A group of EMG consultants from the UK recently visited Dubai, giving those who work on projects in Islamic countries a better understanding of the religion, culture and practices of the UAE. One of the many exciting activities on the agenda was the opportunity to immerse ourselves in Islamic culture and learn about the religion through an introductory presentation. We collectively participated in the ‘Open Doors, Open Minds’ program, held at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai. As anticipated, the whole experience proved to be invaluable. It enabled us to gain far more understanding of the cultural environment in which many of our partners, clients, and friends operate.
The cultural training began with a presentation on the Five Pillars of Islam; Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj. Given the spectrum of services we offer at EMG, we were especially interested in understanding how the Five Pillars shape business practice and how we can accommodate this in the application of sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies to Islamic society.
Zakat and Sadaqah refer to the philanthropic pillar of Islam. Respectively, they respond to the involuntary and voluntary donations to those in need, with beneficiaries being family, friends, or charitable organisations. Understanding how Zakat shapes business is important to EMG for many reasons, largely because it helps us to inform Islamic companies better about the distinction between philanthropy and a strategic CSR program, both of which are fundamental in striving towards a ‘doing more good’ approach.
Sadaqah can be defined as small daily acts of ‘giving’. This can be in the form of practical acts, such as carrying a load for an elderly person or giving directions to someone who has lost their way. Translating this to the world of business, this relates directly to CSR concepts such as supporting employees with a new family-friendly or wellbeing policies, reducing polution in a local community, or improving the health of the population through busness-led innovation, to name a few examples.
The cultural training concluded with an informative question-and-answer session. There was considerable interest from the audience to understand in more depth the perspective regarding women in Islam so we found it a refreshing experience to learn first-hand from a practising female Muslim. The session allowed for discussion around how globally, as with all religions, interpretations can be shaped by culture, politics, environment and rule of law. In relation to clothing, for example, we learned the reasons behind the traditional Emirati clothing for men and women, which rests on a combination of practical concerns for the desert climate and the religion.
Our experience was further enriched by the opportunity to discuss what we had learnt over Arabian coffee served with local camel milk.
We look forward to continuing our education on the Islamic religion and are all making good progress with our weekly Arabic lessons.
Shukran for reading this!
The EMG Cambridge team