How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia

Special How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia
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AlUla’s Old Town with its marketplace and view of mountains. In Saudi Arabia’s close-knit communities, traditional ways of celebrating the holy month are passed down through the generations, even as new customs spring to life. (Supplied)
Special How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia
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Food kiosks dot Al-Balad, Jeddah's historic downtown district, during the month of Ramadan. (SPA)
Special How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia
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People walk under a crescent moon-shaped decoration in a shopping mall ahead of the Muslim's holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jeddah. (AFP)
Special How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia
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Saudis shop for dried dates in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP)
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Updated 31 March 2023

How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia

How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia
  • The Kingdom’s 13 regions revive their own unique and beloved local habits and practices during the holy month 
  • Iftar gatherings include region-specific dishes, decorations and games, often involving the extended community

JEDDAH: For centuries, Muslims across the world have shared common traditions during the holy month of Ramadan stemming from Islamic practices, such as breaking their daylight fast with dates, water or laban, as was the Prophet Muhammad’s custom.

However, some local traditions, which are distinct to a particular nation or region, have found their way into the routines, feasts and celebrations that mark the holy month. Saudi Arabia, with its many diverse regions, is no different.

Every year, in the ninth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar, the Kingdom’s 13 regions, its hundreds of towns and cities, and more rural reaches will revive their own unique and beloved local habits and practices.

In the big cities, the streets are regularly packed with pedestrians and vehicles as shoppers race to make last-minute purchases, while devout worshippers find space amid the bustle for regular prayer and to read from the holy Qur’an.

Togetherness is an important theme of Ramadan, with families, friends and often whole communities gathering at long tables to share in the iftar feast each day after sunset in homes decorated with twinkling lights and lanterns.

The dishes served at these gatherings, and when important feasts take place, are often distinct to a particular local culinary culture and the availability of particular ingredients.




Traditional dishes at a southern table. (Supplied)

In Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, many members of the community will meet before Ramadan to share a last meal of familiar dishes that are uncommon during the holy month. The “ghabgah” is usually held on the night preceding Ramadan or a few days before.

During the month, the region’s popular dishes include balaleet (sweet vermicelli and eggs), asida (lump of dough made by stirring wheat flour into boiling water, sometimes with added butter or honey), samosas, and sago pudding.

Around the middle of the holy month in the Eastern Province and other parts of the Gulf region, children will dress in traditional clothing and go door-to-door in their neighborhood, singing songs in exchange for nuts and candy, in a tradition known as “gergean” or “knocking.”




A shopkeeper prepares an order for traditional sweets for a customer in the capital Riyadh on March 27, 2023, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP)

On the far side of the peninsula, in the western region of Hijaz, the dish exchange tradition is still alive today. “Al-to’ma” is a year-round custom where a plate is never returned empty. Everything from soups and samosas to traditional dessert delicacies such as qatayef, basboosa, or sago pudding is exchanged.

Many families also share subya, a drink made especially in Ramadan to quench one’s thirst, made from barley or bread soaked overnight with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, sugar and raisins, to give it its distinctive red color.

“It’s a family’s best kept secret,” Umm Khalid Mashady, a resident of Madinah, told Arab News.




Saudi men shop for traditional beverages during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in Riyadh. (AFP file)

“My husband takes pride in making the drink every year, and we share it with our neighbors, even those who moved away because that was the way back then. Many people prefer to buy it from stores today, but you’ll still find them following their family recipes.”

Mashady highlights the importance of family during Ramadan gatherings. “A Hijazi table is never without extra family involved,” she said.

“The calm before breaking our fast is common as every household is busy conducting their prayers or reading the holy book in the last hour before sunset, the golden hour. By doing so, even children pick up the habit and grow accustomed to it and will thus pass it down to their children after that.”

Foul (fava beans cooked to a mash) accompanied by tamees (a traditional bread baked in a tandoor) are also two popular staples on a Hijazi table that go hand in hand.




Workers preparing the traditional "Qatayef" sweets, a folded pancake filled with cream or nuts, at a shop in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)

Also common on Saudi dinner tables during Ramadan are dates of all shapes and colors, oats soup, meat and cheese samosas, luqaimat (fried dough), Vimto drink, and kunafa.

These gatherings are about more than just food, however. Games and other family activities are also important traditions. A carrom board, a tradition brought to the Kingdom decades ago from India, is often brought out after the meal and Taraweeh prayers, while others prefer to kick around a soccer ball.

