Contrary to many opinions in the region, business does not stop during Ramadan. We often hear stories where people are super busy in the lead up to Ramadan trying to finalise everything before the holy month, otherwise it won’t get done until after Eid Al Fitr. Yes, doing business is slower but it certainly does not stop.
Like a lot of common misconceptions around doing business in the Middle East which we hear on a daily basis, Ramadan is one of the most misunderstood times from the perspective of expatriate companies trying to do business in the UAE and the GCC Region. Like most things it comes down to understanding and being respectful of other cultures and values.
So what is Ramadan?
It is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, it is a month for spiritual reflection, forgiveness, humility, patience, praying and spending time with family and friends. Each day during this holy month, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims all over the world abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, as well as from participating in anything that is considered ill-natured or excessive.
If you are invited to an Iftar or a Suhour, this is a sign of friendship and trust, so it is advisable to accept – not only will it help build strong relationships which is key to being successful in the region it will also provide you with a traditional cultural experience.
Working during Ramadan
As per the UAE Labour Law, Article 65, the work day is reduced by two hours during Ramadan. Office hours are usually 9am – 3pm. This can vary from company to company and Governmental Departments, so please ensure you check in advance with them before planning any trips and meetings.
Shopping Malls and Restaurants generally tend to have extended hours in the evenings. Some restaurants with have special dispensation to stay open during the day to cater for the non-fasting workforce but they will cover the premise windows and doors for privacy and being mindful of those fasting.
Fasting especially during the summer months is taxing on your Muslim colleagues, which can lead to tiredness and irritability as their bodies adjust. Be mindful of this, arrange meetings in the mornings when they are most alert and focused and keep the meeting precise and to the point. Ensure you dress conservatively, this is particularly important for females; shoulders should be covered and skirts and dresses are below the knees. An appreciative gesture of a gift of Dates or Arabic sweets will be well received.
While many people travel during Ramadan, those who stay find it is a good chance to catch up on the jobs which they haven’t had the chance to get around to and a chance to reflect on how the company has progressed and plan for the second half of the year.
Driving during Ramadan also poses its extra challenges. Tiredness and hunger places a part in reducing the alertness of those on the road, so be vigilant and in particularly before Iftar when those are in a hurry to break fast with their family and friends.
So although with the combination of reduced working hours and colleagues adjusting to fasting business is slower, it certainly doesn’t stop. You just need to be extra patient and plan ahead.
Providing you remain respectful and culturally sensitive you will find plenty of opportunities to build and strengthen relationships during Ramadan while opening yourself up to a rich and rewarding cultural experience and awareness.