Doing Business During Ramadan
One interesting aspect to doing business in Islamic countries is the dynamic during the Holy month of Ramadan. People doing business in Muslim countries during Ramadan often find a lower level of productivity and increased difficulty in meeting deadlines, as well as challenges when scheduling meetings (Maclachlan, 2010). Their Muslim counterparts can be irritable and less receptive as well.
As a background, Ramadan commences on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a month of fasting for all Muslims. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islamic Belief, and during this 30-day period, one abstains from all food and drink during daylight hours (approximately 17 hours), as well as marital relations. It is even legally enforced in countries such as Saudi Arabia (Moran, Abramson, & Moran, 2014). According to the Qur’an, “fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you, so that you may learn self-restraint.” Fasting is considered by Muslims as a means to improve moral character and an opportunity for spiritual renewal (Islamic Foundation of Toronto, 2017).
The month of fasting affects the normal, routine business practices in the Middle East and other Muslim countries throughout the world. According to Jordanian economists studying the impact of Ramadan, productivity during the holy month shrinks by 35-50% across the Muslim world, depending on the countries (Morgan Philips Executive Search: Africa, 2015). Because of the exhaustion caused from the lack of rest and nutrients, critical business decisions such as partnerships, contracts etc. are often postponed by the major parties in an effort to thwart irrationality (Morgan Philips Executive Search: Africa, 2015).
So how does an international company adapt to this custom, in countries where Western business practices already clash with Islamic business practice? Cultural awareness and sensitivity should be at a heightened level during this month, where patience and respect go a long way. I have had personal experience when travelling for business in some Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Morocco and Fiji (partially Muslim), and even the most basic lunch meetings are awkward occasions when the person whom you are meeting can’t dine. There is certainly an intangible tension in the air.
One clever adaptation to Ramadan was an initiative started by the company Samsung. Samsung has agreed to give part of its profits to a humanitarian organization each time certain products are purchased during Ramadan. As the head of Samsung Corporate Marketing states, “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” (Morgan Philips Executive Search: Africa, 2015). By taking this approach, Samsung is abiding by one of the Five Pillars of Islamic Belief, that of Almsgiving, which states that all believers must give to the needy (Moran, Abramson, & Moran, 2014). This is a perfect example of a bit of capitalism fused with cultural sensitivity.
Islamic Foundation of Toronto. (2017). The Islamic Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.islamicfoundation.ca/ramadan.aspx
Maclachlan, Mathew. (2010). The Impact of Ramadan on Global Business. Communicaid Group Limited. Retrieved from: https://www.communicaid.com/cross-cultural-training/blog/the-impact-of-ramadan-on-global-busines/
Moran, R. T., Abramson, N. R., & Moran, S. V. (2014). Managing Cultural Differences (9th ed.). Oxford:Routledge.
Morgan Philips Executive Search: Africa. (2015). Ramadan’s Impact on Business- Holy Days. Retrieved from: http://www.morganphilipsexecutivesearch.com/blog/ramadans-impact-on-business-holy-days/