Today, many young men and women like to gather after evening prayers to play baloot, a popular card game in the region, similar to the French Belote.

FASTFACTS

This Ramadan the Grand Mosque in Makkah has launched a welcome initiative for pilgrims and Umrah visitors arriving in Saudi Arabia.

The Grand Mosque has 120 areas for prayer and 12,000 containers of Zamzam water to help ensure a comfortable visit for pilgrims.

Souqs in Saudi Arabia are the best place to buy Ramadan essentials and to experience the hustle and bustle of the holy month.

Al-Balad is Jeddah’s oldest neighborhood, founded in the 7th century A.D., and is home to a plethora of some of the oldest traditional markets.

In the Kingdom’s central region, many male members of Najd families typically break their fast at their local mosque, where they arrive bearing dishes from home.




Foreign workers their fast during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at a park in Riyadh on March 27, 2023. (AFP)

The tradition is believed to have stemmed from the area’s remoteness and harsh environment, where lower-income families found it difficult to provide for their families.

More privileged families shared their meals and distributed them to the needy as part of the holy month’s custom of helping the underprivileged.

Though it might seem slightly different today, many believe that once people sit at the table together, it does not matter what social class they belong to because they are all equal.




A Saudi man offers Muslim pilgrims Zamzam water upon their arrival in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file)

“It didn’t matter which family or clan you belonged to. The month brings forth its blessings and we share them with our family and others,” Umm Waleed, 72, a resident of Riyadh and native of Hail, told Arab News.

“Our grandmother taught us that in order to be blessed, we had to share. It does not matter where you are. Our Islamic teachings meshed with our local traditions (have) became an essential part of our community.”

Turning to the northern region, an area close to the border with Iraq and Jordan, many households share traditions with their neighbors, focusing on large gatherings of family and friends with children serving their elders throughout the evening.

Like subya in Hijaz, camel’s milk is a staple ingredient in several of the region’s dishes, such as tarshreeb (pieces of bread soaked in stock and meat), jareesh, al-mlehiya and thareed.


ALSO READ: Makkah’s historic Ramadan cannon remembered 8 years on


Moving toward the southwestern region of the Kingdom, many families have maintained the tradition of breaking their fast at mosques and only have proper meals after evening prayers once they have returned home.

A rifle round is traditionally fired to announce the call of Maghrib prayer in the areas high in the Asir mountains.

Across Saudi Arabia, Ramadan’s Islamic traditions complement local cultures and customs as the close-knit Saudi community prides itself in honoring old ways of celebration and incorporating new ones that fit well into an ever-evolving society.

 


Saudi artist builds carpet-painting business one brush stroke at a time

Raghda Turkistani paints on door mats, wood and other materials, including Persian and Arabian carpets. (Instagram/raghda.craft)
Raghda Turkistani paints on door mats, wood and other materials, including Persian and Arabian carpets. (Instagram/raghda.craft)
Updated 29 May 2023

Saudi artist builds carpet-painting business one brush stroke at a time

Raghda Turkistani paints on door mats, wood and other materials, including Persian and Arabian carpets. (Instagram/raghda.craft)
  • Saudi artist Raghda Turkistani on building her carpet-painting business and social media presence in the ‘era of achieving dreams’

RIYADH: With a steady hand on her brush, Saudi artist Raghda Turkistani paints images and writes personalized messages in calligraphy on carpets.

“I wanted to pursue something that would be a reflection of my artistic nature, so I fell in love with the carpet industry and turned it into a business,” Turkistani told Arab News.  

Her meticulous painting on luxurious Persian and Arabian carpets using bright colors has resulted in myriad unique masterpieces.

Raghda Turkistani paints on door mats, wood and other materials, including Persian and Arabian carpets. (Instagram/raghda.craft)

A mother of three, who majored in psychology, Turkistani also encouraged her children to pursue art because she believes that having a creative skill is crucial for mental wellness.

“Having a creative hobby is important for mental health because it generates energy. It makes me feel like my passion is being renewed,” she said.

“My kids have their own section in my office where they can draw and enjoy coloring.”  

HIGHLIGHTS

• Artist Raghda Turkistani paints images and writes personalized messages in calligraphy on carpets.

• She hosts online and face-to-face sessions to teach people how to start their own art businesses and operate the equipment used to print on carpets and doormats. 

Turkistani began her creative journey by printing on door mats, wood and other materials, but her work on carpets gained the most recognition as many businesses requested customized designs from her.

Turkistani, a social media manager by profession, initially chose the field to promote her art. She used the skills she gained from her profession to create her TikTok and Instagram content.

