10 Tips for Cultural Sensitivity during the Holy Month of Ramadan

by | Apr 4, 2022 | Intercultural Skills, Middle East

10 Tips for Cultural Sensitivity during the Holy Month of Ramadan

by | Apr 4, 2022 | Intercultural Skills, Middle East

If you’re an expat living in the Middle East, or you’re working or doing business with people of Islamic faith, you need to know how to adapt and be respectful in this very important period. Keep reading to find out how!

Here is a quick overview of Ramadan:

  • Lasts 30 days
  • People fast from sunrise to sunset, every day
  • No food, water, cigarettes, chewing gum, etc.
  • They break the fast with “iftar” at sunset every day
  • The end of Ramadan is marked by “Eid Al-Fitr

Eid Al-Fitr is a 3-day celebration of family and feasting, which usually becomes a week-long holiday in most workplaces in the Middle East. There is another Eid, called “Eid Al-Adha” after about two months, which lasts 4 days.

Ramadan and the two Eids are not the same date every year, because they do not follow the common calendar; they follow the Islamic calendar. The dates of the holidays shift about two weeks earlier every year.

ramadan kareem

So what to keep in mind during Ramadan? Here are my top 10 tips for cultural sensitivity during Ramadan:

1. Don’t eat or drink in front of colleagues.

Since they are fasting, we need to keep this in mind and be considerate. Don’t drink water, eat snacks or even chew gum in front of others. 

When I was working in Saudi Arabia, we had a designated room at my workplace, on every floor, where expats who were not fasting could go and have tea or coffee, snacks, and eat their lunch. People are very flexible, and they understand that not everyone fasts. 

And they even allow us to keep consuming food and beverages during the day, just in a separate area behind a closed door. Also during Ramadan, it’s best not to keep consumables out in open view. That includes packaged snacks and even water bottles.

2. During the Holy month, keep your behavior calm.

Remember that Ramadan is a time of self-reflection, prayer, peace, and happiness. Therefore, try not to allow your emotions to get out of hand. There should be no shouting, anger or frustration, or arguing in front of others.

It’s best also not to blast music in public, and generally just try to keep all behavior positive and under control.

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3. Dress conservatively, even more than usual.

As Ramadan is a religious period, it’s extra important to observe conservative dress in line with Islamic beliefs. Cover your arms, shoulders, torso and midriff, legs, and be careful not to wear anything super-tight or revealing.

4. Be patient. Things may take more time.

First of all, work schedules change in many places during Ramadan. Most workplaces have a reduced schedule. Many people stay awake at night, and may work at night instead of in the daytime. The speed of work may slow down, so don’t be surprised if there are delays. 

It’s similar to how all work slows down or even stops during the Christmas and New Year period in many countries. Understand that for them, Ramadan is their most important period of the year, so please be patient.

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5. Keep in mind the schedule differences and plan accordingly.

In some places, restaurants and shops will be open only after sundown. If you are used to grabbing lunch from a restaurant, keep in mind it may not be possible during Ramadan. Most or all restaurants will be closed during the day.

You may have to go home for lunch, or pack your lunch and eat it in the designated area.

restaurants close during daytime in ramadan

6. Remember they are fasting. Go easy on them.

To be honest, in four years of teaching in Saudi Arabia, students never once accepted my offer to modify the intensity of courses that fell during Ramadan. They always insisted on taking exams and even giving presentations in Ramadan, which I found very impressive.

However, if I could modify anything, I tried to, just to avoid putting too much pressure or stress on them while fasting.


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    7. Enjoy delicious Iftars with your colleagues and friends!

    Ramadan is a time to promote unity among family, friends, and community. So take this opportunity and participate in the festivities. If someone invites you to an iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast, consider yourself lucky! 

    Iftars are wonderful feasts of all kinds of food, plus it’s a time to share a meal in the company of the people you love.

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    8. Give gifts of fancy dates, chocolate or other food items.

    It’s always a nice gesture to give a gift of delicious food to your colleagues and friends during Ramadan.

    9. Learn the greetings and use them.

    Wish people Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak during Ramadan, and Eid Mubarak during Eid.

    This will help you build bridges with your Middle East colleagues or business partners.

    10. Be happy and join in the festive feeling in the air!

    Don’t miss out on this wonderful opportunity to be a part of Islamic culture. Remember, when working or doing business with people from other cultures, need to understand and respect their traditions.

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    Cultural sensitivity during the Holy month of Ramadan

    Ramadan is a time of year when Muslims around the world observe a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. For many Muslims, Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and increased religious devotion.

    For expats living in Muslim-majority countries during Ramadan, it is important to be aware of the cultural sensitivities surrounding the holiday

    I hope this article was helpful and I wish you all the best in your Middle East experience.

    Get in touch with us for valuable insights and practical information on setting up your business in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Have expert cross-cultural training or consultation which will lead to your success in the Middle East

    Subscribe to my YouTube Channel to learn more about how to be culturally respectful, do business in other countries, and make the most out of expat life.

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