A year after a Ramadan like no other, Muslims look forward to a more joyful holy month

This year, many of the special Ramadan experiences and traditions people missed so much are once again available, albeit with some limitations still in place. (Shutterstock)
This year, many of the special Ramadan experiences and traditions people missed so much are once again available, albeit with some limitations still in place. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 16 April 2021

A year after a Ramadan like no other, Muslims look forward to a more joyful holy month

A year after a Ramadan like no other, Muslims look forward to a more joyful holy month
  • While most people found the pandemic restrictions last year challenging, some welcomed the chance for peaceful reflection

JEDDAH: Last year’s Ramadan was a holy month unlike any other. Families were unable to gather as normal for iftar and sahoor, voluntary work alongside friends was not an option, Taraweeh prayers were offered up at home and, most shockingly of all, the Grand Mosque was empty.

Ramadan is a time when Muslims are encouraged to reconnect with distant family members, join with friends to provide iftar meals for the less fortunate, and pray alongside fellow worshippers in mosques. In short, it is a time for people to spend time together — but the pandemic prevented this a year ago.

This year, many of the special Ramadan experiences and traditions people missed so much are once again available, albeit with some limitations still in place.

Arab News asked Saudis about the challenges and disappointments they faced during Ramadan last year, and their plans for the holy month this year.

Saudi lawyer Anmar Hashim, 30, said that Ramadan is a month for worship and family gatherings, and these big gatherings were what he missed most last year.

“Every year on the 15th day of Ramadan, I travel with my family and relatives to Madinah and stay at my grandfather’s house during the last 15 days of Ramadan,” he told Arab News.

“We go for leisurely walks and outings in the daytime until it’s time for iftar, and after that we all watch a Ramadan program or series together. We then head to the Prophet’s Mosque, and after completing the Taraweeh prayer my family and I go out for a cup of coffee or a treat. Then we all go back home and everyone does whatever he wants, from acts of worship to any other activity.”

Hashim added that he is happy he will be able to get together with family again this year and resume their Ramadan tradition.

While many Saudis struggled with the unusual Ramadan last year, Rafal Jokhdar, a 27-year-old customer experience team leader, had a different perspective: She enjoyed it.

“Ramadan last year for me was the most peaceful, calming, spiritual Ramadan I have ever experienced in my entire life,” she told Arab News.

Although she spent it alone in Jeddah, as her family live in Riyadh and she was not able to be with them, she said she soon adjusted to the unusual experience.

“It was a struggle in the beginning to have to go through a Ramadan with no one with me, no one to share that experience with, since Ramadan is known to be all family and gatherings-oriented,” Jokhdar said. “But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, actually.”

She added that although she had missed her family she appreciated the sense of peacefulness, and the solitude allowed her to experience the spiritual aspects of Ramadan more fully.

“Last Ramadan I felt the spirituality,” she said. “For the first time ever in Ramadan I focused on me: My fasting, my prayers and nothing else. There was nothing else I needed to do, no commitments. I sat by myself, enjoyed my fasting hours; it was a bit more challenging because there was nothing to waste your time with during fasting hours, but you could feel the fast. It was different than any other year.”

She said she learned to let go of many of her expectations, live in the moment and try to make the best of the situation — and so is starting Ramadan this year with no expectations.

One thing she is looking forward to, however, is being able to visit her family in Riyadh for a week.

“Since we were able to work from home (during the pandemic, and it went well), I was allowed this year to work from home for a week (during Ramadan) and go visit my family,” she explained.

Such positive memories of last Ramadan are rare, however. Saudi engineer Huda Abdullah, 26, said it was one of the worst holy months she has experienced.

She was pregnant and said that because she could not socialize with her family and her friends, she was deprived of the help and support they could have provided for her as she prepared for the birth of her daughter.

“I needed emotional and physical support, all kinds of support, that I couldn’t find because no one could reach me,” she told Arab News. “I was very emotional and I kept crying for the entire month.

“Usually Ramadan is very festive; we meet a lot of people, we go out and we have so many invitations all around and gather. I miss that so much.”

What Abdullah missed the most about last Ramadan was the chance to be involved in voluntary work.

“I volunteer with Iftar Sayem (a project that provides food to the needy) and an animal shelter,” she said. “I couldn’t do any of these things last year.”

She hopes the holy month this year will be much different and a more joyful experience. This seems likely, as she will be able to break her fast with her family for the entire month, including its newest member.


