Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Different Ramadan in the Time of CoronaVirus


This summer may be the very first summer I have ever spent in Saudi Arabia.  Since we moved to Jeddah in 2007, I have been fortunate enough to leave here during the brutally hot temperatures of summer.  I usually spend my summers in the beautiful cool Pacific Northwest in Washington State, where temperatures are generally in the 70s.  The older I get, the less tolerant of the heat I am.

I must say that I am not exactly thrilled at the prospect of being here in the severe heat, but as long as our air conditioning works, I'm sure I will be okay.  On the other hand, I certainly don't relish the thought of sitting on an airplane for almost 24 hours in close quarters, next to coughing and sneezing passengers who could potentially infect me with a deadly virus.

As it is, all flights have been indefinitely suspended here in Saudi Arabia, so my travel arrangements for early May have been changed to July, but at this point we cannot be sure if those plans will happen either.  Of course this would be the year when we made plans and bought our tickets in advance, while I generally wait until about a month before we travel to make our arrangements.

I must say that I am pleased with how seriously the Saudi government has taken this pandemic since the very beginning.  Before the first case was even confirmed here in Saudi Arabia, the government's first action was to halt all religious pilgrims coming into the country.  Because of the religious tourism to Mecca and Medina, two of the holy cities of Islam, the kingdom has had a great deal of experience with travelers from all over the world coming to the country and bringing disease with them. Some Muslims save and plan their entire lives for this once in a lifetime trip to these holy cities, a requirement of Islam. So when the plans have been made and paid for long in advance, and the time for their trip comes, the pilgrims travel here regardless, even if they are very sick and highly contagious.

In addition, the Saudi government has also imposed strict curfews, closed schools and businesses, and even the mosques.  Instead of the five daily calls to prayer instructing people to come to the mosque to pray, the calls now say that it's time for prayer, but pray at home.  This is an unprecedented measure in this ultra religious country.

Ramadan - the holy month when Muslims fast during the daylight hours - will be starting in just a couple days. Ramadan is a very social time for most Saudis, a time when families generally get together to break the day's fast and share meals together.  But this Ramadan will be markedly different.  I'm sure there will be some families that will still get together no matter what, but with the strict curfews in place, police checkpoints to enforce the curfews and residents staying in their districts, and a 10,000 SAR ($2500 US) fine for those disobeying the curfew, I'm guessing most people will not take the chance.

This will actually be my very first entire Ramadan I have spent here in this country.  I've been in Saudi Arabia for part of Ramadan before, but never for the entire time period.  For the most part, the elegant Iftar dinners at homes and restaurants will not happen this year.

Instead, maybe these strange times we are living in will actually make people even more thoughtful.  Maybe we will all make changes for the betterment of this world and the people in it, appreciate what we do have in life to be grateful for, and realize what things in life are really important.  Those are some of the reasons for Ramadan, after all. 

Wishing my Muslim friends and family a reflective and meaningful Ramadan.


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