Yesterday at sundown, Muslims worldwide began their 30-day observance of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. This marks the time, according to Islam, that the Holy Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. Like many other religious holidays, Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, so dates vary from year to year.
At this time, most Muslims spend more time in prayer, read the Qur’an, refrain from certain activities (like smoking and chewing gum), give more to charity, and visit with family and friends. Most also abstain from all food and drink, including water, from sunrise to sunset. This is intended to remind them of the suffering of the poor and to cleanse the body.
During Ramadan, non-Muslims with Muslim friends and colleagues, and/or those working with Muslim organizations or doing business in predominantly Muslim countries, may want to note the following:
Not all Muslims fast. Those who are exempt include children (usually under 12), pregnant or breastfeeding women, the elderly, and those who are ill or have certain health conditions. If a Muslim colleague or business acquaintance isn’t fasting and the reason isn’t clear, it is considered impolite to ask why.
In some Muslim countries, places such as banks may close several times a day for prayer or the workday may be shortened, especially if it’s in the public sector. In non-Muslim countries, companies with many Muslim employees may also adjust their hours.
If traveling right before sunset in a Muslim country, keep in mind that traffic will probably be heavier, and public transit busier, as most people are rushing home for the evening meal (iftar).
Alcohol may be less available in Muslim countries. Places that would normally serve it to non-Muslims, such as hotel bars, may refrain from doing so during Ramadan. Other places will simply close. Also, in some of these same countries, it is a crime to eat, drink, or smoke in public at this time.
While it is always advisable to dress modestly in a Muslim country, this is particularly true during Ramadan. Therefore, when in public or conducting business, avoid shorts, short skirts, and sleeveless attire.
Breakfast and dinner meetings can be scheduled if they’re before sunrise or after sunset. The rest of the time, try to schedule meetings before noon, when people aren’t as hungry or tired.
If you’re invited to an iftar, which is often a delicious feast, make every effort to attend. Also, in some places, restaurants and hotels set up special tents for this meal, as well as the suhoor (morning meal), with traditional foods and beverages.
Companies doing business with Muslims or in Muslim countries may also wish to expand their charitable activities during Ramadan, as a gesture of goodwill.