Jeddah: The Ramadan experience Saudi Arabia offers is like no other—at least that is what former expatriates, who now live in their home countries, tell Gulf News.
For many, this will be their first Ramadan, in a very long time, away from their second home in Saudi Arabia.
“There’s a definite feeling that fills the air in Saudi Arabia, awakening the Ramadan spirit,” says Jeddah-based Filipino homemaker and blogger Teryll Tabao.
In the past few years, a lot of expatriates have left Saudi Arabia due to economic or social reasons.
Gulf News spoke with expatriates who have experienced Ramadan in the kingdom and are now missing the infectious festive spirit in their home country.
Pakistani national Khizra Farhat left Saudi Arabia with her family last year because of increasing dependents’ taxes every year.
“Observing Ramadan in Saudi Arabia is one of the most beautiful things that I have experienced in my life. I miss Jeddah’s colourful, traditional store decorations, the amazing Ramadan sales, the beautiful iftar gatherings, the visit to the two Holy Mosques, and the fact that Ramadan in Saudi Arabia comes with a completely different vibe that brings in a blend of spirituality and togetherness. I am truly able to take in that spirit and cultivate a difference in habits, coming out as a better person. In my home country, everything is just so chaotic,” said Farhat.
A common feature about Ramadan in Saudi Arabia is that working hours for schools and offices are reduced for people to rest and relax before and after suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and iftar (breaking the fast).
Observing Ramadan in Saudi Arabia is one of the most beautiful things that I have experienced in my life.
British national, Tasneem Baker, left Saudi Arabia a few years back to pursue higher education.
“The Ramadan vibe is almost non-existent in London. It’s so difficult to maintain the spiritual mindset that one usually tries to adapt during the holy month because of the busy hustle of London life. The fasting hours are long and coupled with the regular school routine, its also draining. There’s a rush to finish work, to finish eating, to reach night prayers and then get up again at the crack of dawn to resume work,” she says.
Another interesting feature about Ramadan in Saudi Arabia—which is highly by missed by expatriates—is how the days are slow and somber and the nights are exciting and lively.
“People taking a walk or going shopping at 1-2 am at night, or meeting with friends is unthinkable in my home country at any time of the year. The streets go silent by 11pm. But, in Saudi Arabia, it’s so gratifying and unique to see the nights come to life for a month,” said Zaina, a young Indian housewife, who moved to India after she got married last year.
The kingdom is also a melting pot of cultures, which means there are ample restaurants offering different types of cuisines for people to pick and choose from.
Aisha Khan, who moved to Australia to pursue higher education, expressed her distress on how difficult it is to get food during Ramadan.
In Saudi Arabia, as Iftar time gets closer, a lot of locals and expats can be seen at traffic lights or street corners handing out dates and water to passersby
“I like how the restaurants are open all night in Saudi Arabia unlike Melbourne where everything closes early. I have to prepare my own meals. Iftar is at 5pm and by then every food facility on campus is closed, so I either cook, or wait till 6pm because that is when the dorm cafeteria opens for dinner; going out to grab a meal means walking a mile to the nearest open restaurant. So, I personally feel that Ramadan in Saudi Arabia is so much better than Australia,” she says.
During Ramadan, often people become more benevolent and are more charitable.
In Saudi Arabia, as Iftar time gets closer, a lot of locals and expats can be seen at traffic lights or street corners handing out dates and water to passersby, says Rahat Chaudhary, a Pakistani sales manager who works in Makkah.
“When you see people around you giving charity, it motivates you to do it as well.”