Saudi families welcome Ramadan amid mood of cautious optimism

Saudi families welcome Ramadan amid mood of cautious optimism
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Updated 13 April 2021

Saudi families welcome Ramadan amid mood of cautious optimism

Saudi families welcome Ramadan amid mood of cautious optimism
  • After a year of deaths, painful separations, closures and lockdowns, families remain on high alert despite immunization
  • Life returning to normal for citizens and residents, now armed with stouter hearts and greater reserves of patience

JEDDAH: Last May, families across Saudi Arabia gathered around their Ramadan tables with a few empty chairs in what would be a tumultuous year — one that would be remembered by residents of the Kingdom for years to come.

This year, brightly lit Ramadan fanoos, or lanterns, have filled every room. Twinkling lights shine above doorways, and freshly pressed thobes and dresses are hung and sprayed with perfume as the nation ushers in the holy month of Ramadan with lighter hearts and a glimmer of hope.

After a year of lives lost, painful separations, closures and lockdowns, Saudis remain on high alert and are playing it safe, following all precautionary measures, even as bans are lifted. 

Saudis and expatriates alike flocked to markets to fill their homes with their favorite Ramadan goodies: groceries, decorations and of course the famous fanoos. But remnants of last year’s lonely and gloomy Ramadan, its usual festive family gatherings replaced by mediocre meetups on computer screens, still lurk in the back of everyone’s minds.




An aerial view shows the Grand Mosque and the Makkah Tower, deserted on the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in the Saudi holy city of Makkah, on April 24, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Ramadan, an annual joyous occasion for Muslims everywhere, was a dark month in 2020. Due to a nationwide lockdown, the holy month was lacking in its usual sights: family and friends mingling; hallways full of children wearing their best clothes, stealing pieces of samboosa; dishes filled with Ramadan specials ready to line the dining tables; guests breaking their fast in unison, giving thanks together and to one another.

It was a far cry from Ramadan 2019, barely six months before the first official case of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first announced in the Wuhan province of China. It would be less than a year before chaos and confusion ensued. 

Ramadan 2020 was one for the books.




Imam Mohammed, muezzin of the Jaffali mosque in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, announces the prayer call at the mosque which is closed due to a government decree as part of efforts to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on April 28, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would spend Ramadan away from my children and grandchildren,” Um Mohammed Zain Al-Abedeen told Arab News. The grandmother and great-grandmother has made it her mission for decades to fill her home on the first day of Ramadan with every member of her family, a ritual even her sons-in-law and extended family became a part of. 

“There were times when the house was filled with more than 60 members of the family and extended family, and nothing made my heart happier than to see my house filled with the people I love and care for most,” she said. 

Upon mentioning last year’s Ramadan, sadness filled her face. Pausing for a few seconds before continuing, she took a deep breath and said that it was the first time in her life that she had to spend the first day of Ramadan alone.

“It was the most difficult time in my life, and I’ve seen a lot and lost many loved ones. This pandemic was heavy on my heart,” she said, explaining that she had lost a brother to COVID-19 and that her grandsons had been infected with it as well.




Saudis shop at the Panorama Mall in the capital Riyadh on May 22, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

The great-grandmother was not alone in her grief, as 34 million Saudi residents shared her pain. The Kingdom imposed a nationwide curfew during last year’s Ramadan, from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m., later extending it to the whole day during the Eid Al-Fitr holidays that came right after. The measures were taken within the framework of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to combat COVID-19 and protect public health.

Bader Salamah, 29, has made it a habit to spend the first day of Ramadan with his family in Madinah every year since moving away from his home to work at a private company in Riyadh seven years ago. 

“My mother makes the best samboosa in all of Madinah,” he said. “Everyone would swear by it.”

He tried to travel to his home city a few times, but all attempts failed due to various personal reasons.

