Why many non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia chose to fast this Ramadan

Special Muslims break their fast with an iftar during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)
Muslims break their fast with an iftar during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 30 April 2022

Why many non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia chose to fast this Ramadan

Why many non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia chose to fast this Ramadan
  • Expats in Saudi Arabia say fasting has made them feel closer to their Muslim friends and colleagues
  • Although they differ in religious beliefs, many foreigners are incorporating the Kingdom’s cultural practices

RIYADH: Many non-Muslims living in Saudi Arabia have decided to fast during Ramadan to feel a sense of closeness and comradery with their Muslim friends and colleagues.

“You don’t do Ramadan only on your own — you share it. It’s a real moment of friendliness and sharing of generosity,” said Raphael Jaeger, a non-Muslim and head of the Riyadh branch of Alliance Francaise.

“I feel that I am a part of this beautiful experience, and I think of Ramadan now, and what I am doing is building this bridge between the Saudi and the French culture,” he added.

Jaeger has lived in Riyadh for three years, but said that this year was his first time fasting for Ramadan.

“My first year in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t know that many people deeply, and then COVID-19 happened,” Jaeger said.

But since then, he has made many Saudi friends and built strong relationships. Just before the beginning of Ramadan, his friends invited him to join them for iftar.




American Mariah Ross celebrates Ramadan each year with her friends and family across the countries she travels. (Supplied)

“I wanted to share with them the experience of the accomplishment, the personal, spiritual and physical challenge for iftar,” Jaeger said.

He had a squash match on the first day of Ramadan and found himself extremely thirsty during the match.

“It was the very first time and very challenging experience not to drink water, which I didn’t, and I was very proud of myself,” he said.

Jaeger compared the process of fasting to the experiences of going to the gym and surpassing a personal goal.

“These small victories that you have in life, you have it every day during Ramadan, and you have it in solidarity with so many people, that together we stand,” he said.

While Ramadan is known to have a positive impact on spiritual well-being it also has plenty of physical health benefits too. Indeed, studies suggest that fasting from sunrise to sundown can significantly improve personal health. 

During Ramadan, the body gets used to eating less, and this gives the stomach and digestive system a chance to shrink. This directly controls hunger as the appetite is reduced, often leading to some weight loss.  

Studies have shown that refraining from food and drink for a certain period of time also reduces cholesterol, which leads to better cardiovascular health. 

When the body is on a month-long fasting journey, it naturally cleanses its system of accumulated toxins. 




Visitors enjoy an iftar meal and tanoura dance in Qatar. (AFP/File Photo)

Due to a combination of fasting and eating late, more of the hormone adiponectin is produced, which allows the muscles to absorb extra nutrients.  

There also seem to be mental health benefits. Fasting makes the brain more resilient and adaptable and improves mood and memory.  

Refraining from food allows blood sugar levels to decrease, which in turn helps the body to use stored glucose for energy resulting in the body naturally regulating itself. However, people with insulin or sugar concerns should seek medical advice before fasting. 

Mariah Ross, a 21-year-old from Cleveland, US, shared her experiences as a non-Muslim fasting during Ramadan.

“I started fasting when I went on my first international trip to Turkey. I was traveling with my Muslim best friend, so we decided to fast together and enjoy Turkey like the locals during Ramadan,” she said.

Ross has fasted many times during her travels in Muslim countries and while at university, where most of her core friends were from Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.

“I spent that Ramadan every day with my friends, and we always ate iftar together, either going out to eat or in one of our apartments,” she said.

FASTFACTS

* Of the Kingdom’s total population of around 35 million, there are roughly 9 million foreign workers, many of whom are non-Muslim.

* Although it is not obligatory for non-Muslims to fast in Saudi Arabia, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants are closed during daylight hours.

During her time in university, Ross married a Saudi Muslim man, and now she celebrates Ramadan with him every year.

“Ramadan is just one of those holidays that is normal to me, just like Christmas in the US where I’d buy everyone gifts,” she said.

Ana Mailova, from Georgia, told Arab News that she was fasting on her first visit to Saudi Arabia. “Of course, the first time I celebrated Ramadan with my friend Haifa and her family in Khafji. They are like my family now,” she said.

“I met Haifa through a travel company in Georgia where we worked together,” Mailova added.

She said that the owner of the travel company was Haifa’s nephew. She invited them to her home to meet her family, and their friendship flourished.

Ana said that until now, she had only viewed Ramadan practices online, adding: “Now I can do it myself.”




Women were invited to Dubai’s Jumeirah Grand Mosque to learn about Islam during Ramadan. (AFP)

She said: “Every day I connect with my family and friends by video calls and show them the beautiful and different tables. If you plan to visit Saudi Arabia, I would suggest, for my family, friends, or anyone who wants to come here, not to forget to try all kinds of food here.”

