Ramadan is around the corner and the whole of the Arab world is all set for the Holy Month. While old-timers are well aware of how everybody’s life – be they Muslim or not undergoes a change, newcomers may wonder what all the fuss is about.
Change in work/school hours
The fundamental change is in working hours for businesses, retailers and schools, as timings are altered to accommodate the religious duties that a devout Muslim is expected to undertake.
All businesses work for two fewer hours than normal, as per the UAE Labour Law, and this is the same across the GCC. Schools, meanwhile, as per the KHDA’s latest directive, would work a maximum of five hours during Ramadan, with the school day starting between 8 and 8.30am and ending between 1 and 1.30pm.
Extended shopping hours
Most malls across the region work extended hours during the Holy Month, while a few opt to close for a few hours to accommodate Magreb prayers and Iftar. On the whole, malls would open at 9am and close at 1am the next morning to enable Ramadan shoppers to shop at their convenience after Iftar and before Suhoor.
A number of businesses also use this time to host Iftar or Suhoor parties for clients and employees. Due to this, restaurants and hotels also work extended hours and it is usually advisable to book ahead for either of these meals if you are planning to eat out.
So how is business affected?
Almost all businesses see a spike in sales during this period on the whole. A YouGov survey published in the run-up to Ramadan 2016 surveyed expected changes in consumer behaviour in and around the period across the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The study found that more than half (53 per cent) of the respondents would spend more, of which 93 per cent expected to increase their expenditure specifically on regular household items such as food, beverages, and groceries.
Almost two-thirds (59 per cent) of those surveyed in Egypt planned to spend more during the month of Ramadan.
This was followed by Saudi Arabia, where 56 per cent of consumers expected to spend more, while UAE respondents came in last with 46 per cent expecting to spend more.
Research by Proven, a business support service provider for Saudi Arabia, shows that certain sectors thrive in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan. For example, retail and F&B sectors saw a 25 per cent increase in sales over the holy month in 2016.
E-commerce businesses attract customers
Criteo, a global performance marketing technology company that enables e-commerce companies to leverage large volumes of data efficiently, has released seasonal data to help e-commerce businesses better engage consumers during Ramadan.
The company’s research reveals that retail sales and traffic in 2016 increased in the period leading up to and during Ramadan, but fell slightly during Eid-ul-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of the holy month.
Travel bookings grew incrementally in the last two weeks of Ramadan, and peaked in the two weeks after Eid.
Mobile retail purchases hit an all-time high in the two weeks before Ramadan, while mobile travel bookings skyrocketed through Eid and the week after.
This should be no surprise as expats and nationals across the region try to avail their yearly vacations at this time, both to avoid the heat as well as spend the festive time with their family.
What you must and mustn’t do during Ramadan
1. Do wish your friends who are fasting ‘Ramadan Kareem’, which means ‘Have a Bountiful Ramadan’, or ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ which translates as ‘Have a Blessed Ramadan’.
2. Do dress modestly at work and in public.
3. Do not drink water or eat in public; most offices would have designated areas for non-fasting employees to dine, so you can use these facilities. Most food courts in malls would also be segregated as designated areas for non-Muslims to dine. Of course, in the home, you can always choose order food in rather than going out during the fasting hours.
4. Do avoid driving in the hours leading up to sunset as people are rushing home to break the fast in the privacy of their homes or with friends; tempers also tend to run high at this time.
5. Do not swear in public; across the region, offensive language is generally a no-no. This is more so during the Holy Month.
6. Do utilise this period to give back to society, either in terms of donations or your time.
7. Do use this opportunity to learn about other cultures and their practices if you are invited for Iftar or Suhoor parties.
8. Do not play loud music or have noisy parties even in the privacy of your home. Low-key gatherings are perfectly fine.
9. Do use this time to get in some family time or bond with friends; after all, while tolerance, compassion, gratitude, and charity are the pillars of the month, family values also definitely take centre stage.