‘A sense of bonding’: Expats share their Ramadan stories

During Ramadan, people get into the spirit of giving while enjoying time with their friends and relatives. (File/Reuters)
Updated 08 June 2018

‘A sense of bonding’: Expats share their Ramadan stories

  • Most Muslim expats in Saudi Arabia prefer fasting here than in their own countries.
  • During Ramadan, working and school hours are reduced to five or six hours a day so that people can rest before sunset, the time when the fast is broken.

JEDDAH: For many, Ramadan offers a spiritual journey unrivalled by any other time of the year. People look forward to the peaceful atmosphere and get into the spirit of giving while enjoying time with their friends and family.

However, this is not the case all over the world as Muslims in many countries face Ramadan just like they would any other month of the year. 

Most Muslim expats in Saudi Arabia prefer fasting here than in their own countries. By law Saudi Arabia does not allow eating, drinking or smoking during daylight hours in Ramadan, which makes the fast a lot easier.

Linda Fletcher, originally from the US, said: “When you see everyone around you fasting and sharing this experience with you, not only does it make it easier, it also creates a sense of bonding with others, no matter where they are from.

“Ramadan here creates a feeling of humility and thankfulness, which makes this month special.”

During Ramadan, working and school hours are reduced to five or six hours a day so that people can rest before sunset, the time when the fast is broken.

Shereen Vawda said “Ramadan in South Africa is more somber and the day is just like any other — we start and finish work at normal time, usually from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”  Vawda described her first Ramadan in Saudi Arabia “as a bit of a culture shock.”

“While we were pleasantly surprised to see the shorter working day, initially we did not take advantage of this by staying up later than usual. We went to bed after Taraweeh prayer and it was only later that we thought of venturing out into the streets and discovered that Jeddah was a vibrant and stunning city at night. Back home, the roads fall silent by 10 p.m.”

Another common feature of Ramadan is the act of giving. People tend to perform good deeds and offer charity.

Faiza Khan said that it is the acts of kindness she looks forward to most: “Seeing the number of people who get together and volunteer to help others is heartwarming.” 

Ramadan motivated her to do charity work herself.

“I started to take advantage of the various offers at supermarkets to buy basic food items in bulk and distribute them to those in need,” she said.  “Seeing the look on their faces when these necessities are given to them is totally worth it.”

Although Ramadan does have its benefits, some people take time to adapt to the customs and differences of the holy month.

One ritual for Saudis during Ramadan is the shift in time. During the day, the hustle and bustle of the city slows down while the nights come alive. Going about the streets, one can see Saudis enjoying predawn meals (sahoor) with friends and family, going shopping in malls or attending bazaars and events. Children are also seen enjoying the late-night activities. 

Shakira Essop, a mother of four, said: “Even though I have been living in the Kingdom for 10 years, I still haven’t grown accustomed to the late nights, especially when it comes to my kids. I feel it is important that they get 10 hours of sleep as it is vital to support their rapid mental and physical development.” 

However, she confessed that every now and then she enjoyed a late night with friends sipping Arabic coffee and smoking sheesha. 

One thing is certain: Ramadan in Saudi Arabia provides those who experience it with a sense of humility, appreciation and a special connection. This unique experience is something they often miss when they return  to their homelands.


Riyadh Season Boulevard zone opens with spectacular parade

Updated 18 October 2019

Riyadh Season Boulevard zone opens with spectacular parade

  • The Riyadh parade is thought to be the biggest parade in Kingdom to date

RIYADH: More than 1,500 performers and 25 floats took part in a parade and carnival on Thursday night that officially launched Riyadh Season’s Boulevard zone. The crowds that gathered for the fun-packed event were also treated to motorcycle displays, fireworks and other surprises.

The Boulevard lit up at 9 p.m. for the start of the 90-minute event, which featured some of the international artists who will perform as part of Riyadh Season. Afterwards, the zone’s food and drink outlets, outdoor cinema and fountain shows officially opened.

The audience watched the parade, performances and displays from specially constructed stands. Food trucks offered a selection of tasty snacks, and organizers also provided prayer rooms, toilets, first-aid stations and other facilities.

 

GEA president Turki Al-Sheikh gave an opening speech: “Our dearest people, in the beginning of this season, we welcome you and our guests in Riyadh.

“I want to share a story with you all; once upon a time, I was from a middle-class family. My mother and father would gather both their salaries to have us travel to see the world, and then we would stay in Riyadh for a year. These were our capabilities (at the time) and there was nothing to do in Riyadh. Who would've thought that we’d see all of this in Riyadh, and in our beloved country?

“This wouldn't have been possible without -of course Allah first- a person who has the qualities and vision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

He tweeted: “Riyadh traffic police estimated we have exceeded 600K which means ten times the capacity.”

In addition to the opening-night festivities, the Boulevard zone, which covers 400,000 square meters, will host a wide range of entertainment options and activities for all ages, including the outdoor cinema, restaurants, and sports, music and theatrical events. It has three main venues: The 22,000-seat Mohammed Abdu Theater, the 6,000-seat Abu Bakr Salem Theater, and the 2,000-seat Baker Al-Sheddi Theater.

The parade is just one of more than 100 events featuring local, regional and international performers taking place during the Riyadh Season festival, which continues until mid-December at 12 zones across the city: the Boulevard; the Front; Riyadh Car Show; Winter Wonderland; Riyadh Stadiums; the Diplomatic Quarter; Al-Muraba’a; Al-Malaz; Wadi Namar; Nabd Al-Riyadh; Riyadh Safari; and Riyadh Sahara. It has been organized with the support of Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority and president of Riyadh Season.

The ambitious 2019 Saudi Seasons initiative, the first of its kind in the region, was launched in February and includes 11 local seasons covering most parts of the Kingdom. Designed to promote the fledgling Saudi entertainment sector and boost tourism, it is attracting some of the biggest names in world entertainment.

The Riyadh parade is thought to be the biggest parade in Kingdom to date. It follows a folklore parade at the Mawtni (My Nation) cultural event in Yanbu to mark Saudi National Day this year, and a parade during the Jeddah Season festivities in the city’s Obhur district.

The parade had a special surprise; the appearance of DJ Carnage who took to the stage dressed in complete Saudi attire and performed his successful electronic show.

The musician also took to Twitter to celebrate the night and how he had had a hand in “making history,” tweeting: “A huge thank you to @Turki_alalshikh  ..... what you did for your country last night... was so special... thank you for having me... we made history.”