The different sides to Ramadan in Saudi Arabia

Ramadan is here and Muslims all over the world will be fasting this month. Saudi-Arabia turns into a much more accommodating place for fasting people to live during the holy month. There are many exceptions in everyday life that enable easier days of fasting, especially for Saudis it seems.

Other fasting Muslims on the other hand and the millions of non-Muslims working in Saudi-Arabia might not live this month as smoothly as the Saudis do. Ramadan in Saudi is certainly a very different experience for a Saudi, a Muslim and a non-Muslim.

I wrote some previous posts about Ramadan in the Kingdom here and one on hospitals and Ramadan here.

Less work, more spending
There are millions of non-Muslims living and working in Saudi-Arabia that are greatly affected by the holy month.
Almost all opening hours of business will change, stores will open only from late afternoon up until 2 am. This of course means heavy traffic in the evenings and not much to do during the day for the people who aren’t fasting. Schools start later for Muslims and there are less working hours for Muslim employees. Researches have found that the productivity in Muslim countries decreases almost by 50- 80% during Ramadan but on the other hand markets grow due to increased spending and giving charity.

Who does the work during Ramadan?
At the workplace the non-Muslim employees are discriminated against in many ways. Starting with working hours, non-Muslims work like in any other month while the Muslims work less total days and have shorter hours. This discrimination sometimes brings discord to the workplaces.
Muslims might take more breaks during the day, arrive late or leave early. This is generally not frowned upon as long as they are Saudis. Other nationalities even if fasting, will be expected to abide strictly to the working hours.
In the hospital where I worked only the Saudi employees were allowed to leave the workplace during prayer times. Sometimes an employee might have been absent for an hour during prayer time. Especially the male employees seemed to do this because they would go out to the hospital mosque unlike the female employees who prayed in empty rooms.

The untouchables
All this might add up to the Saudi employee spending almost half less time at the workplace than the other employees during Ramadan.

Or at least that is how it seems to those left behind at the workplace to do the job while the Saudis are gone.

The non-Muslim employees might feel they are forced to do most of the work because the fasting colleagues are resting or absent. The fasting workers are exempt from the physically heaviest chores.
No one dares to complain about a Saudi colleague, they have a sort of untouchable status at the workplace.

Forbidden Eating
Another phenomenon that might make Ramadan a less pleasant experience for those not fasting is the expectation that all non-Muslims must eat and drink in secrecy during the daylight hours. At the hospital for example even keeping water bottles visible was viewed as almost criminal activity. I think it’s strange that kind of culture exists that everyone else must change their normal daily routines so that the fasting Muslims won’t get offended by the sight of food, when all over the rest of the world and other Muslim countries Muslims fast successfully while the world continues at the same pace. There are also many Muslims who are not fasting because they are exempt, the pregnant women, elderly, children, people with illnesses and breastfeeding women.

I have witnessed how this behavior made some people feel humiliated, discriminated against and it doesn’t exactly indicate religious tolerance either. Thankfully I witnessed that many of the fasting Muslims themselves, especially those from Western origins, thought the “rule” of hiding food was unnecessary, even ridiculous and had no effect on their fast or self-discipline anyways.  Many of these Muslims told me it’s another cultural “Saudi rule”, not a religion based one. saudi hospital entrance riyadh

The toughest Ramadan?
What about the housemaids and drivers? Their month must be the toughest of all especially if they happen to be fasting. Sadly the maids are often the ones having to take care and feed the children during the daytime while the fasting mothers are sleeping through the day. In the afternoons the maids are preparing the food for the family and likely guests too. Evenings and nights they cater to and clean up after the iftar parties. Some families even send their maids to their relatives houses for extra work. When do they have the chance to sleep?

The drivers don’t have it mush easier. Their working hours become longer and they might be forced to skip their night sleep because of family members needing rides to shopping malls or friends houses in the middle of the night.
Naturally there are also Saudi families like my husbands that give their maids extra money or gifts and more free-time during this month, but in general there is a lot more work during Ramadan for the housemaids.

In any case Ramadan is an exceptional month and an ordeal for everyone living in the Kingdom. For some, like the overworked maids, it may be like a nightmare while to others an enjoyable nightly party.