Residents in Saudi Arabia above 50 set for second vaccine dose

Residents in Saudi Arabia above 50 set for second vaccine dose
Updated 25 June 2021

Residents in Saudi Arabia above 50 set for second vaccine dose

Residents in Saudi Arabia above 50 set for second vaccine dose
  • More than 48 percent of the country’s population has received at least 1 dose

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) announced that residents in the Kingdom above the age of 50 will now be able to receive their second dose of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine after completing more than 40 days from their first dose.

More than 17 million doses have been administered as 48.8 percent of the country’s population has been inoculated with at least one dose.

The Kingdom recorded 1,255 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 479,390.

Most new cases were in the Makkah region with 340, followed by the Eastern Province (282) and Riyadh (203) while Jouf had only six people who tested positive.

There are 11,322 active cases while the number of critical cases dropped to 1,451 compared to the day before. Fourteen new COVID-19-related deaths have raised the total number of fatalities to 7,730.

The MoH said that a further 1,247 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 460,338. The country’s recovery rate is currently at 96 percent and holding steady.

In addition, 91,021 new polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests conducted in the past 24 hours have raised the number of tests conducted in the Kingdom to over 21.3 million.

Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

Among them, Taakad (make sure) centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or only mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual. Tetamman (rest assured) clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties.

Appointments for both services can be made via the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Meanwhile, Jeddah authorities closed 32 commercial outlets for breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Municipalities in the Kingdom have stepped up their efforts to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety measures designed to protect public health.

The municipality of Jeddah governorate carried out 3,899 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities in one day, identifying 57 violations.

The violations varied between noncompliance with social distancing and wearing a mask, leniency in measuring the temperature of customers, overcrowding issues and failure to effectively use the Tawakkalna app.

Officials have urged the public to report any suspected health breaches by phoning the 940 call center number or using the Balady app.


Saudi Arabia reports 120% jump in research published in major journals

Saudi Arabia reports 120% jump in research published in major journals
Updated 25 June 2021

Saudi Arabia reports 120% jump in research published in major journals

Saudi Arabia reports 120% jump in research published in major journals
  • The ministry has contributed to defining the national priorities in scientific research and innovations by organizing scientific events in cooperation with national authorities and industrial sectors

JEDDAH: The number of scientific research papers and innovations from Saudi Arabia’s government universities has increased dramatically in the past year.

The number of scientific publications from Saudi universities published in international refereed magazines and journals rose by 120 percent in 2020. The number of research papers rose to 33,588, almost doubling the target set last year at 18,000 publications. 

The Kingdom ranked first in the Arab world and second in the Middle East and North African region for the quality of published research papers for the third consecutive year according to the Nature Index 2020, one of the world’s most important international indexes for institutional research performance, evaluating and comparing international academic institutions. 

Saudi Arabia also ranked 14th worldwide in the publication of distinguished research papers and provision of solutions for the coronavirus pandemic. Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry has supported scientific research and innovation across governmental universities. 

Its efforts have ensured that the universities keep up with contemporary changes, improve learning outcomes and support the innovation-based national economy through setting the Kingdom’s research priorities.

The ministry has also developed a strategy for scientific research, including a special research identity for each university, to improve the rate of publishing and optimize its impact in line with national needs and Vision 2030’s goals.

Several programs have also been launched to support research and innovation across universities, such as the institutional funding initiative to support scientific research serving the national priorities and needs of the industrial sector. 

The ministry has contributed to defining the national priorities in scientific research and innovations by organizing scientific events in cooperation with national authorities and industrial sectors. These efforts have allowed the ministry to define 12 priorities.


Historic palace inspires Saudi design blueprint for the future

Historic palace inspires Saudi design blueprint for the future
Updated 25 June 2021

Historic palace inspires Saudi design blueprint for the future

Historic palace inspires Saudi design blueprint for the future
  • The wide-ranging blueprint reflects the authority’s ambitions to launch a fresh and innovative start for the Saudi architectural sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has unveiled a comprehensive strategy to take the architecture and design sector in the Kingdom “to the next level” by empowering talented architects and designers.

The Murabba strategy, announced by the ministry’s Architecture and Design Authority, takes its name from the historic palace in Riyadh.

The wide-ranging blueprint reflects the authority’s ambitions to launch a fresh and innovative start for the Saudi architectural sector, going beyond traditional limits, and serving members of the sector through a range of initiatives and programs.  

Sumaya Al-Sulaiman, CEO of the Architecture and Design Authority, said that the strategy will develop the sector and help its members meet the aspirations of the Culture Ministry, led by Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. 

