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Saudi Arabia

Holy month shopping: Incense a must

A staggering SR1 billion of incense sticks is sold during Ramadan in the Kingdom, according to a local trader.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest importers of incense and oud. Incense is imported in large quantities from Southeast Asia, particularly India and Cambodia. Trading in incense in the Kingdom is generally active all year round, but for Ramadan and the two Eids, there is a massive increase. Besides Ramadan, incense is used extensively during family events such as weddings.
Ibrahim Al-Qurashi, one of the largest and well-known importers of incense in Saudi Arabia, said that oud and incense represents a sense of history and tradition for Saudis. “During Ramadan alone, sales of incense can go as high as SR1 billion. For many Saudis and Gulf citizens, and to a lesser degree other Arab communities who have been living long in the Kingdom, they are a must on their shopping lists for Ramadan and the Eids,” he said.
Asked about the high prices of incense, he said: “Incense comes from tall trees with thick foliage. They are hundreds of years old, and are found mostly in large forests in India and Cambodia, including Indonesia and Malaysia. These forests are home to poisonous snakes such as the cobra. You can’t really distinguish these snakes from the surrounding trees because they camouflage themselves with the colors around them. This makes it very dangerous for people to fell trees, which are later chopped into small pieces. And since these trees are very old and very tall, it makes it extremely difficult to chop down.”
“Another, no less important reason for the extraordinary high prices is that the government of India strictly prohibits cutting down trees and exporting wood overseas. But we are given special reservations within these forests, which we are licensed to cultivate by the Indian government,” he said, adding that this was the reason why Indian incense was the most expensive.
Salih Kassar, a seller of incense in Jeddah, says that in addition to oriental perfumes, Indian incense is the most popular in Ramadan. “Our sales in this holy month go up 100 percent. The best grades of Indian incense fetch very high prices, sometimes as high as SR150,000 a kilogram. The Cambodian variety is sold for SR60,000 a kilogram,” he added.

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