Thursday, January 3, 2008

My 1st "Eid" in Arabia

Ramadan ended exactly one week after I arrived in Arabia. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and are allowed to eat at sundown. They can eat as much as they want until the next morning at sunrise. That's why most people here in Arabia stay up all night during Ramadan and go to bed at sunrise. This way they can avoid much of the feelings of hunger or thirst during the day, although feeling the hunger and thirst is one of the reasons for the fast in the first place. It is to make them think about less fortunate people who don't have enough to eat, so they become more sensitive and sympathetic to others' plights. My husband usually eats at sundown, then again maybe at midnight, and then another meal right before sunrise. The meal at sundown is called breakfast, because it is when the fast is broken. Traditionally, they start it off with a glass of buttermilk and some dates, then they pray, and then they eat their meal. Large families often get together during this time to share breakfast together.

The fasting is done for about thirty days. The time frame is all very scientific, based on the new moon. When Ramadan ends, there is a big three to four day celebration called Eid, where families all get together, much like the Christmas holidays. Gifts are given to children, special holiday dishes and treats are prepared.

The first morning of Eid, we all arose early and got dressed and left for the mosque at 6am. All mosques are positioned so that everyone praying inside will be facing toward Mecca. In Jeddah, this means that all mosques are built at an odd angle from all the surrounding buildings which are on streets that mainly run N-S or E-W. Mecca is southeast of Jeddah. Mosques here are easily identifiable by the domes and towering minarets, most of which are lit up with green lights, and a few with white lights. There are mosques every few blocks, in every neighborhood. Outside the mosque, there are dozens of small cubicles where you can leave your shoes. Shoes cannot be worn inside the mosque. Adnan’s sister Baheeja brought a large bag to put all of our shoes in so we wouldn’t have to waste time searching for them after the services. Because the Eid is a huge holiday and the attendance expected was enormous, the large main air conditioned sanctuary of the mosque is always reserved for only women and children, and the men’s designated area is outside the mosque in the open air. Inside the mosque there was no furniture at all, nary a place to sit except on the thick plush red carpet. We found a place halfway in but off to the side, where I could observe everything that went on with my curious eyes.

There were hundreds of women there for the service. All the women were all covered from head to toe in black of course, and most women wore veils covering their faces except for their eyes. At first glance, it appears that all the women are dressed the same, but upon closer examination, you can see that they are actually all dressed differently. Some black abayas have elegant rhinestone trim, others have tapestry ribbons, or colorful fabric appliqu├ęs or embroidery. Some have cut out designs, filled in with sheer fabric or satin or netting. There are stores all over that only sell abayas. I never knew a black robe could have so many different options!

The children were adorable. Little girls were all decked out in colorful outfits that reminded me of Easter. Many girls were dressed in vivid pastel colors, complete with matching hats, socks and shoes. I saw several sets of sisters dressed in matching outfits. A few girls looked like little brides wearing all lacy, frilly white ensembles. I was also struck by the girls’ thick wavy lustrous long dark locks. There were little boys inside with the women also, mostly under age 10 or so. Some were dressed like little sheiks in full traditional attire from head to toe. A few looked like miniature business tycoons, complete with sunglasses. They were all magnificent.

Before the services began, the children were running around and the women visited with one another. Some children distributed goodies brought in by their families to share. The mood was definitely jovial.

Out the windows I could see men dressed in white thobes and red and white or plain white headgear scurrying to get to the special men’s area outside, normally used as a parking lot. For this special occasion, there were hundreds of red carpets laid out for the men to pray on. Loud speakers placed all around enabled anyone within blocks to hear the service. Usually the men would be inside the large area where the women were, and the women would be in a smaller area inside, separate from the men.

Once the service began, everyone quieted down and assembled into neat rows facing Mecca for the prayers. The service lasted about one hour. Of course I didn't understand much because it was all in Arabic, but I was satisfied with the fascination of the whole experience. When it was over, all the women and children headed for the main door. It must have taken at least ten minutes just to get to the doorway to exit the building. Outside, there were dozens of loose shoes that were underfoot, being trampled and scattered about, separated from their mates, and some probably lost forever. The slow stampede of women was trying to make its way to the designated pick up area.

Imagine the men trying to find their wives and children among the hundreds of women all dressed in black, most of whom had their faces veiled. It was organized chaos, and I found the experience to be quite interesting and amusing at the same time.

The Eid Celebration consists of many family get-togethers involving lots of food and sweets. During this time we were invited into the homes of all of Adnan’s siblings

You know how in the states during the Christmas season, there are all these Christmas tree sale lots that pop up everywhere, and for the 4th of July, there are all these fireworks sale lots? Well, here for any holiday, there are all these "little lamb lots" that spring up everywhere. Hundreds of them! You go and pick out a little lamb, and you can have it slaughtered and even cooked for you. Most Muslims always get a lamb (or perhaps a goat or a sheep or even a cow!) and share it with the poor, or other friends and family. It is their way of giving thanks for their good fortunes.


  1. Hi,
    your blog is just sooo interesting every time I read a new chapter. I am learning more each time about the differences in Muslim culture from Western culture. You are a great story teller.
    Love, Sabine

  2. Hi,
    I enjoy your updates of daily life in Saudi Arabia. You are such a great story teller and bring to life the difference in our cultures. I look forward every time I see a new blog from you.
    Love to all, Sabine

  3. Hello!

    I have spent months learning about Saudi Arabia and the middle east through friends, books, websites, movies and documentaries! And although I feel I know quite a bit about Islam and traditions of the middle east, your stories really help bring it all together. I cannot express just how much I am enjoying all of this. I just discovered your blog and started with 2007 posts. I plan on spending the rest of the summer catching up to you. Thank you so much for sharing!


    by the way, I think my previous comment got deleted

    1. Hi LORENA - Thanks so much for your kind comment. This is the only cimment that came through - sometimes Blogger likes to "eat" them!