Raghda Turkistani paints on door mats, wood and other materials, including Persian and Arabian carpets. (Instagram/raghda.craft)

Her husband, she says, was her “first supporter” when she entered the world of social media. She wanted her content to be about her clients’ orders, showing them a behind-the-scenes look into the creation of their products.

Turkistani struggled to juggle her business, her paying job, and her young kids, but she found support in her husband as she built her business.

She said that “it was a sweet feeling” when she received her first order and saw her follower count grow on TikTok live.

Raghda Turkistani, Saudi artist

“Every time I feel that I have lost hope or I feel that I am not succeeding, I remember this moment and I remember how I felt at the time,” she said.

Her most unusual request was from a man who asked her to write “Move, you sleepy head!” on a doormat, she shared, laughing.

Turkistani also helps others start their own businesses by teaching them how to operate the equipment used to print on carpets and doormats.

Having a creative hobby is important for mental health because it generates energy. It makes me feel like my passion is being renewed.

Raghda Turkistani, Saudi artist

Most of her students are mothers like herself or young women who want to embark on their own projects. Her courses include online and face-to-face sessions, depending on the participant’s requests. Students can learn about the equipment and its software, how to print on acrylic and wood, how thermal printing works and much more.

The young artist’s sound advice for people looking to achieve their own artistic visions is to not allow their circumstances to dictate their paths.

“If you have a passion,…pursue your dream. We are now in the era of achieving dreams,” she said, explaining that it has become easier than ever before to start one’s own business.

“Nothing, including age or family, can stop people from starting their own business if they are determined to do so. Everyone should experience the feeling of creating their own project or business,” Turkistani said.

 

 


Japanese singer Halca serenades Jeddah fans

Halca performed at Anime Village zone in Jeddah’s City Walk. (Supplied)
Halca performed at Anime Village zone in Jeddah’s City Walk. (Supplied)
Updated 28 May 2023

Japanese singer Halca serenades Jeddah fans

Halca performed at Anime Village zone in Jeddah’s City Walk. (Supplied)
  • “Everyone was very sweet and welcoming, and the ones who recognized me approached me by calling my name and showed me that they are listening to my songs at that moment and said ‘We’re looking forward to your concert!’” Halca told Arab News

JEDDAH: Japanese singer Halca enthralled audiences on Thursday with some of her most popular tracks at the Anime Village zone in Jeddah’s City Walk.

Singing a variety of her songs, including the famous track “Kimiga Ita Shirushi” of the anime “Boruto: Naruto Next Generation,” Halca made her debut in Jeddah donning a checkered long-sleeved outfit with fun accessories and colorful nail polish. She styled her hair into two messy buns decorated with playful hairpins.

Speaking about her second visit to the Kingdom, the singer told Arab News that she was very excited to come back to Saudi Arabia, especially after she started “receiving messages from fans on Instagram and Twitter saying that they are looking forward to meeting me and attending my concerts again.”

An audience reaction during Halca's performance at the Anime Village zone at the City Walk in Jeddah. (Supplied)

Halca’s first visit to the Kingdom was during the previous Riyadh Season, where she performed in front of her Saudi fans for the first time. While the singer’s experience in Riyadh with her fans was “friendly and sweet,” she was initially skeptical about the reception in Jeddah.

“I thought Jeddah citizens might be either very rough…or very polite and shy and (wouldn’t) talk to me. But they appeared to be very friendly, even more than the people I met in Riyadh,” she said.

Halca was overjoyed to see the diversity of her fans, from cosplayers and children to teenagers and adults. “I particularly loved that people were holding their phones up to record videos of my performance,” she said. “And the many hearts I received from the audience too.”

I want to take these beautiful feelings and memories to Japan and tell everyone there how great the Kingdom and its people are, hoping that it might strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Halca, Japanese singer

Once Halca landed in Jeddah and checked in at her hotel on Wednesday, she took a trip to the Red Sea Mall, which she said she was looking forward to visiting again. She was also surprised by her fan’s reactions when they saw her shopping at the mall and touring City Walk.  

“Everyone was very sweet and welcoming, and the ones who recognized me approached me by calling my name and showed me that they are listening to my songs at that moment and said ‘We’re looking forward to your concert!’” Halca told Arab News.

She shared that she wanted to visit the beaches in Jeddah and enter a mosque for the first time.

