Ramadan in Najd: Between the past and the present

Najdi people in the past were characterized by simplicity when it came to Ramadan dishes, with a range of traditional and simple foods.( Photo/Suppied)
Updated 27 May 2019
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Ramadan in Najd: Between the past and the present

  • Crescent-sighting ceremony was among the traditions in the early days of Saudi Arabia
  • Camel milk and laban made from sheep milk remain the most common drink among Najdi people

RIYADH: The month of Ramadan brings spiritual joy to Saudi Arabia — different to anywhere else around the world.

The holy month has not changed since fasting was introduced, though different areas still have their own peculiarities and quirks that have evolved gradually over time, in tandem with other traditions. Najd is one of those.

  

Crescent sighting

According to the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), in the early days of the Kingdom there were traditions that were practiced before and during the holy month, such as the crescent sighting ceremony in the final days of the month of Sha’aban.

Important members of the local government, as well as princes, sheikhs and judges, would gather alongside consultants atop a high, flat area before sunset to witness the crescent moon.

“Equipped with small mountains and plains, the Najd region was celebrated as a hub for astronomy, serving as the source of confirmation that the sighting of the moon had taken place,” the DGDA states. “The consultants, experts in the phases of the moon, would determine the visibility of the slight crescent (hilal) moon that marks the beginning of the next month. When the hilal crescent was witnessed, neighboring areas were informed either through a loud call or through signaling shots being fired.”

 

Preparations 

One of the main traditions that the people of Diriyah used to follow was  to make sure that the mosques were well equipped for the holy month. According to the DGDA: “Cleaning and lighting the mosques was a priority for the community, and it was a tradition for residents to bring oil lamps to light the mosques through the night.” 

Now, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance plays an essential role in preparing mosques throughout the country and abroad. During Ramadan, it makes requests for preachers to offer religious speeches and lectures, as well as to distribute copies of the Holy Qu’ran.

Restoration and refurbishment is also high on the agenda. According to the ministry’s website, this year the director general of its office in Riyadh, Sheikh Sami bin Sulaiman Al-Mashiqih, distributed 50,000 square meters of new carpets to mosques in the city alone.

 

Donations

Perhaps one of the most important  Ramadan issues in the past was heat — considered a great suffering for previous generations who lived without electricity and air conditioners. According to the DGDA, the people of Diriyah used sheepskin or goatskin flasks to store water and keep it cool. The Najdi people during the holy month used to donate the skins of their sacrifices to the mosque to be made into flasks for the worshippers as a Ramadan tradition. They also donated palm trees and left dates at the door of the mosque, a practice known as “asha Ramadan.”

Now, the community donates water bottles instead, as well as appliances such as refrigerators, a variety of foods, and chairs for the disabled to use inside the mosques.

 

Food

The DGDA states that Najdi people in the past were characterized by simplicity when it came to Ramadan dishes, with a range of traditional and simple foods. They used to drink a sweet date juice called “Merais” at iftar and suhoor, which was particularly popular among the elderly. It was believed that it provided people with strength and energy when they fasted during the day.

FASTFACT

 

• According to the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, in the early days of the Kingdom there were traditions that were practiced before and during the holy month of Ramadan, such as the crescent-sighting ceremony in the final days of the month of Sha’aban.

• One of the main traditions that the people of Diriyah used to follow was to make sure that the mosques were well equipped for the holy month.

According to DGDA: “Merais is made by soaking dates in water, then filtering them into a thick juice. Some people in the region would enjoy Merais with ‘iqt,’ a dried and ground yogurt, to give the traditional drink a sour flavor. The most common and traditional Ramadan beverages among Najdi people were, and continue to be, camel milk and laban made from sheep milk.”

Nowadays, drinking laban is common at every Najdi table. People drink it while eating dates, others drink Arabic coffee with dates to break their fast.

“The Najdi region,” the DGDA continues, “is celebrated in the Arabian Peninsula for its local foods. Famous dishes originated in the region including ‘henaney,’ a sweet breakfast made from wheat dough, various type of dates and a thick date paste, known as ‘abet el tamer’. ‘Al-Hayes,’ a variation of ‘henaney’ made with ‘iqt,’ was attributed to the Sons of Hanifa and remains one of the most famous Najdi foods.” 

During the early 1980s  new dishes were introduced to the Najdi iftar table during Ramadan through importers, including samosas, pasta, luqiamat (a crunchy sweet dumpling) and other foreign foods. 

Muneerah Al-Ajlan, a local Najdi, said: “Soup and samosas are necessary on our iftar table. The family gathers for dates and coffee; after that the men go to the mosque while women head to the kitchen to carry out the second part of the iftar.” 

Recently, many people and neighborhoods in Riyadh began to celebrate Gargee’an, which is primarily observed in the Eastern Gulf area, and which takes place on the 15th night of Ramadan. Children usually dress in traditional costumes and go door-to-door to receive sweets and nuts from neighbors and sing traditional songs.

“On the second weekend of Ramadan, we celebrate Gargee’an in our house, where the whole family gathers and the children distribute candy,” added Al-Ajlan.


High-level investment forum aims to further boost business between Saudi Arabia and Japan

Updated 18 June 2019
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High-level investment forum aims to further boost business between Saudi Arabia and Japan

  • Japan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important economic partners

TOKYO: More than 300 government, investment and industry leaders on Monday took part in a high-level gathering aimed at further boosting business opportunities between Saudi Arabia and Japan.

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) welcomed key figures from the public and private sectors to the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 Business Forum, held in Tokyo.

Hosted in partnership with the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), the conference focused on the creation of investment opportunities in strategic sectors of the Kingdom. Delegates also discussed key reforms currently underway to enable easier market access for foreign companies.

Speaking at the event, Saudi Economy and Planning Minister Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, said: “Today’s forum is a testimony to the success of the strategic direction set by the Saudi-Japanese Vision 2030 two years ago, which seeks to drive private-sector involvement, both by partnering with public-sector entities.”

SAGIA Gov. Ibrahim Al-Omar said: “At SAGIA, we have been working on creating a more attractive and favorable business environment in Saudi Arabia, which is making it easier for foreign companies to access opportunities in the Kingdom.”

Japan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important economic partners. It is the Kingdom’s second-largest source of foreign capital and third-biggest trading partner, with total trade exceeding $39 billion.

JETRO president, Yasushi Akahoshi, said: “Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 has made great progress since it was first announced. Under this strategic initiative, the number of cooperative projects between our two countries has nearly doubled, from 31 to 61, and represents a diverse range of sectors and stakeholders.”

Since 2016, the Saudi government has delivered 45 percent of more than 500 planned reforms, including the introduction of 100 percent foreign ownership rights, enhancing legal infrastructure and offering greater protection for shareholders.

As a result, the Kingdom has climbed international competitiveness and ease-of-doing-business rankings, with foreign direct investment inflows increasing by 127 percent in 2018 and the number of new companies entering Saudi Arabia rising by 70 percent on a year-on-year basis in the first quarter of 2019.