Mailova hopes more people will visit the Kingdom during the holy month of Ramadan, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“You will not regret visiting this beautiful country, especially during Ramadan,” she said.

For those who are not used to fasting, especially in an unfamiliar climate, there are many coping strategies to help them persevere and maintain their energy levels. 

Once key recommendation is careful time management that allows for adequate sleep while also leaving enough time to prepare iftar meals.

Despite the temptation to rest, gentle to moderate physical activity and stretching is recommended every day. Mental discipline is equally important, with experts recommending activities that distract the mind from feelings of hunger. 

Then, when people break their fast at sundown, health experts suggest eating slowly in order to aid digestion, allowing the body to absorb more nutrients, and making the body feel fuller for longer. This can also reduce the amount of calories consumed overall. 

Power-napping can also help with those mid-afternoon dips. Just 30 minutes of sleep can be rejuvenating and boost both patience and happiness. 

This can be followed with a cold shower, waking up the entire body by increasing circulation and oxygen intake. Although uncomfortable at first, it can actually lower stress levels in the long run.




Georgian Ana Mailova helps her Muslim friend Haifa, who lives with her in Khafji; Prepare the Iftar meal that you eat together with the rest of the family at sunset during the month of Ramadan. (Supplied)

Jan Haas, a 34-year-old German diplomat who moved to Riyadh in July 2021, told Arab News that it was his first Ramadan spent in the MENA region.

“I used to have friends on my football team who were Muslim when I was a kid in a small town east of Cologne. So I was introduced to Ramadan at a young age, but I did not consider fasting myself at the time,” he said.

“I see this as an opportunity to try and get a better feeling for their experiences and their way of life.”

He tried a strict fasting routine in accordance with Muslim rules, but quickly realized it was too difficult to sustain.

“I do have my coffee in the morning and will usually have some water during the day, but I do not eat until sunset,” Haas said.

He added that with many restaurants closed during the day in the Kingdom, it makes fasting a lot easier.

“I spend more time with friends and in social settings through the habit of breaking the fast together. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Although they differ in religious beliefs, many expats have connected and built lasting friendships with local Muslims living in the Kingdom. These fruitful friendships have resulted in the sharing and fusion of cultures and practices.

The Coptic miracle
How Egypt's historic Christian church survived and thrived

Enter


keywords

Community of Adidas Runners bids to empower Riyadh women

Community of Adidas Runners bids to empower Riyadh women
Updated 24 September 2022

Community of Adidas Runners bids to empower Riyadh women

Community of Adidas Runners bids to empower Riyadh women
  • The group brings together people from various walks of life and uniting them with the goal of becoming a better version of themselves

RIYADH: As the sounds of Fajr (early morning) prayers are heard in Riyadh, the sun still submissive to the night sky, you will find a group of women around Wadi Hanifa every Wednesday, pounding a path for anywhere between 4 and 8 km.

Adidas Runners is an international community of joggers and runners that brings together people from various walks of life, uniting them with the goal of becoming a better version of themselves.

Their women’s-only group creates a safe space for individuals to empower each other to achieve their aspirations.

The runners see the 4 a.m. wake-up call as a small price to pay for the experience, given the health benefits and friendships it brings them.

Asma Azhari, 31, has never considered herself the consistent athletic type. From mindful yoga to swimming sessions and breezy bike rides, she wanted to try it all and never committed to just one discipline. Only in June 2021 did she discover the Adidas Runners community.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Asma Azhari, 31, has never considered herself the consistent athletic type. From mindful yoga to swimming sessions and breezy bike rides, she wanted to try it all and never committed to just one discipline. Only in June 2021 did she discover the Adidas Runners community. The thought of a women’s-only running club intrigued her, but the first steps toward commitment were discouraging.

• Another member, Hadeel Ashour, told Arab News: ‘I don’t think that if I started off running on my own in public, I would be as motivated and persistent in the sport as I am today.’ Ashour, 23, had been physically active for years, but a year on from discovering Adidas Runners, she has found that her training helps to complement her participation in CrossFit (interval training) and cycling.

• Club member Nourah Alshehri, 38, told Arab News: ‘I’m ecstatic for all the wonderful positive transformations in my country and the justice that women have obtained in various fields. I am very fortunate to have experienced fair regulations and laws that guarantee freedom for everyone without harming anyone or anything.’

The thought of a women’s-only running club intrigued her, but the first steps toward commitment were discouraging.

“I felt like dying,” she said. “It was my first run and I thought, ‘I am not cut out for this sport.’ But after a few months I tried again, and committed even though it was way out of my comfort zone. And here I am now, a runner,” she told Arab News.

