Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ramadan Kareem

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.


  1. I am new to the world of blogging and am so glad I found you. Thank you for sharing your life in a land so unknown to most of us. I'm hooked. I recently moved from Mi. to NC for my husband's work and was feeling "all alone" without my daughters and grandsons. If you can do what you are doing, I can do this. You inspire me.

  2. Lovely post, and great overview.

    Ramadan Mubarak!

  3. People going without food, drink, smokes and sex. Bet there are a lot of cranky people during the month!

  4. I arrived in Riyadh last year the day before Ramadan started. It's obviously a little different there than it is in Jeddah, but a lot of the same conditions apply - people have limited working hours during the day, meetings and event planning must be altered to accommodate people whose attention is flagging by the end of the afternoon, and the riotous all-night partying that so many of my friends would do, sleeping all day long. I didn't have that luxury, as I still had to be at work by 7 AM!

    Ramadan mubarak ya Susie1

  5. Nice change of pace, Susie. I also enjoyed the e-mail version, though I think I prefer simply getting the link.

    I'm still trying to figure out the logistics of why I was strictly requested to arrive by Sept 10 or 11 since that would seem to be mid-Ramadan. I was advised that no one would be around to help set me up at my job at the IPA after, say, Sept. 12.

    I wonder if I'll be able to find any shops open to get a few necessities of housekeeping?

  6. If they sleep mostly during the day and are awake at night, isn't the kind of defeating the purpose of fasting?? :p
    But I can see how if it's so hot, that's how you deal with it.
    But it sounds a lot more fun there than here, since most people around you won't be fasting.

  7. I was wondering...are babies and small children required to fast also?? I cannot imagine what the day would be like with a hungry child who does understand why they cannot eat.

  8. Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    To AmyK - I certainly know how you feel and I hope it turns out to be not so bad after all. I don't know - NC sounds pretty darn good to me!!!

    Hi Hannah - While there are places of employment here where it's business as usual (like hospitals), I think most businesses do alter their schedules during Ramadan. All government agencies also drastically cut their hours too. You're just one of those unlucky few.

    Hi Veeds - You should be able to purchase whatever you need, but you may have to wait until evening to do it.

    Hi Aynur - I've wondered the same thing myself about switching the days and nights during Ramadan. Seems to me like people wouldn't really gain an appreciation for the suffering of those less fortunate by doing that.

    Hi Anon - Babies and small children, pregnant women, elderly or anyone with health issues are excused from fasting. Actually they are supposed to take care of feeding someone else then during the month, if they can.

  9. Ramadan Mubarak! This is so beautiful and I am so touched by all the things that they do and what it means. Just lovely!

  10. It's a very interesting practice. It it's really hot then I can understand the switch between being up at night. But I have to agree about it not making any sense to gorge at night and fast during the day. What is the lesson really?

  11. nice post. great blog.
    how do you buy buttermilk in the gulf? is that Labna?

  12. Happy Ramadan to you and your family.

  13. Hello,

    Very nice post and good information, well explained.
    I just want to point out, that Muslim children do not start fasting until they reach puberty. THen it becomes an obligation. I used to 'practice' when I was 11 & 12 by fasting half of the day because I wanted to join in and also I wanted to see if I could actually do it! :)

  14. Also women on their periods stop fasting, and they make up the fasts after Ramadan is over. Women who have post partum bleeding from giving birth do not fast as well.

  15. Also another question someone asked, why do we fast? We fast because it is a reminder to Muslims what poor people feel everyday. After the month of Ramadan all Muslims if they can, they pay a 2.5% tax from money (this is called Zakat) they have saved up from the whole year and donate it to charity. Also this is the holiest month because many important things happened in our Islamic history, first and foremost the Qur'an was revelead in this month.

  16. Nice post Susie,

    I feel however that as Muslims continue to show what Islam is all about...the beauty and the obligations upon Muslims as a whole, reversing the night/day defeats the purpose of fasting.

    I know it's hot in the dessert...but wherever we are it shouldn't be made into something as simple as reversing hours to ease our comfort. Do many of your friends do this?

    Ramadan Kareem to you and yours!

  17. Presha of VirginiaAug 21, 2009, 3:37:00 AM

    Susie, I admire anyone that can fast more than one day! I don't think I could have that much commitment for anything! I admire the Muslim people for doing this.

