by someone offering me meat on a Lenten Friday. I simply say “No thanks” and move on- it doesn’t even register as a blip on the radar.

As for the “ESPECIALLY in the South comment”- I’ve spent several years living on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, and in my experience, I observed far more bigotry against Southerners up North than I ever did against anybody down South. Bigotry and ignorance know no geographical boundaries, so get off your high horse.

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Ginger August 5, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I applaud the OP for trying! In some of my experiences, some people who do not practice any religion sometimes put down those who are religious. They think organized religion is a sham, a waste, a cult, etc…It’s nice to see someone who doesn’t have those beliefs to accept those who do have strong religious sentiments. I would rather see someone like the OP – who is trying very hard not to offend her clients – rather than someone who will roll their eyes and tell me that I’m wrong for being a “enter religion of choice here.”

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Ginger August 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

OR, the OP could even ask one of clients about it…someone she’s known a long time and she knows wouldn’t be offended by her questions. Or she could do some research as well.

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Kim August 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm

LW’s policy strikes me as the epitome of gracious and courteous interfaith interaction, and the Admin’s analysis is spot-on. Add in the thoughtful points raised in many of the comments, and it’s kudos all round. Happy summer, one and all!

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Azrail August 6, 2011 at 2:21 am

No, Muslims are not allowed to drink water while they fast. They can, however, rinse out their mouths as it is a necessity to do this when taking their ablutions before prayer. This is a major exercise in discipline, self control and empathy for those less fortunate than you. There are Muslims who choose not to fast or pray, and those who are exempt because they are travelling, or are too young/old/sick/pregnant/breastfeeding, etc. It is a personal choice. But once you commit to fasting you cannot eat or drink or smoke or play scrabble while the sun is up.

OP, it’s nice that you want to be thoughtful, but honestly things like seeing people eat and drink is all part of the exercise in self discipline. Muslims don’t expect everyone to put away their food and water because of something they are doing. If you offer them something and they are fasting, they can just say ‘no’. Then you’ve offered, they’ve declined and you can all move on and go your merry ways.

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Enna August 6, 2011 at 6:17 am

@ Love Ice Cream – wishing people Ramadan Kareem I didn’t find that offensive the thought was kind and that’s all that matters. The teacher I mentioned only drank water when she felt she had to or faint, she might have had a condition or had been poorly at the time. I’m sort of glad that I forgot to bring in cakes for work on my birthday (had heavy cold so mind was elsewhere) – but then I could say my boss could take one home for later.

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Cat August 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Maybe we need a secular form of wishing “happy whatever you are celebrating”. ‘Have a good day” works for general use. Can anyone suggest something along the lines of, “Happy Festivities!”?

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