A cooler Ramadan may bring an easier fast

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Worshippers pray at the courtyard of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. (SPA file photo)
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Worshippers pray at the courtyard of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. (SPA file photo)
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An aerial view of the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. (SPA file photo)
Updated 17 May 2018
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A cooler Ramadan may bring an easier fast

  • As Saudi Arabia begins fasting with the rest of the Muslim world today, they look forward to moving out of the heat of past years.
  • The highest temperature recorded in Saudi Arabia during the past 45 years was 53 degrees Celsius, which was reached in both Al-Ahsa and Al-Kharj during the summer of 2015.

JEDDAH: As Muslims in Saudi Arabia on Thursday start their first day of fasting for Ramadan, they might notice the weather is a bit cooler at the start of the holy month than it has been for several years, at least in the mornings and evenings.

Many will be relieved to know that the blazing hot Ramadans of recent memory may be over for another generation. According to Dr. Khalid Al-Zaaq, a member of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Sciences, the hottest Ramadan periods are over. 

“Saudis last fasted during a hot Ramadan in the summer of 2014,” said the renowned astronomer. “Since then, temperatures began to gradually come down and to be noticeably low starting from 2015.” 

According to Dr. Abdullah Al-Misnid, geography professor at Qassim University, Saudis experienced hot Ramadan seasons from September 2007 through to June 2015, when temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius and 43 degrees Celsius, respectively. 

The highest temperature recorded in Saudi Arabia during the past 45 years was 53 degrees Celsius, which was reached in both Al-Ahsa and Al-Kharj during the summer of 2015.

However, temperatures in Saudi Arabia differ from one region to another. The average summer temperature in the coastal cities of Makkah and Jeddah might be only 37 degrees Celsius, but these costal areas are far more humid than the country’s inland cities.

This year the beginning of Ramadan coincides with the spring, when Saudi Arabia normally has sandstorms, ranging from mild, dusty days to moderate or severe low visibility and terrible winds. The minimum temperature in Riyadh is 33 degrees Celsius.

This brings to mind colder Ramadan seasons, from 1988 to 1997. Al-Zaaq told Arab News that in 1988, central parts of the Kingdom experienced very low temperatures. “However, the northern parts of the country witnessed the lowest recorded temperatures in 1992. In that year the mercury went to down to critical levels,” he said.

On the other hand, he added, some of the highest temperatures in the Kingdom were recorded in 1986, 2007 and 2012. “Such heat waves reoccur once every four years, and this is normal.”

Al-Zaaq pointed out that this year’s Ramadan comes at the end of a “hot spring,” and the holy month will fall in the spring for the next three years.In 2023, Ramadan will fall in the end of the winter. He said that seven years from now, Ramadan will take place at the beginning of the winter and will continue to fall during that season for nine years.

Salih Farhah, a 46-year-old government sector employee, said people used to rejoice when knowing that Ramadan would be in the winter, because the shorter days and cooler temperatures made the fast easier.

He added that his mother was strict when it came to religious matters, and she would not have allowed him to drink water in Ramadan during the day except when she feared her son would fall unconscious.

“I remember when I was approximately 9 or 10 in Al-Hindawiyah neighborhood, my late mother just started to encourage me to refrain from eating or drinking during the daytime of Ramadan. One day she noticed that I was parched. Her affectionate heart forced her to allow me to have only a sip of water,” Farhah said.

Recalling his fasting memories throughout the different seasons of Ramadan, schoolteacher Ahmed Rabea, 54, told Arab News that some of the most difficult days to fast were during the period from 2008 to 2015, when the temperatures were high and the daytime was longer than the night. 

Rabea remembered when he had to work for about 19 days in 2008, describing that experience as “real torture” because he did not  have enough time to sleep well and had to stand before his students in a state of attentiveness. “It is a custom that we spend Ramadan nights in praying Taraweeh, visiting relatives and even hosting guests, but that year, I suffered a lot as I had to get up at nine in the morning for work,” Rabea said.

He added he found it difficult to go out during those years because the heat in Jeddah was unbearable. “I spent most of the daytime sleeping,” he said. 

Decoder

What does Ramadan mean?

The word Ramadan is derived from the Arabic root Ramad, which means blazing heat. The name dates from before Prophet Muhammad’s time, the Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) Age. At that time, Ramadan was at the beginning of the summer season, which clearly explains the relationship between the word and its meaning.


