Doing business during Ramadan? Here’s what non-Muslims should know

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:

  • Koran

    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).