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  • Chick Flick JournalAugust 7, 2011 - 6:52 pm

    That’s sad. They do need breaks and they need to eat. It’s not fair for them. I haven’t lived in Saudi for long, I was a child, I don’t really remember how it was and I barely visit now too. I feel sorry for the non muslims thereReplyCancel

  • JenniferAugust 8, 2011 - 4:05 am

    Seems like intolerance is everywhere. I saw a man with the sticker on his car that said “kafir” in English & Arabic, another guy wearing a T shirt w/ the word “kafir on it, walking in a Muslim shopping center :( Worst yet, an old man the first day of Ramadan started shoving food in his mouth looking at me and saying “look I’m eating, I’m going to hell” while I was shopping in Cost…. Ignorance everywhere.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 8, 2011 - 10:01 pm

    Jennifer where did you see these people, I mean in which country? That is very odd! Why would someone want to do that is beyond me. What do they think they are accomplishing? Very ignorant indeed.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 8, 2011 - 10:03 pm

    Chick Flick Journal-did you use to live in Riyadh?
    You’re right its not fair for everyone, they are not treated the same.ReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalAugust 9, 2011 - 12:28 pm

    Yeah But only for a few years I was 3 and I left when I was 6ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 11, 2011 - 2:25 pm

    Ok so you wouldn’t remember much :) are your memories mostly positive?ReplyCancel

  • SuviAugust 13, 2011 - 1:45 pm

    Kiitos taas mielenkiintoisesta postauksesta! Vaikka kirjottelit jonkin aikaa sitten suomlaisen ja saudi -aviomiehen eroista huumorilla höystettynä, olisi kiva silti kuulla lisää käytännön tasolla :) Miten suku hyväksyy ulkomaalaiset vaimot yleensä? Naisen asema ja kulttuurit ovat niin erilaisia, olisi kiva kuulla miten yhteinen elämä onnistuu käytännössä :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 13, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    Kiitos Suvi!
    Pitaapa taas kirjoitella lisaa noita kulttuuri ero juttuja kunhan kerkian!
    Se miten perhe suhtautuu ja hyvaksyy riippuu paljolti perheesta ja millaisia kokemuksia heilla on lansimaalaisista naisista ja sitten kuinka konservatiivisia he ovat. Omalla kohdalla on suvun hyvaksymiseen mennyt hieman pitempaan, aluksi olivat kovasti vastaan, mutta kun he huomasivat miten tosissamme me molemmat olimme niin pikkuhiljaa ovat lammenneet :)ReplyCancel

  • Mrs AquariusAugust 15, 2011 - 9:42 am

    This is a great post that highlights some of the issues relating to life in Saudi especially during this blessed month of Ramadan! My husband (Australian) is a muslim and he works with a lot of Saudis and I do get to hear about how the Saudis take looong breaks and even during the other months ALL Saudis cannot be found anywhere in the office after the Asr prayers (approx 3.15pm)! My husband is entitled to shorter work hours, but will still work longer if his job requires him to.
    I always feel so bad for the maids, drivers etc. The lack of effort and work moral amongst a large number of Saudis still annoys me, but on the other hand that is the reason why my husband got his job here!
    I just wish that all expat workers in this country would get to work under safe and fair circumstances with proper pay for what they do.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 15, 2011 - 11:45 pm

    Hi Mrs Aquarius and thanks for your comment!
    It looks like you know exactly what I’m talking about ;)
    Although it might seem most Saudis are a bit on the lazy side, there are many who are very dutiful. My husband does not falls into that category, he always stays in the office for the required hours and sometimes longer if needed :)ReplyCancel

    • Jamshaid NiazNovember 14, 2012 - 1:34 pm

      I hope your husband doesnt have some other interests, warning signs!!ReplyCancel

  • goodbyereality411August 16, 2011 - 8:43 pm

    This was a very informative post.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 19, 2011 - 2:31 am

    hi there goodbyereality and thanks for stopping by!ReplyCancel

  • […] Ramadan is also a busy time for the Saudi religious police, also known as the ‘mutawa’ or Hai’a. The members of the Commission for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue will be on the look out for all things haram in the shopping malls, reminding people to go pray and enforcing strict dress code. This year the MOI issued a statement that expats eating or drinking during daylight hours will risk being flogged and or deported from the Kingdom. More about that in this post (written tongue in cheek) Ramadan-The Favorite Month of the Saudi religious Police.Ramadan in Saudi Arabia can be and is a wonderful experience for many. However, the non-Muslims and some expatriates might find this month especially gruesome due to certain rules and regulations. Read here about the two sides of Saudi Ramadan. […]ReplyCancel

  • KhaderMay 31, 2016 - 11:12 am

    Ramadan is a month of blessing, fasting, self control and charity, So keep doing this things, Allah will surely reward you in this world as well as in here after.ReplyCancel

  • […] Some of the things I had been “warned” about did happen, such as the strange hiding of all foods from sight and some colleagues skipping work. (Read more about it in this post The Different Sides to Ramadan in KSA) […]ReplyCancel

  • AllaudinApril 7, 2018 - 10:42 pm

    when is ramadan 2018..?ReplyCancel

  • Akbar ShaMay 6, 2019 - 10:33 am

    Very informative post.ReplyCancel

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