How Should Expats Act During Ramadan?

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Written By Farid Shojaei

Expats on assignment in North Africa and the Middle East can often fail to appreciate some of the finer points of the region’s religion and culture.

Respecting beliefs and tradition is an integral part of expat life and understanding how to conduct your life and business is crucial in the holy month of Ramadan.

This year, Ramadan started on Sunday, May 5, and runs until Tuesday , June 4.

The period requires fasting, prayer and contemplation between sunrise and sunset each day – and for many a pilgrimage to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Are expats expected to observe Ramadan?

No, expats are not expected to go to prayer or follow other rituals during Ramadan, but they should embrace the principles.

During Ramadan, expats should not eat, drink or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset. If they do, they can expect to be arrested and face a criminal prosecution.

Expats should also dress conservatively, which means women should cover their arms and legs while wearing less make-up.

Music and dancing is also forbidden during Ramadan, so switch off gadgets at home, in the car and at the office.

Giving to charity plays a large part of Ramadan, so do donate  or volunteer your services if asked to avoid offending others.

Does Ramadan disrupt daily life?

Yes, Ramadan does impact on the lifestyle of expats.

Few cafes and restaurants open, while shops keep shorter hours. Many only open before sunrise or after four in the afternoon.

Businesses will also adjust working hours, usually to between 8am and 2pm.

Bars may open, but nightclubs close.

Men and women are expected to cover up at the beach or swimming pools.

Where is Ramadan observed?

Any country celebrating Islam observes Ramadan, which means most of North Africa, the Middle East, the Gulf States and vast swathes of Asia, from Iraq to Indonesia.

What is Ramadan?

The holy month reflects the time when God handed the verses of the Qur’an to the prophet Mohammed. Ramadan is meant as the time when Muslims self-purify their spirit through meditation and prayer. Many believe good deeds carried out during Ramadan lead to forgiveness of their sins.