While she began her journey barely completing the 4K run, Azhari is now training for her first 21K trail race. She aims to participate in a full international marathon next year.

What kept her coming back every week was the community surrounding the running group. She said: “The people, the spirit, the energy, the commitment that everybody shows every single morning before sunrise, and of course the love and support everyone is getting, all of these aspects helped to get me into running. I’m loving it.”

On a personal level, running has benefited her by laying the groundwork for discipline in many aspects of her life, including work and family. It has also done much for her physical and mental health. “Sports should be accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age and ethnicity,” she said.

Another member, Hadeel Ashour, told Arab News: “I don’t think that if I started off running on my own in public, I would be as motivated and persistent in the sport as I am today.”

Ashour, 23, had been physically active for years, but a year on from discovering Adidas Runners, she has found that her training helps to complement her participation in CrossFit (interval training) and cycling.

She said: “I generally love outdoor sports and activities that give me a sense of community. Running for me was a beautiful combination of both these things.”

While the health benefits of running are plenty, including better sleep and eating habits, Ashour emphasized the mental profits of the exercise.

For her, running has helped cope with anxiety, build patience and create consistency in many aspects of her life.

She added: “I started running in a stage of my life when I was most vulnerable and unconfident. Running has liberated me from these negative feelings and restored my confidence in myself.”

The group is working toward creating the first-ever women’s training program to run a 5K, starting on Oct. 22 and free to all women in Riyadh.

Ashour is now planning to take part in her first Riyadh 10K, but has set her sights even higher.

She said: “My goal now is training to run the 20K distance in the Tuwaiq Hope Trail Race in November. In the far future, I hope to run full marathons and ultra-marathons both locally and internationally, and aid in expanding the community in Riyadh.”

Like Azhari, Ashour found a home within the running community, which changed her perception of women running in public.

She added: “I had the pleasure to meet strong and influential fellow runners who never failed to push me forward and explore my limits.

“Though the number of women runners is not that big, the presence and persistence of the few makes a big difference. We women are unstoppable when we run together.”

Club member Nourah Alshehri, 38, told Arab News: “I’m ecstatic for all the wonderful positive transformations in my country and the justice that women have obtained in various fields.

“I am very fortunate to have experienced fair regulations and laws that guarantee freedom for everyone without harming anyone or anything."

 The first-ever women’s-only race will take place on Dec. 24 in pursuit of creating a safe and healthy running culture for all in Riyadh.

 


Global Islamic Refugee Fund launched with $100m deposit

KSrelief Supervisor General Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner sign an a cooperation agreement. (SPA)
KSrelief Supervisor General Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner sign an a cooperation agreement. (SPA)
Updated 24 September 2022

Global Islamic Refugee Fund launched with $100m deposit

KSrelief Supervisor General Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner sign an a cooperation agreement. (SPA)
  • The fund will help millions of refugees and displaced persons and their host communities around the world

NEW YORK: Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, recently represented the Kingdom at the launch ceremony of the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees.

The fund is supported by UNHCR and the Islamic Development Bank’s Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development, with an initial amount of $100 million, on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

In his speech, Al-Rabeeah expressed his happiness about the fruitful partnership between UNHCR and IDB to help millions of people around the world who are forcibly displaced, by offering constant support for refugees and displaced persons and their host communities.

HIGHLIGHT

The Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development has donated $50 million to the endowment account, while the UNHCR has donated $50 million to the nonendowment account, as an initial capital to launch this initiative with $100 million. The fund also aims to raise additional capital of $400 million as a minimum target by allowing donations from people wishing to contribute.

He noted the importance of strengthening collective action and partnership to better respond and develop innovative, sustainable and comprehensive solutions, in line with the 17th sustainable development goal.

Al-Rabeeah said that the Kingdom was optimistic about UNHCR and IDB’s partnership, which embodies the values of humanity, justice and equality in developing innovative solutions for the refugee crisis.

Al-Rabeeah said: “Amid an increasing number of crises around the world, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation region accommodates the largest number of refugees in the world; we are all aware and fulfill our responsibility by providing all the refugees and displaced people’s needs to lead a safe, healthy and decent life.”

He said that the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees “would help us achieve this humanitarian objective, and given the significant economic challenges the world is facing and due to the limited donor base, this is the best time to present innovative ways to increase the funding modalities.”

Al-Rabeeah said that Islam encourages charitable work, that zakat is the duty of all Muslims who are capable of donating, and that this was the best time to establish the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees. He indicated that the success of this fund relies on the participation of authorized partners and project-based funding, with a transparent monitoring process.

Addressing the needs of refugees and displaced people in the OIC region is an example of zakat and charitable funding, he said, wishing the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees success.

