Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic calendar during which the majority of Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours.
If you are in the UK and working with a UAE partner or client, or are visiting the UAE for business during Ramadan, we hope the following information is useful to you.
Working hours in the UAE are similar to those of the UK, aside from Friday and Saturday being weekend days. During Ramadan however working hours change to an earlier start and an earlier finish. This year Ramadan is expected to start on 17th May (expected rather than confirmed as the start of Ramadan is reliant on the sighting of the new moon). Most businesses will close at 2-3pm each day. This means you need to send your emails and make your calls before 10am UK time to make sure you get a response.
Some companies engage in a holiday hours swap, for want of a better term. During Ramadan Muslim employees will work shorter hours while non-Muslims work a full day. During the Christmas period, for example, those who celebrate will be given extra time off while Muslim colleagues cover for them. This allows business to remain fully active and gives staff the ability to take time off as they require.
Food and Drink
Not eating and drinking in public before Maghrib is a matter of law. It is unlikely you will be arrested if you forget and take a sip of water, but you may receive a polite word from the police officers if you open a packed lunch and start eating it on a bench. There may be instances during Ramadan when your host offers you a drink. If you are offered a drink it is polite to refuse as your host is likely fasting and hasn’t eaten since the early hours of the morning. Just as you won’t want to offend anyone by drinking in front of them, your host will want you to feel welcome and may offer you glass of water. Most of us can survive an hour or two without a drink, you should politely refuse.
Food and Drink Pt. 2
If you do have a full day planned and want to eat lunch you are able to. Food courts will be open, coffee shops will be serving, and restaurants will welcome you. Even though fasting in public is mandatory, the UAE understands that not everyone has chosen to fast. The law is in place to make sure people respect the sacrificial element of Ramadan rather than to force non-Muslims not to eat. Eateries that open are easily identified as they will have curtains drawn or barricades in place to stop people seeing inside. In Dubai many outlets will remain open throughout the day.
Commuting and Traffic
Outside of Ramadan, working hours are staggered for government employees so even though peak time traffic causes considerable delays most of the time commuting is easy. The UAE’s main population centres are connected by one road (the E11). There are two more major roads that run parallel (311, 611), but all three are busy as people all move in the same direction.
During Ramadan, because working hours change, almost everyone in the country finishes work at the same time. If you have a meeting set for 1pm you are going to enjoy the traffic, a lot of traffic. The astute Ramadan businessman knows to arrange meetings for as early in the day as possible and to be back home or in his hotel, or back in the office, in good time to beat the congestion.
Also, it is not unusual for people to chose to ignore the 2-3pm finish and just wait an extra hour in the office. In fact, post-rush hour driving in the UAE is a pleasure. Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road (E11) is an avenue of tall buildings led by the world’s tallest, the Burj Khalifa. An empty E11 really is a drivers dream.
Business during Ramadan no longer slows down. We used say it no longer grinds to a halt. In 2018, business during Ramadan will change its hours and little else.