How to do business during Ramadan

The Muslim holy month is upon us, and that means business practice in the Middle East in particular needs some cultural sensitivity.

Stephanie Williams, our governance manager in the UAE and Qatar, gives some tips on how to do business during Ramadan.

It’s not that business comes to a standstill for a whole month – far from it. But doing business in an Islamic country during the holy month of Ramadan can be a challenge.

By government stipulation, working hours are reduced – and, of course, you won’t be able to conduct business lunches!

To get the essentials out of the way:

  • As per the UAE Labour Law, Article 65, the work day is reduced by two hours during Ramadan
  • As per the Qatar labour law, Article 73, during Ramadan the maximum working week is 36 hours at the rate of six hours per day
  • The reduced working hours apply to both Muslim workers and non-Muslim workers in both Qatar and the UAE employed in accordance with the relevant labour laws

The reduced working hours also relate to Government and Authority offices, including banks, which tend to work half days, normally 9am-1pm, during Ramadan. When coupled with reduced hours elsewhere, it does mean that business transactions slow down. Many signatories or business heads tend to travel during this time as it is easier to conduct business outside of their home country.

But there are other, more cultural considerations that need to take place. For example, it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours – including in your car – and loud music is disrespectful. Shoulders and legs should also be covered, as more conservative dress is considered respectful and polite.

Muslims spend a large part of their days during Ramadan in prayer, and some offices in Saudi Arabia have been known to shut for half an hour five times a day to allow prayer. The religion also calls for fasting during daylight hours, and days can be long when pre-dawn and post-fast feasts come into play, so workers may be tired and less productive than normal. In fact, Samer Sunnuqrot, an economist in the Jordanian capital of Amman, claims that the productivity of workers declines by 35-50% during the holy month as a result of both shorter working hours and the change in behaviour.

Business lunches are often replaced by meetings during Suhoor, the meal after Iftar, or the breaking of the fast, normally at 8pm or 10pm. If you find yourself invited to an Iftar itself, this is a sign of trust and friendship, so accepting is advised. Building strong relationships is one of the keys to successful business in the region.

While business practice does need to change during the holy month, it should not deter you from investing in the Middle East as the prospects are ripe.

Providing you remain respectful and culturally sensitive, you will find plenty of opportunities to build relationships with your Muslim counterparts during Ramadan.

Our Dubai and Doha offices will be operating shorter hours during Ramadan; visit the UAE and Qatar office contact pages for details.

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