The most important time in the Islamic calendar is finally here.

Over the last year, we’ve been working with several British organisations that have set up in Dubai, and as the Holy Month has approached, we’ve been answering a number of questions about how Ramadan affects business in Dubai, which we’ve summarised below.

For those who may not have experienced living and working in a Muslim country during the Ramadan, a quick recap of the basics:

  1. The timing of Ramadan is based on the moon cycle so it changes every year, and the start day is only confirmed the day before, based on the sighting of the moon.
  2. The Holy Month is a period of reflection, gratitude, kindness and compassion when Muslims appreciate the position of those less fortunate – they pray more, help others and give to charity.
  3. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan to appreciate what it means to go without, and to exercise restraint and self-purification – and no food or drink is therefore to be consumed in public by anyone.
  4. Fasting is not limited to food and drink; it includes smoking, chewing gum and intimacy.
  5. The fast is broken at Iftar – a social meal held at sunset, the timing of which is announced by a call to prayer.
  6. Suhoor is pre-dawn meal, generally held late at night before going to bed
  7. Working hours in the private sector in the UAE are reduced by two hours
  8. There is no live music or entertainment at all during this period

At first glance it may appear to be a difficult time to be in Dubai, but whilst it may present a different set of challenges to normal working life, it is a great time of year for building and cementing relationships, contributing to community and making a difference.

There are just a few simple ways that business etiquette and operations need to be adapted during such a revered time of year:

1. Be considerate

The majority of fasting Muslims (in fact all those known to us) will tell you that they have no problem with you drinking or eating in front of them, in fact this only strengthens their resolve and demonstrates their dedication. However, you should be considerate and think about what they are experiencing – they may not mind you drinking water and eating your lunch at your desk, but it must be tough to smell that fresh McDonalds takeaway wafting past, or a freshly brewed coffee. Always ask Muslims if they mind you drinking water or nibbling on snacks if you share the same office space or are in the same meeting, and be mindful of strong smells that could trigger/exacerbate hunger.

2. Review your meeting schedule

Are the meetings you are planning really necessary (something that really should be asked all your round in our opinion!) If so, think about the timings – people may be in later in the mornings so the 8.30/9am start may not be possible. Also think about energy levels – those who have been fasting and working all day may not have much left in the tank by 2/3pm. Try to keep any meetings short and to the point, and hold them mid-morning where possible (and don’t take food and drink into the room without clear confirmation from everyone attending that this is acceptable).

3. Make a difference

This time of year is all about gratitude, community and supporting others – can you embrace this spirit as an organisation? What could you do to add value and make a different to others, whether this is your staff, your customers, your service providers, or the wider community you operate in? Don’t think about marketing gimmicks or PR angles; think about ways you can genuinely make a difference.

4. Rethink your marketing

More to come on this in next week’s blog, but for now at the start of the Holy Month, think about how you communicate that you are marking the occasion. Don’t spam us with your greetings emails and best wishes – we’ve had over 80 emails per day over the weekend before and the first few days of Ramadan. No, we don’t open them, no matter how much we like your organisation. It’s therefore a waste of your time and effort to send them – stop spamming our mailboxes and think about other ways to communicate.

5. Be respectful

The UAE, and Dubai specifically, are very laidback in terms of dress code and behaviour, but during the Holy Month you should be more aware of the Muslim customs and traditions here, and think about your language and dress code more than you would at other times of year – be courteous and respectful at all times, no matter the situation.

6. Experience it!

Ramadan is one of our favourite times of year to be in the UAE. There is so much to experience, so get out there and get together with friends, clients, suppliers, partners, business and social groups and experience the atmosphere of an Iftar or Suhoor. With reduced hours, there’s no excuse not to make time to show people that you value them.

7. Avoid the roads at Iftar time

Try to avoid driving around sunset, once the sun starts to sink low, fasting Muslims are in a rush to get to their Iftar venue ready to pray and break the fast as sunset. Here in Dubai, this generally causes faster erratic driving (and from people whose concentration may be affected after a day of work with no food or drink). Give yourself plenty of time to get to where you are going well before sunset, or once darkness has descended.

Those are our top tips for working in Dubai during Ramadan, we hope you embrace it and experience all the city and country has to offer. If you have any other advice you’d like to share, or questions you want to ask, please do let us know!

Ramadan kareem!

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