“It just wasn’t meant to be, but I couldn’t escape the feeling of guilt, and I was constantly gripped by fear. I wanted to be there to make sure my parents were safe, to keep an eye on them while they fasted, to make sure that they were not overexerting themselves and that they got the care they needed. I longed for my family, and I would let my mind wander and think, ‘Who would take my father to pray taraweeh at the Prophet’s Mosque now?’ forgetting that mosques were temporarily shut down.”




Saudis shop at the Panorama Mall in the capital Riyadh on May 22, 2020, as Muslims prepare to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr. (AFP/File Photo)

This year, Salamah said that he was not taking any chances. His hopes were high again as he made his way to the airport to spend the whole month of Ramadan with his parents, surrounding himself with his siblings, nieces and nephews and, most importantly, his mother’s cooking.

With the lifting of lockdown measures a few months ago, Saudis and expatriates across the nation have felt more at ease. Four months since the start of the vaccine rollout, nearly 7 million residents have been vaccinated, and many have been looking forward to this year’s Ramadan gatherings, feeling safer to be doing so with last year’s lessons in their arsenal, alongside their inoculations.

Rahaf Hussain and her husband Abdullah Al-Rashidi both have families in Jeddah but reside in the Eastern Province. They have made it their mission this Ramadan to spend as much holiday time together as they can for the sake of their children. 

Though daily confirmed cases have been on the rise as of late, and many are concerned that there will be another lockdown, warnings by the authorities have not gone unheeded and many, like Hussain and Al-Rashidi, have planned on careful iftar gatherings of no more than 20, as per the recommendations.




Muslim worshippers perform the "Tarawih" nightly prayer during the holy month of Ramadan, while keeping their distance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, at the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site, in the Saudi city of Makkah, on May 8, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“This year, we plan on a COVID-free Ramadan,” Hussain told Arab News. “We got our vaccines, and we are still wearing masks and constantly washing our hands. We were deprived of our families, and we lost some dear ones. Our Ramadan gatherings were spent on screens, but I’m making sure that won’t happen. We’re sticking to the rules.”

Sharing her same sentiment, Hussain’s husband Al-Rashidi said that it felt like they were constantly overcome with grief due to the distance. He admitted it was harder on his wife than it was on him, but she put a strong face on for her family as everyone tried to make it through the lockdown.

“Ramadan is not only a month of devotion and prayer. It is one during which we learn to be patient, to appreciate the connection between loved ones, and this has only grown stronger with distance. Ramadan is about understanding one’s worth and making sure that you show your loved ones the love and care they deserve in the month of giving,” said Al-Rashidi.

As many across the nation once again light their lanterns for Ramadan 2021, this year marks a small step in the return to normal, with lessons learned, stronger hearts and a greater reserve of patience.

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Twitter: @Rawanradwan8


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Pakistan army chief

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Pakistan army chief
Updated 9 min 54 sec ago

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Pakistan army chief

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Pakistan army chief

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani chief of army staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Friday met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince, deputy prime minister and minister of defense of Saudi Arabia, and reviewed bilateral relations, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

Bajwa arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan will also embark on a three-day visit to the Kingdom today.

The media wing of the Pakistani military said “matters of mutual interest, regional security situation including recent developments in Afghan Peace Process, bilateral defense, security, collaboration for regional peace and connectivity were discussed” during Friday’s meeting.

 

 

“COAS said that Pakistan is resolute in its commitment to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of KSA and defense of the two Holy Mosques. The Crown Prince acknowledged Pakistan’s role toward regional peace and stability,” the military said.

“The Crown Prince also said that the relations between KSA & Pakistan are based on bonds of brotherhood & mutual trust and both nations will continue to play their part for peace, stability & betterment of Muslim Ummah.”

SPA reported that the two leaders “reviewed bilateral relations, especially in the military and defense fields, and discussed opportunities for their development, in addition to a number of issues of common concern” during their meeting.

