Ramadan also marks the revelation of the Holy Qur'an to Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). This guide considers the legal and practical implications of the month of Ramadan for employers and businesses in the UAE and advises on how best to try to ensure a peaceful and respectful month ahead.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year and it is observed for one lunar month. Ramadan begins when a new moon is sighted by Islamic scholars, so it is difficult to say precisely when this will be. The end of Ramadan is followed by Eid Al Fitr, a two day celebration which denotes the beginning of a new month and is marked as a national holiday in Islamic countries. Ramadan practices will have a significant impact on everyone living and working within the UAE and other Islamic countries, so it is important for businesses to be well informed.
Observing fasting (Sawm) is one of the five pillars of Islam, the basic tenets of the faith. All Muslims are obliged to fast during Ramadan, although an exception is made for children under the age of 12, women who are pregnant or nursing, Muslims who are travelling or sick and the elderly. While fasting, Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset. A light meal (Suhoor) is eaten before sunrise and morning prayers (Fajr) are performed afterwards. The fast ends at dusk, when the call to Maghrib prayers sounds and it is customary for the fast to be broken with dates and water. An evening meal (Iftar) is eaten after prayers with family or friends, followed by special Ramadan prayers known as Taraweeh and the usual night time prayers (Isha). Those that are unable to fast are obliged to provide meals for the poor for each fast that is missed or make up the fast after Ramadan.
During this month, many Muslims will spend more time than usual in prayer or contemplation, and time is dedicated to reciting the Qur'an. Muslims are encouraged to try to recite the entire Qur'an during Ramadan. Emphasis is placed upon the last ten days of Ramadan, which are considered the most holy and indeed some Muslims will spend an entire night reciting the Qur'an and praying.
Muslims also use this period to reflect on their lives and develop a deeper spiritual awareness and it is not simply food and drink which Muslims try to refrain from but they also seek to purify themselves by abstaining from inappropriate language and other ill-mannered acts. The fast provides a focus for greater self-awareness and assists Muslims to improve their self-discipline and self-control. Charity (Zakat) and other acts of generosity are also encouraged during this time and Muslims aim to empathise with those less fortunate.
The Labour Law (Federal Law 8 of 1980) entitles UAE employees to work reduced hours during Ramadan without any corresponding reduction in their salary. Under the law, the working day is reduced by two hours. For the majority of employees, this will mean a six hour working day (exclusive of breaks). For employees who work in restaurants and hotels or otherwise usually work a 9 hour day, the working day is shortened to 7 hours. The Labour Law does not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Employers are advised to bear in mind that Muslims observing the fast have a longer day than usual and some consideration towards them will be well received. It is advisable for employers to have in place a Ramadan policy, which sets out the standard expected of employees. It is usual to ask employees to refrain from consuming food or drinks in communal areas of the workplace out of respect for employees that are fasting. Conversely, employers can assist those employees not observing the fast, by putting in place a designated eating area that is screened, as it is against the law for anyone to eat in public during the fasting period each day.
A key concern for employers is to ensure that business continues to run smoothly while its employees work reduced hours. Whilst it is typical for businesses to slow down during Ramadan across the Middle East, employers are advised to plan ahead if it is anticipated that Ramadan will be a busy month, by arranging adequate staff cover. Employers should note that where employees work beyond Ramadan hours, they are entitled to receive overtime pay under the Labour Law. This is particularly pertinent for those businesses that deal frequently with non-Islamic countries, where business will be running as usual.