Is it insensitive to expect everyone to be fasting during Ramadan?

People who are not fasting, opt to eat in private or not at all d to avoid intrusive questions and having to explain why they're not fasting.

Nahian Jamal Joyeeta

Nahian Jamal Joyeeta

The Daily Star


Photo: Orchid Chakma

March 31, 2023

DHAKA – Ramadan is nothing short of a national celebration in Bangladesh. During this time, office and school hours are reduced, street food vendors do not operate until dusk, tea stalls are covered with curtains, restaurants offer special iftar and sehri items, and so on.

Even though most schools in Bangladesh have a month-long holiday during this time, universities, colleges, and some private schools do not take an Eid vacation until the end of Ramadan.

This year, Ramadan has coincided with the start of summer in Bangladesh. As a result, Dhaka’s traffic situation has also worsened, making it unnavigable. During this time, people are generally at a higher risk of dehydration, diarrhoea, and heat stroke. Therefore, regardless of their faith, many students might choose not to fast on the days they have classes stretching from early mornings to late afternoons.

While it is challenging for students to fast while juggling their academics, some institutions have opted to shut down their cafeterias for the month of Ramadan. Such universities constantly remind its pupils not to consume or display food around people who are fasting to avoid tempting them or making them hungry. However, this endearing sentiment seems to be absent when it comes to empathising with the other party. The decision to make food unavailable on campus is inherently unfair because it deprives people of different faith and those who aren’t fasting from sustenance.

In addition, there are other who may not be fasting due to a variety of reasons. For instance, people who are menstruating are exempted from fasting. It is also difficult for pregnant women as well as individuals who may have some kind of medical condition to fast. Additionally, people suffering from diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or heart disease cannot go without food for too long.

Most people, especially menstruating women, opt to eat in private (or not at all) during Ramadan to avoid intrusive questions and having to explain why they’re not fasting. Due to the lack of dialogue and awareness, what should have been a spiritual experience has now turned into a social taboo.

Ramadan is more about making a personal commitment and resisting temptations than abstaining. While we can expect others to respect our boundaries and preferences, we must also be careful that we aren’t overstepping theirs. The true essence lies in cultivating self-awareness, resilience, and compassion rather than categorising people based on their fasting preferences. By resorting to mocking others’ religious beliefs, we hinder the purity of the month.

Rather than asserting apathy, we can work together to foster a culture of peaceful coexistence. While we can raise awareness about making our campuses more holistic in order to meet everyone’s needs, we can also show compassion to those fasting by maintaining moral boundaries in order to protect their sentiments.

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