Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Magic Month in the Kingdom

Ramadan is a very special month to Muslims all over the world. In case you are not sure what Ramadan means to Muslims and why Muslims fast check out this link.
The crecent moon has been sighted and the fasting has started this morning.

Ramadan in Saudi-Arabia is a very different experience from any other country, even other arab Muslim countries. Fasting is taken dead seriously and the whole nation accomodates to make fasting easier.Spirits are high, every Muslim supports one another. The whole country changes radically for a month. For some expats it seems to be a nightmarish experience. But again I think it all comes down to attitudes and what one makes of it. I personally think it's a privilage to be able to experience it.

For expats it might appear something like this:

During Ramadan Saudis turn entirely into nocturnal beings, the daily rhythym reverses itself. Shops will open only in the late afternoon or after sunset and close around 2 am. Riyadh is like a phantom city until sunset arrives.
After the last prayer of the day Ishaa, thousands and thousands of huge SUV's packed with the entire Saudi family start making their ways to their relatives houses or shoppingmalls. Slowly they begin crawling into the streets eventually stopping the traffic altogether.
When they finally reach the malls the women will go out looking for Ramadan sales. Everyone will be busy finding nice clothes to wear for Ramadan.
Tailors get packed with women and men having custom-made thobes and jallabiyas ready for Eid clebrations.
Restaurants and food courts fill with families and screaming children throughout the night. Everyone including the smallest children will be stuffing themselves before they begin fasting. Some indulge in KFC and McDonalds megameals followed by a box of Cinnabons until they cannot move anymore.
Special night prayers also known as Taraweeh prayers are called out from the thousands of mosques around the city. They can be heard as a discordant symphony throughout the night.
Dental offices will be busy until 3 am with fasting patients that cannot be treated during the daytime.
Finally the streets congest once again with families hurrying home before Fajr prayer, which at this time of year is around 4 am.
After that, nothing. Absolute silence on the streets of Riyadh until it all starts over again the following day.
At home some will stay up until the morning chatting and watching tv, finally falling asleep when the sun comes up.
This was a bit aggrevated version of Ramadan in the Kingdom but many although of course not all Saudis do unfortunately spend it like this.
Read here how Ramadan is ideally spent.

For an "outsider" the experience may seem somewhat absurd and incomprehensible. First timers are usually either extremely irritated or fascinated.
What irritates non-Muslims is of course that they cannot do anything during the days since everything is closed and when the stores do open they are fully packed. But this is also the time that consuming any kind of fluid or food in public during the daylight hours becomes a horrendous crime.
Non-Muslims drinking publicly might openly be shouted at and at least glared down by angry Muslims. Basically non-Muslims are forced to hide all evidence of consuming.
If the Muttawa spots someone publicly drinking they might be in big trouble for disgracing the Holy month and might even end up in jail.

I personally think this is quite ridiculous and blowing things out of proportion. I don't mind if someone eats spaghetti bolognese in front of me when I'm fasting! I can always go somewhere else, look away or just not care. After all fasting is about self discipline too. I don't see why some Muslims will get offended by this. It's not like the non-muslims are doing it on purpose to offend anyone although I'm not saying that might rarely occur.
Sure people should be sensitive but this kind of dramatising and exaggeration is in my view unnecessary. Why does respecting other cultures and religions only seem to work in one direction in Saudi-Arabia? Religious tolerance should work both ways.
For example in the hospital all the staff's water bottles have to be hidden out of public sight, they are stored behind closed doors or bathrooms where staff has to go to secretly have a sip. Fasting Saudi employees will generally have very flexible working hours, arriving late, leaving early and taking hour long breaks while non-Saudi Muslims will not have all these luxuries and they are expected to be just fine with it.

I bet when some of these same hypersensitive Saudis go abroad they will forget about tolerance of all other religions altogether..

Anyways Ramadan Mubarak everyone!


Anonymous said...

Sorry if I sound mean but doing it the way you do it sounds like cheating. You accommodate the day so you sleep when you are fasting to make it easy???? Isn't fasting supposed to be a sacrifice offered to God to cleanse the soul? If you are sleeping what is the sacrifice? Christians fast probably more days during the year and that is no cause to stop the daily live, they go to work and do everything just like any other day but they are fasting... and they are not telling the world about it. Again, I do not mean to offend anyone, it is just my opinion... you should continue your daily life while fasting, that would be a good sacrifice.

