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 post: The True Meaning of Ramadan
The crescent 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 accommodates 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 privilege to be able to experience it.

For expats it might appear something like this:

During Ramadan Saudis turn entirely into nocturnal beings, the daily rhythm 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 Isha’a, thousands and thousands of huge SUV’s packed with the entire Saudi family start making their ways to their relatives houses or shopping malls. 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 jalabiya ready for Eid celebrations.
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 McDonald’s mega-meals 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.

eid celebration lights riyadh saudi
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 aggravated, generalized version of Ramadan in the Kingdom, that said there are many (although of course not all Saudis and expats) who do spend the Holy Month along the lines of what this post describes.

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 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 dramatizing 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.

Anyways Ramadan Mubarak everyone!

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  • AnonymousAugust 11, 2010 - 8:33 am

    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.ReplyCancel

  • JawwadAugust 11, 2010 - 11:39 pm

    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.ReplyCancel

  • AliceAugust 12, 2010 - 4:05 pm

    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..ReplyCancel

  • The Burdened MaryAugust 13, 2010 - 7:49 pm

    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.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 14, 2010 - 2:17 am

    @Anonymous
    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?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 14, 2010 - 2:26 am

    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.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 14, 2010 - 3:09 am

    @ Alice

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

  • LaylahAugust 14, 2010 - 3:14 am

    @ 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.ReplyCancel

  • Azhar AbdullahAugust 15, 2010 - 6:02 am

    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 cemetery…so 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…ReplyCancel

  • jinpatzAugust 15, 2010 - 1:48 pm

    hi!

    i like your blog. it’s very informative and gives me a good insight on what to expect upon arriving to riyadh.

    i am a nurse as well and will be working in KAMC. ;) i am hoping to have a good experience on this very different culture.

    keep on posting.ReplyCancel

  • bigstick1February 18, 2012 - 3:13 am

    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.ReplyCancel

  • […] wrote some previous posts about Ramadan in the Kingdom here and one on hospitals and Ramadan […]ReplyCancel

  • […] place. The first post of Ramadan is back from 2010 when the blog began and it’s called ‘Magic Month in the Kingdom‘. A good read for those not familiar with Ramadan or for expats living in Saudi Arabia or […]ReplyCancel

  • Copycat Blogger ExposedSeptember 17, 2014 - 6:49 am

    […] article has a part of it DIRECTLY copied from my post two years earlier titled, surprise surprise “The Magic Month In The Kingdom”. “Her” article was published in Lenasia times: […]ReplyCancel

  • […] about what kind of changes Ramadan brings along in the ‘Magic Kingdom’ read this post: The Magic Month in the Kingdom. The following article ‘In Search of the True Meaning of Ramadan’ was published in its […]ReplyCancel

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