It’s the Maghrib hour, just after sunset, and you are sitting on a carpet in a big tent being served juices and mint tea, snacking on dates. There are lots of people around you and the atmosphere is one of fellowship and joy. Any ideas where you might be? You have been invited to an Iftar, a breaking of fast ceremony which you may be lucky to experience in the next month if you are planning a business trip to a Muslim country.
Ramadan started on Wednesday 11 August this year and lasts for one month. If you are doing business in countries that observe Ramadan, such as Saudi Arabia, then you may find things a bit different than the rest of the year. You may find it difficult to arrange business lunches, your Muslim counterparts might be feeling tired or irritable during meetings and shops and restaurants will usually be open only during restricted times. Bank and other services may also be interrupted regularly for prayer times during the day. Being aware of how Ramadan impacts both social life and business will help you avoid any loss of time while you are there.
People doing business in Muslim countries during Ramadan often find a lower level of productivity, increased difficulty in meeting deadlines and challenges scheduling meetings. If you are travelling to a country which observes Ramadan, you may have the honour of receiving an invitation to attend the ceremonies that take place after the fasting hours. Iftar in particular substitutes normal business lunches and being invited is a sign of trust and friendship so you should accept. People with good interpersonal skills, cultural awareness and an understanding of the social etiquette during Ramadan will be more likely to have the opportunity to be involved which can help the relationship-building process.
Doing business in Saudi Arabia or any other country which observes Ramadan requires an ability to identify and understand the expected behaviours and the appropriate topics of conversations that would engage your Muslim counterparts. Communicaid’s Cultural Awareness Training Middle Eastcourses such as Doing Business in the Middle East provide you with the necessary knowledge and understanding to overcome any cultural barriers. Cross cultural training also helps you to develop the skills to be able to learn and recognise crucial factors such as respecting face and status when trying to create new business relationships with counterparts in other cultures.
Although a lot of things may appear closed during this period, not everything is dormant during Ramadan. For example, the Holy Month is a peak season for sweet shops, with sales increasing up to 30%. Some telecommunication companies have also adapted their products for the Muslim market by adding special features such as Islamic chants, videos and ring tones relating to Ramadan.
Another successful initiative was started by Samsung who has agreed to give part of its profits to a humanitarian organisation every time certain products are purchased during Ramadan. “The Holy Month is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility and ongoing dedication to helping those in need”, said the head of Corporate Marketing at Samsung.
Being able to relate to the cultural values of a specific market and showing respect towards them will open many oportunities for your business. Building effective business relationships is one of the pillars for doing business in the Middle East successfully, so Ramadan could be the perfect time to approach new ventures. Provided that your cultural understanding is strong, you will find plenty of opportunities to build relationships with your Muslim counterparts during Ramadan.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010