“The meeting was attended by His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense, His Excellency the Minister of State, Member of the Council of Ministers, National Security Adviser Dr. Musaed bin Muhammad Al-Aiban, His Excellency the Head of General Intelligence, Mr. Khalid bin Ali Al-Humaidan, and the Ambassador of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to Pakistan Mr. Nawwaf bin Saeed Maliki.”

On the Pakistani side, Pakistani ambassador to the kingdom, Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar, the secretary to the army chief, Major General Muhammad Irfan, and the Defense Attaché of the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh, Brig. Gen. Harun Ishaq Raja, were present.

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Pakistan PM Imran Khan embarks on three-day visit to Saudi Arabia

Pakistan PM Imran Khan embarks on three-day visit to Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 min 45 sec ago

Pakistan PM Imran Khan embarks on three-day visit to Saudi Arabia

Pakistan PM Imran Khan embarks on three-day visit to Saudi Arabia
  • Meetings with Saudi leadership to cover areas including economics, trade, investment and job opportunities for the Pakistani workforce

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will embark on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia today, Friday, on the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In meetings with the Saudi leadership, Khan will cover all areas of bilateral cooperation including economics, trade, investment, environment, energy, job opportunities for the Pakistani workforce, and the welfare of the Pakistani diaspora in the kingdom, the foreign office said. 
“The Prime Minister will be accompanied by a high-level delegation, including the Foreign Minister and other members of the Cabinet,” the foreign office said in a statement. 
During Khan’s visit, “the two sides will also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest … A number of bilateral agreements/MoUs are expected to be signed during the visit.”
Khan will also meet the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, the Secretary General of the World Muslim League, Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, and the Imams of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Medina. 
“Prime Minister Imran Khan will also interact with the Pakistani diaspora in Jeddah,” the foreign office said.
“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long-standing and historic fraternal relations, rooted deep in common faith, shared history and mutual support. The relationship is marked by close cooperation in all fields and mutual collaboration on regional and international issues, in particular those faced by the Muslim Ummah,” the foreign office said, adding:
“​Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis, contributing toward the progress and prosperity of both countries. Regular high-level bilateral visits continue to play a pivotal role in providing impetus to the fraternal ties and close cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”
Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also visited Riyadh this week and on Wednesday discussed defense cooperation with the Saudi military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili.
During the meeting with Al-Ruwaili, Gen Bajwa “emphasized the need to further enhance military-to-military cooperation between the two-armed forces and said that Pakistan-KSA cooperation will have positive impact on peace and security in the region.”


Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant
  • There is a general trend of inclusion of women in all sectors of employment in Saudi Arabia

Not only does she report on the growing empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia, journalist Deema Al-Khudair said that every day she gets to experience the advances and greater freedoms women in the Kingdom now enjoy as a result of the ongoing reforms under her nation’s Vision 2030 development plan.

During an interview on “The Ray Hanania Show” on the US Arab Radio Network on Wednesday, Al-Khudair, a reporter with Arab News, talked about her experiences and some of the stories she has worked on that reveal the changing role of women in Saudi society.

Recently, for example, she wrote a story about women who work as security guards in the women’s prayer section at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. It was exciting, she said, to see them proudly working on an equal footing with male security guards.

There is a general trend of inclusion of women in all sectors of employment in Saudi Arabia, said Al-Khudair, including the military.

“Women have been enrolling in the military for about three years now,” she said. “But for them to be noticed (working) in the Two Holy Mosques is still relatively new.

“The female security guards in Makkah (started working there around the time of the) last Hajj season. Most of these women I interviewed at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah told me they have been working there for six months.”

Previously, the women’s prayer section was monitored by women who received only the most basic training and support. Thanks to the reforms, all that has changed.

“They receive firearms training, self-defense (instruction), learned about fitness, and they took courses in Islamic studies, computer education and English to (help them) speak with foreigners visiting the mosque,” said Al-Khudair “Anything men went through, they received the same training.”

The female guards are very proud of their new roles and the advances they have made.

