As summer rolls around, so does the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. This June, Muslims worldwide share in fasting, festive dinners, and faith awareness. Because this month is so important to Islam, below is key information about Ramadan helpful when conducting business with Muslim counterparts or simply travelling abroad:
1. The General Fasting Process
Perhaps the most popular information about Ramadan is fasting. The point of which is to increase understanding and sympathy for those less fortunate. During this time, Muslims fast for eleven to sixteen hours a day. Typically, fasting begins around dawn and ends at sunset. To prepare and begin their fast, Muslims usually eat breakfast at before dawn, pray, and bless their fast. For the rest of the day, they refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking.
2. Activities during Ramadan
Speaking kindly and thinking positively of others and the world is a recommended Ramadan practice. If you are conducting business overseas or spending time with a Muslim friend observing Ramadan, keep that in mind. Work hours are slightly decreased during the month of Ramadan in many Muslim countries. Additionally, the purpose of Ramadan is to increase religious awareness and be more observant of God, so Muslims do a number of things to self-reflect and pay respects to the religion. For example, giving extra charity, or Zakaat, is a common act of kindness during Ramadan.
3. Ramadan across Borders
In many Islamic countries, there are laws pertaining to the month of Ramadan. If you are living abroad or travelling for a business trip in a predominantly Muslim country, it is important to be respectful of those rules. For example, some countries, like the United Arab Emirates, have strict Ramadan laws and expect all citizens, residents, and expats to dress modestly and refrain from eating and drinking in public. So, if you are travelling abroad during this holy month, particularly in the Middle East or North Africa, be sure to understand the laws around Ramadan. Ask around and make sure you have the proper information.
4. Considerations for Prayer Times
Praying five times a day on a regular basis and during Ramadan are equally as important. Here are five prayers that take place throughout the day on a regular schedule.
1) Fajr- the prayer at dawn
2) Dhuhr- the prayer at noon
3) Asr- the prayer in the afternoon
4) Maghrib- the prayer at sunset
5) Isha’a- the prayer at night
If you are living or travelling abroad in predominantly Muslim cities or countries, like Dubai, it is common for the Azaan, or call to prayer, to be recited over a loudspeaker five times a day. Many Muslims follow the five prayers’ schedule, and it is important to be aware that at these particular times of day, Muslims may step out to pray. Scheduling business meetings around these times of the day is important to avoid disrupting regimented prayer times.
5. Iftar: Breaking the Fast
Finally, Muslims break their fast in the evening at sunset. At this time, Muslims invite friends and family to break the fast. It is a festive occasion and is to be celebrated with food. If you are invited to a coworker’s Iftar, it is common to bring a food gift of dates, or a dish for the host. Friends and family reflect on their fast and respectfully eat their dinners. Festive foods change depending on the region, but remember, date fruits hold a religious and cultural importance for Iftar!
Ramadan is a month that not only builds spiritual awareness, but is also seen as a happy and special occasion. Understanding how Muslims celebrate this holy month is integral to understanding a key part of the Islamic faith. Respect, altruism, and joy are all characteristics of Ramadan, where Muslims can come together and respect the faith and practice as a whole. With proper knowledge about Ramadan, you can be more respectful of the customs and practices. Ramadan Kareem to all!
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her best-selling book Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its second printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. Sharon is the winner of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.
Photo Credit: HISHAM BINSUWAIF