x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ramadan can be a great experience for everyone here

So how does Ramadan and the office mix? They mix pretty well.

Ramadan chocolates from Sprungli. Brian Kerrigan / The National
Ramadan chocolates from Sprungli. Brian Kerrigan / The National

Ramadan, one of my favourite times of the year, is just around the corner.

Not only will our eating habits change, but certain alterations to office and business owners' lives will inevitably take place.

While many non-Muslim expats will enjoy the privilege of shorter working hours without abstaining from food or drinks, there are certain issues new expat residents in the country should be aware of, to avoid sensitivities with their Muslim co-workers, and business partners.

I cannot ignore that living in a diverse community such as the UAE has taught me numerous life lessons, such as respecting others' beliefs and religions.

However, even after many awareness messages from organisations to their non-Muslim employees regarding the dos and don'ts of this holy month, my friends and relatives still complain about disrespectful "ignorant" acts by their expatriate co-workers at their offices during Ramadan.

One of my friends, who works in a leading government investment organisation, complained about how her Western female manager wore blouses that revealed much of her cleavage, not to mention her tight miniskirts, both which are not respectful to wear during the holy month, especially when most of her team comprises Emirati males.

Another Emirati colleague was furious with an expatriate colleague who kept mentioning he would be going to the kitchen to have his lunch, or would be back in five minutes after having his cup of coffee.

"Not only is he not respecting my religion, but he is also breaking the law. It is illegal for people to mention that in public during Ramadan. If he does that this year, I will report him," says my enraged workmate.

So how does Ramadan and the office mix?

They mix pretty well.

I found if non-Muslims followed the guidelines below, Ramadan in the office was like a nice stroll down the park, and it can serve as a great business opportunity if planned well.

For non-Muslim managers and directors, reserve the early morning hours for meetings, and intellectually demanding tasks, and save the routine tasks for your Muslim co-workers later during the day when their energy level is low.

I am more productive from 8am to midday, and thus likely to complete all of my important tasks during those hours.

Also if your Muslim co-workers seem to have low energy, are in a cranky mood, and do not want to take part in office chats and jokes, this is likely a reflection of a lack of sleep, food and water, and cigarettes for smokers. So do not take it personally.

Ramadan can be fun with the right business event alterations.

Switch business lunch meetings, to Iftar (fast-breaking meal) or Suhoor (late-night meal), business gatherings. Not only will your Muslim colleagues appreciate your consideration and respect for the holy month, but it will be a good chance for non-Muslim co-workers and directors to engage in Muslim activities and culture and get a sense of what is it like to celebrate Ramadan. Most hotels and restaurants set up lavish tents serving buffets until the late hours. However,make sure not to order alcohol with your Iftar meal as that is highly disrespectful.

As for non-Muslim female workers, do not wear revealing fitted clothes in the office. Modesty is key here, especially in front of your Muslim male co-workers.

Smoke, drink and eat in the office kitchen, or wherever your human resource department told you to, and make sure the door is closed. When you do so, avoid mentioning it to your fasting Muslim colleagues. Flagrant violation to these rules will land you in trouble with your organisation.

If you have a business meeting with non-Muslims, avoid setting it up around Iftar time. Accidents usually peak during the hour before sunset as people rush to Iftar and their energy level is at the lowest. So be careful while driving, and instead opt for nighttime or earlier business meetings.

Will Ramadan affect small business owners like myself? You bet it will.

Ramadan is a celebration, and as a business owner, I have a spreadsheet that includes all of my business colleagues' and customers' addresses.

A simple e-mail greeting to my list will strengthen my relationship with them.

Another useful and considerate non-Muslim business owners can take is to send a simple "Ramadan Kareem" message. Doing so is likely to change how your customers think of you, and positively affect their loyalty to your brand.

In addition, many businesses create special products for the holy month. Given that Muslims wear new clothing and exchange gifts during Eid (the day after Ramadan ends), many fashion businesses create exclusive lines celebrating Ramadan and Eid.

The celebration also affects other business areas such as chocolatiers and hotels, with many Muslims ordering trays of chocolates to serve on Eid, and many travelling to different destinations to celebrate it.

For business owners, it would also benefit you to talk to Muslim peers who can provide you with tips on how to tackle this month with the appropriate business promotions.

Finally, do not feel shy to ask your Muslim friends and business partners about Ramadan. They will be more than happy to guide you through its customs.

 

Manar Al Hinai, an Emirati, is a fashion designer and writer based in Abu Dhabi. She was recently named an Arab Woman of the Year.