“Also, last time I was in Saudi Arabia, I wanted to buy perfume to remind me of Saudi Arabia, but I didn’t find something that would suit me. So, this time, I asked my fans on social media and they suggested a lot of perfumes, and I bought five to remind me of the smell and aroma of Saudi Arabia,” she said.

After her pleasant experiences in the Kingdom, Halca revealed that she hopes to visit and perform both in Riyadh and Jeddah frequently.

“I’m very overjoyed by everything that has happened here,” said the singer. “I hold onto the memory of every fan who greeted me, anyone who talked to me, sent me a message. I also want to take these beautiful feelings and memories to Japan and tell everyone there how great the Kingdom and its people are, hoping that it might strengthen the relationship between the two countries.”

 


Finnish envoy hails Saudi Vision 2030 ahead of Helsinki circular economy forum

Anu-Eerika Viljanen. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Anu-Eerika Viljanen. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 29 May 2023

Finnish envoy hails Saudi Vision 2030 ahead of Helsinki circular economy forum

Anu-Eerika Viljanen. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
  • “We are expecting to gather the brightest minds to Helsinki this week. We are first of all wishing to highlight the importance that it is a matter that one cannot do alone,” Anu-Eerika Viljanen told Arab News

RIYADH: Cooperation and collaboration are key to the success of this year’s World Circular Economy Forum in Finland, the country’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia has told Arab News, praising the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 as offering “limitless opportunities.”

This year’s World Circular Economy Forum brings together global leaders from the circular economy. It runs from May 30 to June 2 in Helsinki, the Finnish capital.

“We are expecting to gather the brightest minds to Helsinki this week. We are first of all wishing to highlight the importance that it is a matter that one cannot do alone,” Anu-Eerika Viljanen told Arab News.

“We need government-to-government cooperation and we need government-to-private sector cooperation. So everybody has their role and I think cooperation and collaboration is the key to success,” Viljanen added.

It is really important that women are at all levels — at all functions present in Saudi society because we women have a voice, and it deserves to be heard.

Anu-Eerika Viljanen

The ambassador said that one of the missions of the forum is to “go green,” adding: “Maybe there are new ways and new practices shared during the conference.

“Circular economy is an area that Finland has been at the forefront of for decades. Finland was the first country to establish a national circular economic road map and we have really been focusing on that area for a long time.”

The envoy began her Saudi mission in August 2022 and said that it is her first posting to the region.

“I am extremely delighted and extremely honored to serve here as Finish ambassador,” she added.

“The diplomatic ties between our countries are on a solid basis. The foundation is very solid — we have been working very effectively since the late 60s.”

Though economic matters were the previous focus of bilateral ties between Finland and Saudi Arabia, the latter’s Vision 2030 has added a range of new areas in which to cooperate, Viljanen said.

“Now with your Vision 2030, there are new areas emerging. The opportunities in your country now, with Vision 2030 — they are limitless,” she added.

The two countries are also working on digitalization as a central focus of cooperation, with systems including AI, cybersecurity, gaming and the metaverse a focus of bilateral efforts.

Viljanen said that during her tenure, many visits Saudi and Finnish ministers have made trips to one another’s countries.

“Those visits are really important to step up economic relations and with those visits, we always find new areas that we can intensify the already existing cooperation,” she added.

Viljanen hopes to see further cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Finland in digitalization and the circular economy.

“I would like to see my country partner with you because there are so many areas that we have also been focusing on that you are now focusing on,” she said.

And as Saudi Arabia earns a new reputation as a regional peacemaker, Viljanen said that Finland can offer lessons to the Kingdom.

“Finland has a long history in being the peacemaker,” she added.

Viljanen has been following the “achievements of Saudi Arabia” in efforts to broker peace across the region, including in Sudan.

Discussing Nisreen bint Hamad Al-Shibel, Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to Finland, Viljanen said: “I’m really glad that there are more and more Saudi female ambassadors.

“It is really important that women are at all levels — at all functions present in Saudi society because we women have a voice, and it deserves to be heard.”

When asked how she would describe the cooperation between the two countries, Viljanen said: “Intensified collaboration.”

She added: “I would say the energy levels of your country and the positive energy that is present everywhere, and the changes, and transformation is really remarkable.”

And on the economic front, Saudi-Finnish initiatives covering digilitzation and the green agenda “go hand in hand” as part of bilateral efforts, Viljanen said.

“You need digitalization to advance the green agenda.”

Viljanen said: “I would like to increase the level of knowledge of Saudi Arabia and Saudis in Finland.

“I would love to see more Saudi students in Finland, more Saudi tourists in Finland, and also vice versa.”

