Ramadan, the most holy time in the Islamic year, starts on Friday, and it can prove to be quite a shock for expats living in the Middle East. To avoid finding yourself in any trouble, here are five things to know as an expat living in an Islamic country during the month.
1 - Eating and Drinking in Public
Something most people know about Ramadan is that it prohibits Muslims from eating or drinking during daylight hours. This can mean that they have meals very early in the morning, and late at night. Nothing is allowed between sunrise and sunset - not even water - and so you should be mindful of this at all times when working with Muslim colleagues.
For a non-Muslim expat this can create a range of challenges, that vary greatly depending on where you are living. In more liberal locations such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, expat workers may be allowed to eat in a special, private break room, however they should avoid doing so in public - even in their own cars or offices.
In the more conservative locations - such as Saudi Arabia - things are much stricter, and expats should refrain from eating anywhere that isn’t the privacy of their own home. Getting caught consuming food or drink during daylight hours could result in deportation, fines or even prison terms - and so it’s not worth the risk.
2 - Reduced Working Hours
All workplaces will offer reduced working hours to their Muslim employees during Ramadan, with these occasionally being extended to non-Muslim employees. In Saudi Arabia the working week for Muslims is reduced to a maximum of six hours a day, whilst every other country in the region will also adjust it’s working day.
If you are a non-Muslim don’t expect to be given reduced hours, especially if a break room is provided, however it can come as an unexpected benefit.
3 - Smoking is banned too
As most of you reading this will be medical professionals, we don’t imagine many will be smokers. If you are however you have to avoid smoking during the day in public, and that includes in private cars.
The rules are more relaxed in expat compounds - as you would expect - however for anyone looking to end the habit, it can prove to be an additional help. Failure to comply with the laws in public could see you deported, or at the very least involve an embarrassing situation with the law.
4 - Avoid Peak Traffic Times
Roads in the Middle East can be chaotic at the best of times, however things can get especially hectic during Ramadan. 30 minutes before sunset is generally considered the peak time, with hungry workers frantically trying to make it home to finally break their fast. Having not eaten all day, and with minds turning to food, this can lead to a higher than average rate of accidents, whilst frustration may lead to more aggressive driving techniques being used.
If you can, avoid travelling during this time.
5 - Keep Your Music Down
Ramadan is a time for prayer and reflection, and as such loud music and dancing is banned during the month for Muslims. This ban also applies to expats in public, who should avoid playing songs on car stereos (unless it is done quietly) and in their homes. In the compounds it’s generally not an issue, however it’s considered respectful to keep things more toned down than usual.