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.