My Ramadan with Haya Sawan: Experiencing the Holy Month in Jeddah

Fitness trainer, coach and healthy lifestyle enthusiast Haya Sawan. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah. )
Updated 05 June 2018

My Ramadan with Haya Sawan: Experiencing the Holy Month in Jeddah

  • Fitness trainer, coach and healthy lifestyle enthusiast Haya Sawan talks about her Ramadan experiences in Jeddah
  • Ramadan nights in Jeddah are full of life, she says of the special time of year

JEDDAH: Fitness trainer, coach and healthy lifestyle enthusiast Haya Sawan, a native of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, started her fitness journey a few years ago, after having her first child. After considerable time spent at the gym, she decided to pursue a career as a fitness trainer for pregnant or post-partum women, focusing on a few easy but targeted workouts. She posts daily workout tips and routines from her home gym on Instagram and provides great advice on curbing unhealthy eating habits whilst providing healthier alternatives. “Moderation is key,” she says, and that ethos doesn’t change during Ramadan.

Read on to experience Ramadan in the city in her own words...

Ramadan in Jeddah has its own vibe that not many understand unless they live here. The city is buzzing during the day, but when sunset is close the streets grow quiet and families gather for a grand iftar. It’s not so much about the food as it is about the family gatherings and socializing. It is truly one of the best times of the year.

Ramadan in my household is always full of family and friendly gatherings, for both iftar and suhoor. But I make sure that I adjust my daily routine only slightly — not too much that it would disrupt it. I start off the day dropping my children off at school and by late afternoon I’ve done my personal workout before my pre-iftar outdoor boot camp. I give classes three times a week and on days off I make sure that I go pray Taraweeh, run errands or spend some quality time with my friends.

Ramadan nights in Jeddah are full of life. There are lots of things to do and the calendar is filled with bazars. I don’t spend too much time hopping from one to the other. I tend to head to the ones that I know my friends are participating in to show support or go to one with a charitable cause, like Bizat Al Reeh. It’s always associated with Ramadan and you get to see a lot of great items on display as well as seeing a lot of friends and family. It adds a nice flavor to Ramadan.

In terms of food, for the past three years, my husband and I made a decision to cut out carbs in Ramadan. It’s not the easiest, but it’s a challenge that we’ve accomplished well so far. Samboosak is a staple on all Jeddawi tables, but if we were to have it, we’d rather take the healthier option like baked samboosak, for example. The results have been great; we have a good amount of energy the next day. Moderation is key.

I love how Ramadan has a special taste in our household. I love decorating our home with Fawanees (Ramadan lanterns) and lights, as my kids are old enough to be aware of it. Since having my kids and my boot camp workouts, my days have become busier and I need to work hard to make sure that I’m not letting things slip, either with my work or my spiritual connection to the month. It’s important to me to spend the month the way I like to, regardless of my hectic schedule.

Fact box
Age: 29
Profession: Interior designer and fitness trainer/coach
Earliest fajr this year: 04:14
Latest maghreb time this year: 19:07
Fasting tip: Don’t over-indulge on samboosak. Make sure you’re hydrated and don’t overdo it with Arabic coffee. Don’t change your daily routine too much.
Favorite restaurant for iftar: Most iftars are spent at home with my family, but Al-Nakheel in Ash Shati is the best place in Ramadan. There’s a comfortable, friendly vibe and it has a certain Jeddawi taste to it.
Favorite Ramadan dish: I love soups in Ramadan and Freekeh soup is my favorite.
Most-watched Ramadan show: “Majmouat Insaan” and “Min Al-Sefir.”

Curious foreigners get rare chance to sample Emirati culture

Updated 19 May 2019

Curious foreigners get rare chance to sample Emirati culture

DUBAI: No question was off limits for curious tourists and foreign residents of Dubai wanting to learn more about Emirati culture and the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Emiratis make up less than 10% of those living in Dubai, the most populated emirate in the seven-emirate United Arab Emirates federation, making it hard for foreigners to meet them.
Dubai goes to great lengths to market itself as open to different cultures and faiths as the Middle East’s financial, trade and leisure center, and a government cultural center is inviting visitors to find out more about Emirati life.
“There are no offending questions,” said Emirati Rashid Al-Tamimi from the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.
“How do you worship, what is the mosque, why do you wear white, why do women wear black ... is everybody rich in this country?“
Emirati volunteers gathered at a majlis — the traditional sitting room where the end-of-fast iftar meal is served at floor-level — were asked about dating and marriage, what they think of Dubai’s comparatively liberal dress codes for foreigners, and aspects of the Muslim faith.
“We learn from them, they learn from us. (Foreigners) have been here a long time and I feel they see themselves as Emiratis, and we are proud that they do so,” said Majida Al-Gharib a student volunteer.
Visitors broke the day’s fast with dates and water, before sampling Emirati cuisine, including biryani and machboos rice and meat dishes.
Seven-year-old Anthony from Poland, who goes to school in Dubai, said he came to find out more about the breaking of the fast meal because many of his friends at school do it.
2019 has been designated the Year of Tolerance in the United Arab Emirates and there is a minister of state for tolerance.