The physical rigours are the easy part of fasting. The difficult part is refraining from sinning in thought or action.
Fasting is not the true test of Ramadan
Some expats wonder how Muslims are able to function at work while we are fasting. The physical rigours are the easy part. The difficult part is refraining from sinning in thought or action, whether it's losing your temper, lying, indulging in greed, slander and malicious gossip, or taking false oaths. You might think you shouldn't lie or gossip even when it isn't Ramadan, but once you become aware of every thought that crosses your mind and every word that comes out your mouth, you might be amazed how often you break your ideals. This is the true test of being a devout Muslim, and people go to great lengths to pass this test.
The emphasis on prayer during the Holy Month takes up a major chunk of our waking hours. Even during the rest of the year our priorities are God, family and business, but during Ramadan it is even more so.
It's not that we completely disregard business during this time, but with shorter working hours and the time we need to set aside for prayer, it is realistically only possible to catch up with routine work. This poses a challenge for us, too, and given this reality, you're probably not going to get very far if you try to engage a Muslim in a new project during Ramadan. And don't be offended if you aren't offered coffee or refreshments during a business meeting - it is Ramadan, after all.
Although Muslims do not like to talk about new projects during Ramadan, majlis-hopping after sundown is a good way to network during the lull - you never know who you will bump into at the next venue. Many companies have now started the trend of hosting iftar evenings at five-star Ramadan tents, another good networking opportunity.
It's easy for expats to presume that we are less efficient during Ramadan, but in my experience fasting actually makes me more efficient - I need to get my work done in less time at the office. But since my focus is on replenishing my spiritual energy, I will not turn my attention towards new projects or make many decisions on pending ones.
The same goes for all fasting Muslims. Expats question why the world should wait for us to get through our Holy Month before we fulfil our business commitments. But it is also true that almost every office in North America and Europe is closed for business on Christmas and New Year. If you want to close a deal in this period, your North American or European business partners will tell you to wait.
Each culture is precious, and we should all try to respect that.