  18. Salam Susie

    First of all this is the first time

    I enter your blog and read some

    of what you have written.

    Some one very special introudeced

    your blog to me just yest.

    I have (or will have) a simliar

    expirence to yours as I'll be

    moving to Saudia some time soon

    Insallah. So reading what you have

    written, made matters for me a bit


    However I hope I'll get to know you

    more sometime in the near future!

    For now, Ramadan always has this

    special light (or I feel so)that

    brings feelings I can't quite


    Ramadan Kareem

    May Allah help us in fasting and

    doing prayers!


  19. Yes, technically speaking, it does defeat the Islamic purpose of fasting if they switch their hours of work and sleep - they are supposed to fast with love for God while performing their normal duties of the day - but it's difficult to do that in tropical summer or in desert climate. In South Asia too they switch times of work and sleep if the Ramzan falls in the summer months.
    It's interesting to compare the Islamic way of fasting with the Hindu one - in the latter, it's not necessary to completely forgo food, water and other pleasures during fast; rather people forgo something that's essential or very dear to the them - for example, they may not eat non-veg food, rice or bread which form their staple diet and eat fruits, sweets and drink water and milk during fasting hours. Moreover, Hindus break the fast at sunset by eating a meal only once and after this meal, they do not eat at all eventhough the fasting time is over. Hence, in many cases they keep on eating fruits, sweets etc during fasting hours and after having a meal at sunset, don't eat till next daybreak!
    Happy Ramzam to all!

  20. Hello Susie,

    Thanks for this latest blog - it is very interesting.

    I imagine Ramadan must be all encompassing in Saudi Arabia.

    Even though it does sound like some people might cheat a little by sleeping for some of the daytime, it would still be quite challenging not to consume any food or drink during the entire daylight hours over the course of a month. If this includes water, it would be especially difficult if you work or do exercise. Is water also banned during the day for fasters? I drink heaps of water, so I think I'd suffer quite a bit.

    How long are is daylight right now in KSA?

    I hope you have a very peaceful Ramadan and enjoy the time with your family!


  21. Ramadan Kareem!

    Nice post Susie, I always enjoy reading your blog on different topics.

    I am Muslim and have been living in Bali for almost 19 years now. Ramadan in Jeddah and Bali is quite the opposite. As international tourist destination, it's business as usual here, people are eating in front of you, all restaurants are still open in the daylight, we still work from 9 to 5. If fellow Muslim in Jeddah have to survive the brutal heat, here we have to survive the temptation to not fasting!

    May this Ramadan bring peace and happiness to all of us :}

  22. Online--Ramadan Kareem! I was interested in your comparison of Saudi and Bali. I'm sure that not only tourism, but the fact that Bali is majority Hindu, not Muslim like the rest of Indonesia has a great impact on Muslim celebrations there, at least in the mainstream.

    I was lucky enough to visit Bali during a Hindu festival, and overall it is a beautiful place.

    Ramadan Mubarak!

  23. Thanks Chiara! You are right - the fact that Bali is majority Hindu - makes Muslim attributes do not really visible here.

    I must salute to Bali Hindu community - they are very supportive to Muslim religious ritual, when we have Taraweh Prayer (a special night prayer during Ramadan) it's Balinese security guards who organize the parking and traffic for us. We live side by side peacefully here.

    Next time you visit Bali - let me know - I'll be glad to meet you in person.

  24. What a great insight to a totally different kind of holiday.

    Ramadan Mubarak to you.

  25. Online--thank you very much--I would love to create an opportunity to return to Bali and visit more extensively, including with your guidance! :)

  26. Ramadan Mubarak Susie! Looks like you picked a good time to go back to KSA! Everything is nicely decorated and everybody is in a festive mood!

    I have to give my Muslim friends over here major props for doing their day to day tasks while surrounded by people eating and drinking as I am probably too weak in this regard. The Muslim Students' Association here at my University invites non-Muslims every year to join them in the daytime fasting to raise funds for the food bank, which I think is pretty cool. I don't know if I will fast, but I could donate.