Unknown said...

This is certainly a surprise to even Muslims arriving here from another country. Ramadan is indeed a special month. However, as rightly mentioned, it's more about self descipline than a prohibition on eating/drinking across the society.

I come from a place where we used to have offices start earlier than normal with reduced working hours to enable people to join their families in time for the evening.

So, most of this has more to do with local culture than Islam or the concept of fasting in Ramadan.

Anonymous said...

Nice post!

Foreigners are are not allowed to eat or drink in public places during Ramadan in the UAE as well. I too agree it's unnecessarily harsh. It's like punishing those foreigners. It's kind of humiliating to have to hide with drinking and eating when they are not Muslims and are not supposed to fast.

People active at night and sleeping during the day- this may happen to some Muslims all around the world. It's not correct, but if that's the only way they can do it..

The Burdened Mary said...

Remember that fasting in a hot, sunny, desert climate like Saudi is EXTREMELY difficult and hard on the health. People cannot sleep through all the daylight hours, but they might rest during the day because it is extremely hard on the body. Besides: those who work still go to work, and people still spend the daylight hours cooking. I know some people who do it in excess, but other people rest in the hotter hours to make fasting bearable.

Layla said...

Please be respectful to my wishes and next time identify yourself!

You said Saudis "cheat" in fasting when they sleep all day. Sure there are some that do so but many do continue their daily work and fast while not making a big deal about it.And it is really hot so the I guess the ones who do not go to work would rather sleep. I wouldnt call it cheating, but maybe making it easier..

You also say: "Christians fast probably more days during the year and that is no cause to stop the daily live, they go to work and do everything just like any other day but they are fasting"
To this I would like you to identify actually which Christians it is that fast like this because I am not aware that any abstain from food and drink for such long periods? And secondly, the ones who do are not numerous. In KSA every single Muslim that is able fasts. Which Christian country does that??
IF there were a Christian country where fasting would have the same proportions as in Saudi,I am 100% sure this same phenomenon would be happening. After all, we are all humans, regardless of our faith or nationality.
It's justhuman nature to try make things easier for oneself isn't it?

Layla said...

Hello Jawwad and welcome to my blog!

Thanks for your comment, from which part of the world are you from?

In Saudi they adjust the office hours so that staff will usually come to work few hours later and the day will be cut into 6 hours instead of 8. That way Muslims have time to get home to break the fast.

Layla said...

@ Alice

I agree it might seem humiliating for some people, like they're less important because they are not fasting.

Layla said...

@ Burdened Mary

I feel sorry for all those women who are forced to cook Iftar for their husbands and families. They are sometimes expected to come up with three course meals while fasting for the last hours of the day!
Fasting is much harder on those women for sure.

Unknown said...

Dear Laylah (and others too)

In Malaysia, we practise to scold only Muslims who don't fast and eat in public. As you know, we in Malaysia live within multi-race society consist of Chinese, Indian, Malay (Muslims) and other non-Muslims ethnic...

So those who are not Muslim, they are permitted to eat, drink and go to the restaurant during daytime, while Muslims are prohibited. If you are a Muslim and caught eating or drinking in public during daytime, you will be caught and get a free tour on the special van used to transfer dead bodies to people will know, "aahh...those are who eat in public.."

As for Saudi working (and schooling) time during Ramadhan, I found it with pros and conts...good, coz you can spend more time praying and giving yourself to Allah during night time...not so good, coz you encourage people to think Ramadhan as a more relaxing daytime while our Prophet fight his first Jihad in Badr during Ramadhan...

But technically, I do like the system while I was back there in Medina during the old days...haha...

bigstick1 said...

This is just another story of muslims saying one thing and doing another. We are told that there is no compulsion in religion but considering this post and that of the person in Malaysia it is just another lie. There is compulsion in this religion even to both non-muslims and those muslims who chose not to practice certain aspects of the religion. Of course recent issues in Saudi tell me even more and it is tainting me greatly on Saudi people and muslims in general.