Ramadan and how it affects business in the Middle East
Our Head of Growth UAE, Jana Belugina, has become immersed in the local community by respecting the traditions and customs of the people of the United Arab Emirates. In tribute to the start of Ramadan, the holiest Muslim lunar month, she has written several useful tips, explaining how to do business in the Middle East and what rules to follow:
"As an international business we are true believers in cultural awareness. Often even the smallest things make a difference, especially when it comes to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and how that affects business operations in the Middle East."
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the holiest Muslim lunar month, when Muslims abstain from eating, drinking (yes even water), smoking, sex, and evil thoughts and actions between sunrise and sunset. Naturally, with the hours of food and water consumption being shifted from day to night, the whole flow of life is changed during this month:
Tip number 1: keep your business to the morning
For those doing business in the Middle East during this period, the first thing is to be aware that working hours for businesses are often shortened or altered to accommodate those who need to get up early, so they can eat before the sunrise. Thus, most businesses will close around 2 pm.
Therefore the first rule of thumb should be to keep your business to the morning. Make sure to schedule all important meetings and calls for the first half of the day, when your colleagues, clients and partners are refreshed and more focused.
Tip number 2: keep the drink aside during meetings
My next piece of advice is to forget about coffee or even water during meetings. Even if non-Muslims are not expected to obey the fast, it would be extremely rude to drink your coffee in front of someone who is fasting. The same goes to chewing gum, smoking or vaping in public areas.
Offices normally allocate a closed space for non-fasting colleagues where they can eat and drink without tempting those observing Ramadan. Instead of lunch meetings, expect to be invited to Suhoor or Iftar, which are the meals before and after the sunrise respectively. Being invited to Iftar with the local family is a great sign of trust, and an offer one should absolutely accept.
Tip number 3: avoid calling people around sunset
One more remark here is avoid calling or messaging people in the hours around Iftar, because this is a time of prayer followed by peaceful relaxation with family, which is regarded with importance.
Tip number 4: dress modestly
Another piece of advice that I can not stress enough each year, especially to visiting ladies, is to dress modestly. No short skirts, open necklines and sleeveless shirts. Personally, I think this is a great time to show your respect to the culture by adopting an abaya, a lovely over-garment, to your wardrobe. There are plenty of modern versions to choose from and they can be thrown on top of a usual business dress to cover it up modestly.
Modesty extends to behavior as well, make sure not to have any loud conversations or play music aloud in public (including sound leakage from your headphones).
How Ramadan affects business operations?
Business-wise do not expect Ramadan to be a period for important decisions to be made, so don’t plan for any special events or business trips at this time. However, when life slows down during Ramadan, it is a great time for decision makers to explore new ideas and services, so more introductory and relationship-building activities can be planned.
Ramadan ends with a holiday called Eid al-Fitr. This holiday spans a few days (depending on location), when the whole country goes on a national holiday with locals spending time with their families and expats using the opportunity for extended getaways. Do not expect any work done during this holiday and avoid contacting people on any business-related topics.