My experience of Ramadan in Saudi Arabia
Ramadan is a time for reflection, tolerance, forgiveness and charity, and I have witnessed it being observed in Saudi Arabia and the UK.
This holy month will be my fifth in the Kingdom. It is always a special and memorable time. People spend weeks preparing food and decorating their homes. There is an atmosphere of festivity as cities, towns and villages come alive at night. Malls and restaurants are open until the early hours and dotted with colorful lights and traditional decorations.
There is an atmosphere of celebration, goodwill and sharing. People try to help their neighbors in different ways. Young volunteers are often seen distributing water, juices and the evening meal — iftar — in public places, for those who may not be able to get home in time to break their fasts.
Saudi Arabia is famous for its hospitality, and Ramadan is a month in which people invite friends, families and the wider community into their homes. My wife Huda and I are thankful for the generous hospitality of our Saudi friends who have welcomed us into their homes to share the traditional iftar and suhoor meals.
Ramadan is a holy month for the people of Saudi Arabia, and for the billions of Muslims around the world. Throughout the UK, Muslims will be marking this special month by fasting and praying, like their Saudi brothers and sisters. Many mosques will open their doors to the whole community, and people of all faiths, to share good company and, no doubt, great food together.
The UK is committed to religious freedom and is proud to promote interfaith respect and dialogue internationally. Religious prejudice in all its forms must be tackled. We should work to seek the elimination of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and bring different communities together.
Here in Saudi Arabia, last week I joined my colleague Seif Usher, the consul general in Jeddah, in holding an iftar in Makkah. British diplomats have long hosted iftars and suhoors in Riyadh and Jeddah, but this was a first for us in Makkah.
Our two countries share strong people-to-people links. As we approach the summer holidays, many Saudi Arabian friends will be visiting the UK for tourism, business and studying. I extend a warm welcome to them.
In the same way, many British nationals visit Saudi Arabia. Every year, more than 100,000 British people visit the Kingdom for Umrah and Hajj, and many will be here during the month of Ramadan to offer prayers in Makkah and Madinah.
I wish you all a peaceful Ramadan and a joyful Eid with your families and friends. Ramadan Kareem and Kul aam wa antum bekhair.
- Simon Collis is the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia.