Michelle's Arabic Insights
Michelle shares insights into Arabic language, translations, marketing and business.
Business in the Muslim world often slows down during Ramadan; this affects a number of countries including the UAE, Pakistan, Malaysia and the countries in North Africa. Companies tend to change their operating hours to make working days shorter and while some individuals may return to work after they have broken their fast at sunset, these will usually be in the minority.
The impact of this change in routine can mean work and decisions are delayed or put on hold. It can present immense frustration to non-Muslims who may not fully understand the importance of Ramadan for Muslims, and the challenges of “Nil by Mouth” for what can be up to 18 hours in some countries.
What sort of things should you consider when doing business during Ramadan?
It’s essential to understand how important Ramadan is for Muslims. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam which are obligatory for all Muslims. The rewards for sincerely and devotedly observing the 30 day fast are extremely high and there are limited valid reasons for not fasting.
The second most important thing to understand is the effects of fasting on the body and mind. Fasting isn’t intended to be easy and teaches Muslims patience and self-control; undergoing hardship based on faith in God and hope for eternal life in the hereafter. It’s also a reminder that there are people in the world who go without food every day; and not by choice! Abstinence from food and drink at the same time as trying to remain patient and upright is extremely difficult. In general Muslims will try to stay away from provocative situations in order to remain in a state of “purity”. You may a times hear fasting colleagues saying quietly to themselves “I’m fasting – Ana Siam”, which is a reminder to be calm, steadfast and keep pure thoughts.
Based on my experiences working in Muslim countries, the best advice I can give is be patient if you feel it’s taking longer than usual to make any progress in work. Think of it like Christmas, where large parts of the western world shut down or slow down for two to three weeks while people take a break for the holiday. You will usually try to finalise work before the holidays or rearrange your priorities so that less important issues can be dealt with when things return to normal.
Also it’s not recommended to attempt hard sales or pushy tactics to close business deals as you’re more likely to annoy and offend your business colleagues rather than make any positive progress. Imagine dealing with a hard core coffee drinker before they’ve had their first cup for the day?
Are non-Muslims excluded from sharing Ramadan?
Muslims don’t expect their non-Muslim colleagues to fast with them, although it is polite not to eat, drink or smoke in front of Muslims when they’re fasting. In the UAE and a few other Muslim countries, Ramadan tents are a common feature and can be used to host iftar feasts for colleagues and customers.
While Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours, sunset presents a great opportunity to network, discuss business, build relationships and at the same time share in the Muslim festivities. You may find that some of your Muslim business colleagues retreat from the social scene during Ramadan, but some will set aside a few evenings to enjoy food and entertainment with friends, family and business contacts.
Providing an intimate and relaxing setting for breaking the fast, Ramadan tents are actual tents which are temporarily erected and decorated in a wonderful array of colourful fabrics and sober lighting. Often they will feature music and entertainment, so can be a nice way to spend an evening and experience the local culture.
You’ll often find Muslims are very happy and in high spirits after sunset; relieved that they’ve successfully managed to get through another day of fasting!
Do all Muslims visit Ramadan tents and Iftar events?
The simple answer is no. Strictly speaking, Ramadan is a time of enhanced worship and devotion. Some Muslims prefer to use all available time to offer extra prayers at home or in the mosque and spend quality time with family and close friends. Muslims also often set themselves a target to read all 114 chapters of the holy Qur’an during the 30 days of Ramadan. So any refusal of your invitation to share a meal at sunset shouldn’t be taken offensively.
So your business with Muslim colleagues, customers or potential partners needn’t stop during Ramadan, but you will need to adapt working methods and plans. Flexibility will ensure that you maintain good relationships, which in the Muslim world counts for a lot.
Kwintessential Arabia has a wealth of experience in the Muslim and Arab world. We can provide a range of essential business services including Translation, Interpreting, Localization and Cultural Awareness training. Contact us for a no obligation discussion.