“The strategy covers multiple themes and aspects, such as the legislative and regulatory aspects, as well as supporting and enabling an educational and practical environment related to the targeted sector, along with a set of initiatives and programs aimed at supporting architects and designers across the Kingdom,” she said.

Under the slogan “the north star,” the authority’s strategy has defined its vision and mission to reflect its major objectives.

The authority has also elaborated its own vision of the sector, which it defined as “the creative expression of designing the built environment, products and communicating ideas with aesthetic and functional value, and includes the disciplines of architecture, interior design, urban planning/urban design, landscape architecture, graphic design, and industrial design, as well as all activities, professions, products, and services related to these practices.”  

The strategy covers six strategic objectives: Developing the sector through promoting its integration, contributing to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by developing the sector of innovative industries and design services, building the skills and talents of present and future professionals, obtaining global recognition for the Kingdom’s architecture and design sector, achieving environmental sustainability in the built environment, and finding a local community for research and innovation in architecture and design fields.   

The authority is planning 33 initiatives that fall under six programs to achieve its strategic objectives, set to be implemented in the five next years.  The first program, titled “architecture and design sector regulation,” focuses on setting the guidelines, laws and regulations of the commercial and professional practices in the sector and includes two initiatives.

The second program, titled “development of the architecture and design sector” focuses on promoting the development of the sector and empowering practitioners to make a greater and broader impact on the architecture and design community, and includes seven initiatives.

The third program, titled “professional development and education,” focuses on supporting local practitioners throughout a comprehensive professional journey, from education to professional excellence, and includes seven initiatives.

The fourth program, titled “content development,” aims to contain, collect, create and promote the cultural content of architecture and design to enrich cultural practices, and includes eight initiatives.

The fifth program focuses on the societal participation and communication, where it aims to set the schedules for cultural events and awards of the authority provided for the local and international community. It includes four strategic initiatives.

The sixth program, titled “activating the architecture and design authority” aims to activate the authority while focusing on internal initiatives and communication to implement the operational model. It includes five strategic initiatives.


Saudi Arabia to announce approved Hajj pilgrims on Friday

Saudi Arabia to announce approved Hajj pilgrims on Friday
Updated 25 June 2021

Saudi Arabia to announce approved Hajj pilgrims on Friday

Saudi Arabia to announce approved Hajj pilgrims on Friday
  • Due to the pandemic, 60,000 pilgrims will be allowed to perform pilgrimage as registration was only open to citizens and residents of the Kingdom
  • Electronic portal for domestic pilgrims received more than 540,000 applications before registration closed on Wednesday

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will announce on Friday the names of the 60,000 pilgrims selected to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year.
The ministry said that the electronic portal for domestic pilgrims received more than 540,000 applications from Saudi citizens and residents before registration closed on Wednesday, adding that there was no priority for early registration.
The ministry also said that the selected pilgrims will be able to start booking and purchasing packages at 1 p.m. on Friday.
Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the emergence of new mutations, the Ministries of Health and Hajj announced earlier this month they would cap the total number of people allowed to perform the pilgrimage this year at 60,000. 
Registration was only open to citizens and residents of the Kingdom.
Males accounted for 59 percent of the registered pilgrims, according to the Hajj Ministry, while the age group ranging between 31 and 40 years old occupied the most registration slots at 38 percent. Registered pilgrims aged 60 and over represented the lowest age group at two percent.
Those wishing to perform Hajj must be free of any chronic diseases, and be within the ages of 18 to 65 years for those vaccinated against the virus, according to the Kingdom’s vaccination measures. 
Hajj pilgrims should be fully vaccinated, or those who took one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before, or those who are vaccinated after recovering from coronavirus infection.


Saudi security officials arrest national in possession of over 7,000 amphetamine pills, firearm

Saudi security officials arrest national in possession of over 7,000 amphetamine pills, firearm
Updated 25 June 2021

Saudi security officials arrest national in possession of over 7,000 amphetamine pills, firearm

Saudi security officials arrest national in possession of over 7,000 amphetamine pills, firearm

RIYADH: Security officials in Saudi Arabia arrested a citizen who was found with a large quantity of amphetamine pills and a firearm in his possession, Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.
Spokesman for Najran police, Maj. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Ashwi said that officials from the Special Forces for Road Security in the region managed to arrest a Saudi national in his thirties, who was found in possession of 7,160 amphetamine tablets and an unauthorized pistol-type firearm with live ammunition.
He added that he had been arrested, initial legal measures have been taken against him, and he was handed over to the competent authority, in preparation for his referral to the Public Prosecution.