Ramadan 2024: Why Non-Muslims Are Participating More in Ramadan

This may sound like a strange thing to practicing Muslims, but Kholoud Khardoum, 53, who lives in Iraq, is clear. „Ramadan is not all about religion,” said the Baghdad-based writer. „It's about the atmosphere and the tradition of people coming together.” (Read more | Ramadan 2024: Why do Muslims break their fast with dates? Here's everything you need to know)

If Iraqi Christians and Muslims share a Ramadan meal, it is in private homes or restaurants rather than in mosques. (Murdada Al-Soudani/AA/Image Alliance)

Iraq is a Muslim-majority country, but in areas where different religious communities live together, you often see non-Muslims participating in celebrations of the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, he told DW. In particular, „iftar,” the sunset meal where friends and family gather to break the daily fast, can be a social event.

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„Sometimes Christian people make sweets and send them to their Muslim neighbors,” Khartoum said. „Sometimes Muslims send food. Or they all fast together. It's really nice to share these things,” he said.

There are similar stories in the Middle East. „One of my oldest and closest friends is a Muslim, so we share some customs,” said Umm Amir, a 50-year-old Egyptian woman who lives in Assiut, south of Cairo. „For example, I would fast during the day in Ramadan and then break the fast with her family.”

„I'm Christian, but I've had many Muslim friends since I was young, and I've never given much importance to different religions,” said Rita, 34, a fasting Lebanese woman in Beirut.

Still Ramadan in the West?

All three women live in Muslim-majority countries, so their experiences may not come as a surprise to those there. After all, it is as difficult for non-Muslims to ignore Ramadan as it is for Muslims to avoid Christmas in Europe or North America.

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However, Ramadan is gradually becoming a more elevated holiday in Christian-majority countries.

Last year, London became the first major European city to decorate a prominent thoroughfare with Ramadan lights. Frankfurt am Main followed London's example this year and became the first major German city to put up Ramadan lights.

This week in Austria, more than 1,000 people gathered in the state of Carinthia for an „open iftar,” where all community members are invited to break their Ramadan fast and eat together — even if they're not Muslim or fasting. . Organizers say the event attracts more and more people every year. As one participant told the regional newspaper Kleine Zeitung, „I didn't expect to see so many non-Muslims here.”

„There is definitely an increase in iftars organized by government agencies, charities and churches to celebrate diversity,” confirmed Esther-Miriam Wagner, director of Cambridge University's Wolf Institute, which studies relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Ramadan's heightened profile „increases political recognition and equality for Muslims in the public space,” argued Farid Hafeez, a senior researcher at the Bridge Initiative, a project researching Islamophobia based at Washington's Georgetown University.

For example, Hafiz says that in the 1990s, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright started hosting „iftars” in her diplomatic department. „US embassies basically invited Muslims to a kind of structured dialogue. [during the event],” he explained. „Then American embassies brought it to European countries. It was later translated into European countries and started similar efforts. So all of you like principals, prime ministers, coordination ministers should be involved.

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The commercial impact of Ramadan has also raised the profile of the Muslim holy month. Muslims spend more during Ramadan on everything from gifts, clothes to food and cars. In the Middle East alone, Ramadan 2023 spending is worth $60 billion (€55 billion). Advertising campaigns for Ramadan are likely to change, evolve and send a message beyond the target communities.

Accused of cultural appropriation

Another theory from Woolf Institute director Wagner's profile of Ramadan revolves around language and generational change. „Once people speak a language without an accent, there's this shift in understanding that they now really belong,” argued Wagner, who trained as a sociologist. „In Britain, we see native-English-speaking Muslim people, now in their 40s and 50s, moving into positions of leadership and influence.”

In France, it's like this. Researchers there have noted that the next generation of French Muslims could practice the religion openly. „By knowing more [religious] In practice, young French people are demanding their status as full members of society,” Jamel El Hamry, a researcher at the Institute for Research and Studies on the Arab and Islamic Worlds in France, told Le Monde last week. „They feel both French and Muslim. .”

Of course, not everyone was happy. Some Muslims are saddened by the commercialization of Ramadan. Conservative clerics have argued that non-Muslims should not participate, while far-right Europeans have defined the practice as leading to the end of civilization. And some social media figures who fast during Ramadan have been called out for cultural appropriation, treating it as a form of online hygiene challenge.

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But neither Hafiz nor Wagner believes that such ideas outweigh the benefits of people becoming more comfortable with other people's belief systems.

For Muslims growing up in a Christian-majority culture, it can be personal. “Incorporating the festival in the public space is a recognition of that [Ramadan] A part of society,” argued Hafiz.

For non-Muslims, it can be about celebrating and managing diversity, Wagner added. „Because when we have diverse communities, we find that diversity actually supports a thriving and vibrant, usually more just, society,” he concluded.

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