The Global Islamic Fund for Refugees is to be a financing tool for refugees, in compliance with the provisions and principles of Islamic Shariah.

This fund consists of an endowment and nonendowment account to receive and invest donations, in accordance with Islamic financing’s principles. The revenue is deposited in a trust account to fund the response programs for refugees, displaced people and their host communities in the IDB member states.

The Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development has donated $50 million to the endowment account, while the UNHCR has donated $50 million to the nonendowment account, as an initial capital to launch this initiative with $100 million.

The fund also aims to raise additional capital of $400 million as a minimum target by allowing donations from people wishing to contribute.

 


Twitter replaces ‘Like’ emoji with Saudi flag on 92nd National Day

Photo/Saudi Press Agency
Photo/Saudi Press Agency
Updated 25 September 2022

Twitter replaces ‘Like’ emoji with Saudi flag on 92nd National Day

Photo/Saudi Press Agency
  • To mark the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day, the GEA launched the largest program in the history of the country’s national day celebrations

RIYADH: The chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, said on Friday that social networking site Twitter had replaced its “Like” emoji with the flag of Saudi Arabia on the occasion of the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day — the first time it has done so for a country’s National Day.

Al-Sheikh called on those wishing to express their love and pride for Saudi Arabia to use the hashtag #Hey_Lana_Dar92.

HIGHLIGHT

The chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, called on those wishing to express their love and pride for Saudi Arabia to use the hashtag #Hey_Lana_Dar92.

To mark the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day, the GEA launched the largest program in the history of the country’s national day celebrations.

Saudis and expatriates alike marked the occasion of Saudi Arabia’s National Day with music, singing, dancing, a naval parade in Jeddah and a family carnival in Riyadh.

The GEA’s program for the celebrations includes hundreds of events, shows and recreational activities across the Kingdom, all under the theme “Hey Lana Dar.”

 


Saudi crown prince meets Turkish officials in Jeddah

Saudi crown prince meets Turkish officials in Jeddah
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi crown prince meets Turkish officials in Jeddah

Saudi crown prince meets Turkish officials in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday received the Turkish presidential spokesman, Dr. Ibrahim Kalin, and Turkish Minister of Treasury and Finance Nureddin Nebati at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah.
Kalin conveyed greetings from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to King Salman and the crown prince.
During the meeting, they reviewed aspects of bilateral relations between the two countries and ways of developing them in various fields, in addition to discussing cooperation on a number of issues of common interest.


Saudi foreign minister says Kingdom is optimistic despite challenges

Saudi foreign minister says Kingdom is optimistic despite challenges
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi foreign minister says Kingdom is optimistic despite challenges

Saudi foreign minister says Kingdom is optimistic despite challenges
  • Real optimism in the Kingdom says Saudi FM

NEW YORK CITY: There is a real optimism in Saudi Arabia despite the obvious challenges faced around the globe, foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan told delegates at the FII Priority Forum in New York on Thursday.

He was responding on Thursday to the “Future Investment Initiative Priority” report, which surveyed 130,000 people from 13 countries about the things that mattered most to them.

The FII Priority report asked if people thought their lives were headed in the right direction - most people globally said they were.

But when the question became wider, people in nations such as the UK, USA and France, became more skeptical about the state of their countries and the world generally – while Saudi’s remained positive.

“There is a real optimism in the kingdom despite the challenges that we face,” the minister said.

 

 

The report found that Saudi’s led the way in feeling positive about their country, only being beaten in their optimism for the state of the world – coming third to China and India.

The upbeat attitude of Saudis didn’t stop there. Asked if they believed their country would be better in the future – a confident 61 percent in the Kingdom said they did – second only to 80 percent in China.

“We are in a difficult neighborhood. We are needing to improve many things in our economy in our country, but we are working very hard at it and that hard work is paying off we are seeing results every day being delivered.”

The report also found that Saudis were very ambitious, looking at work as a means to improve themselves, rather than simply pay the bills.

And while more than half of Americans were looking to quit their jobs – dissatisfied with their current situation, the vast majority of Saudis were planning for their future career and looking to help build their nation.

“If we all did the same if we all put our minds to it and worked hard, we can build a better future,” the minister explained.

He said that youth engagement in the Kingdom was at an “all time high.”

“You go to anywhere,” he added. “You know, private sector or public sector. The youth are really who are leading. It’s the same in my ministry.”

“The youth are the ones the younger generation are the ones that are pushing us.”

And in a nod to the approximate 300 percent increase in women the workforce, he said: “So, there is an optimism, even in a challenging environment without the best resources, you can still build.”

“If you set your mind to it. If you have a leadership that is committed to it, then you have a collective will to do it. So you just need the will.”

The FII Institute is a product of the Future Investment Initiative that was set up in Saudi Arabia by the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.