If you are doing business in Arab countries during the holy month of Ramadan, you may find things a bit different to the rest of the year. Although the working hours are reduced for employees in most Arab countries, it is a time when important business relationships are forged. Being able to relate to the cultural values of a specific market and showing respect towards them can open up many opportunities for your business.
The ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar is the month of fasting, forgiveness, worship spirituality, humility, patience and praying. 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.
While Ramadan is a period of reflection for observant Muslims, many business networking activities do take place during Iftar and Suhour (the breaking of the fast). Provided you develop a good cultural understanding of this occasion, you will find plenty of opportunities to build relationships with your Muslim counterparts during Ramadan.
If you are planning to do business in the Middle East during Ramadan, here are six tips to bear in mind:
1– Embrace and respect the season. Start by sending your client a Ramadan gift such as a box of dates, Arabic sweets or chocolates with a card wishing them “Ramadan Mubarak”.
2– Business lunches do not tend to happen during the holy month and you may also find it difficult to book an appointment during working hours with a Muslim colleague. Instead, you may receive an invitation to attend the activities that take place after the fasting hours – Iftar and Sohour. Iftar, in particular, substitutes normal business lunches and being invited is a sign of trust and friendship so you should accept.
3– Dress conservatively when doing business. This is particularly important for female visitors. Shoulders should always be covered.
4– Avoid eating, drinking, smoking and listening to music in the presence of your Muslim colleagues or in public places during daylight.
5– Be aware that during the holy month working hours are reduced by 2 hours per day. In most Gulf countries the working week begins on a Sunday and ends on a Thursday. However, in some countries it could begin on a Saturday and end on a Wednesday. Always check beforehand.
6– Remember that fasting for such a long period of time, particularly during summer, is challenging for your Muslim colleagues. Try and keep your business interactions brief, or arrange to meet after Iftar.
Ramadan Kareem from The Links Group of Companies