  27. RAMADAN KAREEM susie


  28. Ramadan Kareem to you & your family Susie!!!! The first time I experienced Ramadan was when I landed in Dubai the first day of Ramadan 2 years ago. I stayed the entire month of Ramadan in Dubai b4 flying back home. I participated in fasting since the friends I was staying with were doing it, & I wanted to be respectful by not eating in front of them, but it was hard!!! Then last year I decided to do it again to test myself. This is when I was living near my university & I had many of my friends supporting me; Halfway through I got really sick & couldn't do it. This year I plan on doing it all the way through....but I feel lonely since I am back home, all my friends are far away, and no one else around me is participating. So this is definitely going to be a challenge!

  29. My dear, are you a converted Muslim sister?

  30. About non-Muslims' participation in Ramzan, I too fasted for about 20 days once, but couldn't keep it up beyond that - I just wanted to experience the Islamic way of fasting and my Muslim friends told me it wasn't necessary for me to fast and I shouldn't trouble myself. In my university, Muslims usually invite their non-Muslim friends for the evening Iftar when they break their fast and today I had the honour to be invited on the very first evening! It makes a very congenial inter-community get together duing Iftar here.

  31. Susie,

    Just curious, are you a Muslim?

  32. I am a muslim in the states and we definitely don't switch our nights to days because that defeats the purpose of fasting. We go to work school and shuttle the kids around to soccer, basketball, etc. I am shocked to find that the muslims in saudi sleep all day we are not supposed to be lazy during ramadan. Ramadan is a time to worship and offer extra prayers as well as fasting and all other responsibilities such as visiting family and having friends and family for dinner there really is not much time for sleep!!!!!!!!

  33. The pictures are spectacular; it makes it all look quite inviting. I like a lot of the idea of it, but some of it seems almost amusing. When abstaining from food (during the day when it's hot), sex and smoking (I don't smoke, but I know those who do), one is supposed to "refrain from feeling anger, bad language, and gossip"? I wonder if that is always successful.

  34. Thanks for sharing with us the atmosphere of Ramadhaan in the KSA, Susie. I follow you blog for quite a long time, and so far have never given any comments. I belive now is the right time, in order to remember Muslims of how Mercifull Allah swt is, and to inform non-Muslims of what being a Muslim is.

    I see here in these comments many people stating they are Muslims and yet many of them not tolerating that Saudis sleep during day. Why? It is just the change of sleep pattern, nothing else.

    I would just like to rembember them of how Mercifull Allah swt is...
    ...the first verses of the Holy Qur'an (being first revealed in Ramadan) were:" Proclaim! (or read!)" 096.001, my advice for them is to read more. Why?

    There is a hadeeth: “The sleep of the fasting person is ‘Ibaadah (worship), his silence is tasbeeh (glorification of Allah), his du ‘a (supplication) is accepted, and his sins are forgiven.” [Ibid] - so maybe they should think a little bit about you recognize His Mercy? :o) Even during our sleep in Ramadan, we are in Ibaadah! SubhaanAllah!

    Another thing...take look at this ayah: "...God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful." 002.185

    Ramadhaan Mubaarak
    ...from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  35. Susie I had to create an account just so I could send you a message. No e-mail on this site?!? Anyway my husband and I came across your website while looking for good photos of Jeddah. Viola we found your site! A few months ago I had never heard of Jeddah and now it is an integral part of my life. My husband is working on the KAUST project and alternates between here (Mesa,AZ) and Jeddah. So I have become fascinated with life in Arabia and your blog has been so full of great stories and a good look at the Muslim world. Thank you so much for writing this blog.

  36. amazing post susie :)
    it's the first time i read some of what u write..
    amazing how ppl react with u :D
    ur blog is really active mashallah...
    first of all i must say that i'm symathizing with u knowing that u suddenly had to come here after 30 years in the states.... !!!

    and i really really admire the fact that u turned this into a pleasurable experience..

    loved ur blog and post... a lot to discuss but it'll take ages to reply :p...
    just wanted to say how awesome ur blog is :)
    Ramadan Kareem... ♥

  37. I came in Riyadh last season the day before Ramadan began. It's obviously a little different there than it is in Jeddah, but a lot of the same circumstances utilize - individuals have restricted operating time during the day, conferences and occurrence preparing must be changed to provide individuals whose interest is flagging by the end of manufactured, and the riotous all-night having a party that so many of my associates would do, getting to sleep all day lengthy. I didn't have that high-class, as I still had to be at perform by 7 AM!