R amadan will be starting very soon. That's the month out of every year when all Muslims fast from sunrise until sundown. Because it is so difficult to fast during the daytime in the extreme heat of Saudi Arabia, many people here reverse their days and nights, sleeping much of the day and staying up all night. They will usually eat a meal at 4am or so before the sun comes up, go to bed after the early morning prayer, and that meal will hold them until sundown, when the fast can be broken again.
Jeddah almost becomes a ghost town during the daytime. I remember when I first arrived here in October of 2007 - there was one more week remaining of Ramadan. It was 11am on a weekday, and seeing the wide, totally empty streets of this city with millions of inhabitants was a little shocking to me. Where was everyone, I wondered? There was no traffic to speak of and businesses were closed up - there was no sign of life anywhere.
During Ramadan, many businesses will close during most of the day, opening up in the late afternoon and staying open until the wee hours of the morning. It's still pretty hot here now in Saudi Arabia, and for outdoor workers, going without food and drink during the day can be brutal and quite dangerous.
Families often get together during Ramadan to share in meals. There are special drinks and foods that are traditionally prepared and served. Many Muslims traditionally break the fast at sundown with dates and buttermilk, go to pray, and then enjoy a big feast. Another common thing that happens is that furniture, carpets, tables, lighting, and household accessories will be switched around from one room to another to give the appearance of new furnishings. Or accessories might be purchased in a different color scheme to alter the look of a room. In the weeks prior to Ramadan, supermarkets and shopping malls spruce themselves up and prepare for the frenzy of the Ramadan shopping season - similar to the Christmas holidays in the states. During Ramadan, it is not unusual to see vehicles out at 2am for shopping, packed with entire families from grandmas down to cranky babies.
Those who are not Muslim, yet are living or working in Saudi Arabia, are expected to be considerate and not eat in the presence of those who are fasting. Not only are food and drink abstained from during the daylight hours of this month, but so are other pleasures as well, such as smoking and sex, and people are also supposed to refrain from feeling anger, bad language, and gossip. It is also a time of year when family and friends reach out and reconnect, even if they haven't for quite some time - similar to the annual sending of holiday greeting cards in December. Greetings of "Ramadan Kareem" or "Ramadan Mubarak" (meaning "Happy Ramadan") are exchanged.
The whole point of fasting during Ramadan is to feel closer to God and to empathise with the hunger that those less fortunate than you may feel every day. Poor people are sought out and given gifts of food, clothing, and cash. Charity is an important aspect of Ramadan.
Ramadan begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon - it's all very scientific. And when the new moon is sighted to mark the end of Ramadan's monthlong fasting, there is a big celebration when families go to the mosques early in the morning and join together afterwards to eat breakfast. Children are given gifts and there are more family get-togethers for several days. So as this new moon of Ramadan approaches, I want to wish everyone Ramadan Kareem, and may you have peace and happiness in your life, now and always.