 

 


Saudi deputy foreign minister receives newly appointed US ambassador

Saudi Deputy FM Waleed Al-Khuraiji received the newly appointed US Ambassador to the Kingdom Michael Ratney on Sunday. (SPA)
Saudi Deputy FM Waleed Al-Khuraiji received the newly appointed US Ambassador to the Kingdom Michael Ratney on Sunday. (SPA)
Updated 28 May 2023

Saudi deputy foreign minister receives newly appointed US ambassador

Saudi Deputy FM Waleed Al-Khuraiji received the newly appointed US Ambassador to the Kingdom Michael Ratney on Sunday. (SPA)
  • As part of the meeting, they discussed developments of common concern and the deputy foreign minister welcomed the ambassador

RIYADH: Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji received the newly appointed US Ambassador to the Kingdom Michael Ratney on Sunday.

The two reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries and ways to enhance them.

As part of the meeting, they also discussed regional and international developments of common concern and the deputy foreign minister welcomed the ambassador, wishing him success in his new duties.

Under regional cooperation, the two countries released joint statements through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday calling on the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces to continue discussions to reach an agreement on extending the ceasefire that is set to expire at 9:45 p.m. Khartoum time on May 29.

The two countries became facilitators of a call to cease fire on May 6 and welcomed the start of pre-negotiation talks in Jeddah at the time.

In the first week of May Deputy Minister for Political Affairs, Saud Al-Sati, received the newly appointed US ambassador to review bilateral relations, and regional and international developments.

On April 27 US ambassador officially presented his credentials to Saudi Undersecretary for Protocol Affairs Abdulmajeed Al-Smari.

Ratney was nominated by US President Joe Biden, and the US Senate confirmed him as the ambassador to the Kingdom in a voice vote on March 14.

At the time of his nomination in March, Ratney said he was committed to a “strong and sustainable US-Saudi partnership that advances US interests and reflects US values.”

Before taking on his position as ambassador, Ratney served as acting deputy director at the US Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute.

Previously, he served as the charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Jerusalem and the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for the Levant and Israel and Palestinian Affairs. He was also the US special envoy for Syria.

Earlier in his career, Ratney served as the US consul general in Jerusalem and the deputy assistant secretary for international media at the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs.

Previous US ambassador to Saudi Arabia John P. Abizaid was nominated by former President Donald Trump in November 2018 and took on the position in April 2019.

Abizaid completed his mission in 2021, and Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d’Affaires Martina Strong served until the end of her mission in April 2023.


Saudi-led project clears milestone 400,000 landmines in Yemen

Saudi-led project clears milestone 400,000 landmines in Yemen
Updated 28 May 2023

Saudi-led project clears milestone 400,000 landmines in Yemen

Saudi-led project clears milestone 400,000 landmines in Yemen
  • Overseen by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, the Masam initiative continues to remove deadly devices

RIYADH: A Saudi-led humanitarian project in Yemen has seen a milestone 400,000 landmines and unexploded ordnance cleared in more than five years.

Overseen by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, the Masam initiative continues to remove deadly devices laid in the war-torn country by the Iran-backed Houthis.

Operations have been taking place in Marib, Aden, Jouf, Shabwa, Taiz, Hodeidah, Lahij, Sanaa, Al-Bayda, Al-Dhale, and Saada.

The scheme also involves the training of local demining engineers and provides them with modern equipment. In addition, it offers support to Yemenis injured by the devices.

In June 2022, the project’s contract was extended for another year at a cost of $33.29 million.

Masam project managing director, Ousama Al-Gosaibi, said: “It is a very honorable and promising figure and an unprecedented result that we are proud of as a humanitarian project, not only on the Yemeni level, but also on the global one, especially if we take into consideration the conditions of demining and the unfamiliar nature of mines that Yemen is going through.

“It has contributed to restoring life to normal in several Yemeni regions, where people can today enjoy a safe life away from the threats of mines. It has also saved the lives of many innocent people.

“Masam is a project of life, a project of struggle, aiming at laying the foundations of a safe life from mines in Yemen. Such a project harnesses its field, technical, and media energies for this noble goal, and will spare no effort for that at all.

“The figure 400,000 is the title of our success, and it is an incentive for us to move forward in our greatest achievements, our ultimate goal, and our pursued promise; a Yemen without mines,” he added.

Al-Gosaibi pointed out that under the project more than 46 million square meters of land in Yemen had been cleared of ammunition, mines, and explosive devices.