“All of the women feel very empowered,” she said. “One of the women I interviewed told me her whole family has a military background — all of her brothers are in the military — and this job made her feel included. She felt right at home.”

Al-Khudair said she began her journalism career in 2017, soon after Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman unveiled his Vision 2030 project. The success of the initiative, an ambitious program of development and diversification in preparation for the post-oil age, depends in part on the expansion of the rights and freedoms of Saudi women.

In June 2018, for example, women in the Kingdom were granted the right to drive. Their child-custody rights were also reformed, and they were given the right to attend sporting events, among many other new freedoms.

Al-Khudair, who works on the local-news desk at Arab News, covering Saudi issues, said the past few years have been an exciting time for Saudi women.

“Honestly, I am so proud of them, myself, as a Saudi woman,” she said. “Throughout my job as a journalist I have witnessed all the changes the Kingdom went through.”

For example, she added, she has interviewed female athletes, successful businesswomen and other high-ranking Saudi women.”

Al-Khudair has written stories on many topics but said she has a special fondness for stories about children.

“Some of my favorite stories are children’s stories,” she said. For example, she interviewed a 7-year-old gymnast who said her ambition is to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics.

The nation’s youngsters can even make her smile when writing about serious issues such as the coronavirus crisis.

“During the pandemic last year, we were all upset about the lockdown and I wanted to find a way to make the situation lighter. So, I interviewed children,” Al-Khudair said.

“I wanted to find out what they knew about the coronavirus. I laughed through the whole article — they thought it was some green monster that was going to turn people into zombies. I loved that article.”

* The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio, and in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 Radio. The show is streamed live on Facebook.com/ArabNews and the podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and many other podcasting providers. For more information on this and other interviews, visit ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Vaccination against COVID-19 a must for all workers in Saudi Arabia: State TV

Vaccination against COVID-19 a must for all workers in Saudi Arabia: State TV
Updated 07 May 2021

Vaccination against COVID-19 a must for all workers in Saudi Arabia: State TV

Vaccination against COVID-19 a must for all workers in Saudi Arabia: State TV

RIYADH: Every worker in the Kingdom will be required to get inoculated against COVID-19 to be able to attend their workplaces, state TV Al Ehbariya said on Friday, quoting the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Development.

In a series of tweets, Al Ekhbariya said the ministry was also calling on all sectors to ensure that their employees vaccinated.

The mechanism of the forthcoming policy and its date of application will be announced soon, the TV station said.

 


 

 


Pakistan keen on greater economic interaction with Saudi Arabia: Pakistan president

Pakistan keen on greater economic interaction with Saudi Arabia: Pakistan president
Updated 13 min 28 sec ago

Pakistan keen on greater economic interaction with Saudi Arabia: Pakistan president

Pakistan keen on greater economic interaction with Saudi Arabia: Pakistan president
  • Strong relationship gains its strength from common religious and cultural values

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have always enjoyed cordial relations.
This strong relationship has been nurtured by successive generations of leadership on both sides and gains its strength from common religious and cultural values and a shared desire for international peace and global development.
Saudi Arabia is held in great reverence by the people of Pakistan and there exists a deep affiliation with the Kingdom, as it is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
There also exists a complete synergy for shared development between the two countries. Pakistani engineers, construction experts and labor have played a leading role in building the infrastructure of modern Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, Pakistani doctors, bankers, entrepreneurs, academics and financial experts have played a premier role in developing the institutional infrastructure of Saudi Arabia.
The visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan in early 2019 ushered in a new area of economic cooperation.
We wish to have greater economic interaction with Saudi Arabia and also look for enhanced trade between the two countries. I am sure the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Saudi Arabia will open further avenues of mutual cooperation and broaden understanding on issues of mutual interest.
Pakistan looks forward to the further strengthening of strategic cooperation, trade and investment.
It also looks for cooperation against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has become a major challenge for the world including Muslim countries.
Long live the Pakistan-Saudi friendship!

• Dr. Arif Alvi is the president of Pakistan.