Motherly advice from Dr. Thoraya Obaid

Updated 21 March 2019
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Motherly advice from Dr. Thoraya Obaid

  • n an exclusive interview for Mother’s Day in the Arab world, the woman who paved the way for a new generation of Saudi women shares her life lessons
  • ‘Have faith in Allah, and believe in yourself and that you were created to bring good to the world,’ she advises

RIYADH: The first Saudi to head a UN agency, the first Saudi female to graduate from a US university on a government scholarship, one of 30 women to be appointed to the Shoura Council for the first time, one of 100 notable “Muslim Builders of World Civilization and Culture,” and editor of “The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.” These are just a few achievements on the remarkable CV of Dr. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. 

For years she politely declined media requests for interviews, saying it was time for the next generation to take the spotlight. But after a year of attempts by Arab News, she finally granted the newspaper an interview. 


 

As the Arab world marks Mother’s Day on March 21, Arab News decided it was a good occasion to sit down with Obaid, a mother of two girls, because she has been a role model to so many young Saudi women.

 

She has been an advocate for women’s rights worldwide, most notably as under-secretary-general and executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) from 2001 to 2010. 

But what most people do not know is how humble she is. “Please don’t call me Dr. Thoraya, call me auntie,” she said in a soft voice.

Early beginnings 

“I was 7 when I left for Cairo (to study at a boarding school). There were no girls’ schools in Saudi Arabia at the time, in September 1951, and my father had the same principles for his sons and daughter. He followed our Islamic teaching that advocated education for all,” she said.

“I started crying when he took me to the school in Cairo and told the teacher to take me away.”

Years later, she asked her father how he felt at that time. He told her: “I felt that if I let my fatherly emotions take over, I’d have bundled you up and taken you away.” 

But he decided against it, realizing that this moment would make or break her future, and he wanted to empower her through education.  

That moment, Obaid said, helped her cope anywhere in the world. 

She learned to make a new family through bonds with other students and teachers at the boarding school. 

She went on to get a PhD in English literature, with a minor in cultural anthropology, from Wayne State University in Detroit.

“My generation was focused on education,” she said. “You learn that education isn’t only for you, but also for you to serve others.” 

Working life

Obaid has lived and worked most of her life outside her country, in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and the US. 

During her time with the UN, she travelled the world. After her meetings in various countries, she would insist on going to villages and poor urban areas where the UNFPA supported government projects, so she could meet the people there. 

“These are the real people that must be empowered to change their own lives, not the ones we meet in the ministries,” she said. “Unless you go and see the poor, the sick and the very basic human rights violations, you won’t know what the country is about, especially if you’re stuck in nice hotels.” 

Even though she sought to visit these impoverished areas, heart-wrenching scenes would always get to her. At the UN they called her the “crying executive director,” but she was not ashamed of her tears. 

In one African country, while checking maternal programs in the village, she encountered a sickly woman who was thrown out of her home by her husband. She told her story to Obaid, both of them with tears streaming down their cheeks. 

In South Africa, she visited the cell in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 17 years. The guides were all former political prisoners, who said they kept the prison open in order to demonstrate that apartheid should not exist anymore. As she cried silently, she told them: “You know, there’s another apartheid happening again, in Palestine.” 

Life lessons

Obaid’s experiences taught her much about life. When it comes to family, she had this advice: “For young girls in families, don’t ask for everything and at the same time. Be selective, and have a strategic goal that you want to achieve in your life; focus on that.”

She said: “My most important request was going to university, a goal that’s now taken for granted by the young generation. So I tell girls to have a strategic objective in life. If you work toward it and achieve it, it will change your life.”

She advises daughters not to be inflexible with parents regarding their demands. “When you grow up, you’ll realize the issues weren’t worth it,” she said. “It’s even more obvious when you become a parent yourself.” 

Obaid, who worked hard to realize her dreams, added: “We, as human beings, don’t have unlimited energy, so direct your energy to what will make a difference in your life.” 

As for being Saudi, she said there is no place like home, adding: “I’ve lived 58 years out of my country and returned voluntarily. I’ve never really felt home except in my home, Saudi Arabia, with all its frustrations and complications.” 

It never crossed her mind to get another passport or residency permit, she said. “I learned that one’s dignity lies in their homeland. Wherever you go and however long you stay, you’ll always feel like an outsider. Even if you integrate in the community, you’re still an outsider,” she added. 

When asked what advice she would give youths, she said: “Have faith in Allah, and believe in yourself and that you were created to bring good to the world.”