As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, International SOS reminds travel managers and their travelers going on business trips to Muslim countries to be mindful of certain public and business etiquette tips.
During Ramadan, Muslims observing the fast refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk each day. The main evening meal for breaking the fast is known as Iftar, and many Muslims also have a second meal known as Suhour, which must end before Imsak time at dawn. Daylight hours during Ramadan this year will average around 16 hours in London, 13 hours in Dubai and 12 hours in Kuala Lumpur.
Do not eat, drink or smoke in public – During fasting hours (ie daylight) in most Muslim countries, it is considered impolite to have food, drink or cigarettes in public view. This also applies during travel on public transportation or in private cars. In countries like Egypt, abstinence from food and drink in public is an optional matter of courtesy, but in other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and the UAE, public observance of the fast is compulsory regardless of religion. Most restaurants and cafes close during daylight hours, but most hotels offer room service and screened eating areas to non-fasting visitors. International SOS advises travelers to check local laws and customs pre-travel to ensure a smooth trip.
Dress modestly – Ramadan is considered a time of devoutness, modesty and moderation for Muslims around the world. Travelers to Muslim countries should refrain from wearing revealing clothing. This is particularly important when visiting malls, hotels, restaurants and Iftar tents in the evening. Malls in the UAE, for example, have a year-round ‘courtesy policy’ at most entrances, reminding visitors to wear modest attire and refrain from smoking, skating and bringing pets or alcohol into the shopping center. As a general rule, clothing that is sheer, too short, low-cut or tight-fitting should be avoided, particularly shorts, miniskirts and sleeveless or cropped tops.
Be mindful of workplace etiquette – Business travelers to Muslim countries should respect the shorter office hours and work around them. It is best to schedule important meetings in the morning, when anyone fasting is less tired and can better concentrate. It is also good to make sure that meetings do not occur over lunch or coffee, over-run or inconvenience fasting participants. While non-Muslims are permitted to eat and drink behind closed doors, they should avoid doing so in front of fasting colleagues and should instead excuse themselves to a more remote area of the office. If offered refreshments during the day, it is considered respectful to decline.
Check food and entertainment schedules – If you are travelling to a predominantly Muslim country during Ramadan, you should be prepared to be flexible with your food and entertainment plans. Avoid unnecessary travel within an hour of sunset, as traffic will be heavy and accident rates peak, and avoid making dinner reservations around that time, as most restaurants will be busy preparing and serving Iftar. In many places, live music entertainment is prohibited, dance clubs are closed, and bars are kept dry. Shopping malls are usually very crowded in the evening, and many tourist activities may be put on hold throughout Ramadan.
Respect local public etiquette – Avoid public displays of affection, listening to loud music and chewing gum in public. Do not order alcohol or pork if invited to an Iftar at a restaurant.