The sighting of the new moon marks the start of Ramadan. This is the time when your Cultural Intelligence will prove extremely valuable.
Ramadan is a time when Muslims all over the world refrain from eating and drinking from dawn till dusk. It is a time of worship, contemplation and spiritual recharging.
Each country has its own social traditions that add a local flavor to this special month. Here are four points of etiquette that will help you avoid causing offence to your hosts while saving you unnecessary stress and embarrassment.
- Get your meals right. Iftar is the first meal after breaking the fast at dusk. When the call for the Maghreb (sunset) prayer sounds, Muslims break their fast with a glass of water and a date followed by a meal. Each country has its own traditional Ramadan dishes that include a kind of soup, a variety of salads and a main course that usually consists of rice, lamb and vegetables. Suhour is the last meal eaten before the start of the fast at dawn. A very late dinner served around midnight during Ramadan is also referred to as Suhour.
- As a guest to an Iftar. Although notorious, in general, for their lack of punctuality, when it comes to Iftar, Arabs are always on time! As a guest you must arrive exactly 10 minutes before the call to prayer that breaks the fast. Arriving early will stress your host who will be busy preparing the meal while arriving late is unacceptable as everyone will start eating exactly on time. After the meal and the dessert, guests enjoy a cup of mint tea or Arabic coffee and the evening comes to a quick end with very little socialising – as people are eager to go home and rest after a long day of fasting.
- No food or drink. Do not eat or drink anything in public. Most restaurants, cafes and fast-food places close during the day and open just before Iftar. If you work in an office, be extra considerate and eat and drink only behind closed doors; and be conscious of the wafting smell of your hot cup of coffee in the morning.
- Timings change. To help Muslims with their fast, working hours during Ramadan become shorter – starting later and ending earlier than usual. The evenings bustle with activity as cities come to life and people are out and about till way past midnight. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to attend a meeting at 9 or 10 p.m, in many Arab countries, the day flips in Ramadan and a lot of business is conducted late in the evening.
The better prepared you are the more you will enjoy this special time of year.