Gift Giving in Other Cultures – Muslims and the Middle East


My name is Pete Ekizian. I own and operate Executive Gift Shoppe. We opened in 1999 and we specialize in unique gifts for young professionals.

Doing business in today’s global economy means you’ll run into all kinds of people from faraway places and differing ethnic groups. If you frequently do business overseas there are a number of customs involving gift giving that you need to aware of. Not being aware of regional and national traditions and customs can kill a business deal quickly, as it is seen as being the height of disrespect and rudeness.

If you are meeting with people from the Middle East or a client you know to be a devout Muslim, there are several things you need to know. The Muslim religion forbids the use of alcohol, so never give a Muslim any gift or food item that contains alcohol. It’s important to remember that some perfumes and cologne contain alcohol so these are also items to be avoided. It’s also very important to know that Muslims shun any products that are made from animals that are scavengers, and this includes shellfish, birds, and pork. Thus giving someone a leather wallet or money clip made from a pig or an ostrich is a big no-no!

When doing business with Muslims that may involve exchanging gifts it’s also noteworthy that personal clothing items are to be avoided. In this culture, that is considered far too personal a gift for anyone to be giving and is considered an invasion of their space.

The most thoughtful gift that you can give a devout Muslim is the simple gift of a compass. Devout Muslims pray five times a day and must face toward the city of Mecca no matter where they are in the world. With the gift of a compass, they can easily determine which way they need to face when it is time for prayers.

Observe these rules when doing business in the Middle East and/or with devout Muslims, and avoid potentially embarrassing situations.