Saudis welcome Ramadan, a time of reflection and blessings for the Muslim world

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While Ramadan is perhaps best known to many as the month in which Muslims fast, it is also a month of spirituality, prayer, reflection, devotion and generosity. (Abdulghani Essa / AFP)
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Ramadan is a time of celebration, as evidenced by the colorful decorations (right) in many places. (Abdullah Al-Faleh, AFP)
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Volunteers arrange food and drink in preparation for the iftar meal at a mosque's courtyard in Riyadh. (AFP file)
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Worshippers praying at the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (Prophet's Mosque) in Madinah during the fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP file)
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A child partake of the sweets being distributed to worshippers gathered at the Grand Mosque in Makkah during Ramadan. (AFP file)
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Worshippers pray at the Grand Mosque in Makkah on March 21, 2023, as Saudi Arabia announced that the fasting month of Ramadan will start on March 23. (AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2023
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Saudis welcome Ramadan, a time of reflection and blessings for the Muslim world

  • The world’s 2 billion plus Muslims believe daytime fasting and nighttime prayers energize the faithful to lead a new life 
  • Saudi Ministry of Culture has launched Ramadan Season, a series of festive events in 14 cities across the Kingdom

JEDDAH: Every year ahead of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, 2 billion plus Muslims around the world prepare to welcome the holy month of Ramadan. While Ramadan is commonly known for its fast, for Muslims it is more than just a month of fasting; it symbolizes reward, reflection, devotion, generosity and sacrifice.

Daytime fasting and nighttime prayers spiritually energize the faithful to lead a new life, benefiting the whole of humanity and opening a new chapter of peace and progress.




Worshippers pray at the Grand Mosque in Makkah on March 21, 2023, as Saudi Arabia announced that the fasting month of Ramadan will start on March 23. (AFP)

A hadith says Abu Huraira reported: “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said whoever fasts the month of Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of earning reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven, and whoever stays up during Laylat Al-Qadr out of faith and in the hope of earning reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven.”

On Wednesday, the Saudi Press Agency reported that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanged messages of congratulations with “leaders of Islamic countries on the advent of blessed month.”

Ramadan, besides being a month of fasting, is also a month of happiness, an Islamic form of worship known as dhikr, Qur’an recital, good deeds and charity.




Aside from being a time of celebration, the month of Ramadan is a time of charity. (Abdullah Al-Faleh, AFP)

The rewards of giving zakat or sadaqah — an Islamic form of almsgiving that is a central pillar of the Muslim faith — during Ramadan are doubled, and thus Muslims make sure give even more to those in need during the holy month.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, the Ehsan national campaign for charitable work received more than SR300 million ($79 million) in donations. During the first Ramadan campaign in 2021, the king and the crown prince made multiple donations through Ehsan that pushed the platform’s total funds past the SR1 billion mark.

In the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, philanthropists commonly provide iftar (breakfast) meals to worshippers at specific locations in the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.

Generosity extends far beyond the provision of iftar meals by the wealthy; 29-year-old Anas Al-Ghamdi from Jeddah distributes cold bottles of water and dates to people in rush hour traffic.

Al-Ghamdi and his brother have been doing this for seven years, “because Ramadan is the month of feeding the poor, and it is a chance to offer help and gain rewards.”

While fasting is one of Ramadan’s main characteristics, what happens after the fast is broken every day is just as important. Those who celebrate rejoice in the food served during gatherings with relatives and loved ones, as it represents the month’s prominent rituals.




Iftar meals are offered daily in mosques throughout the Kingdom during Ramadan. (AFP file)

Though generosity and togetherness are hallmarks of Ramadan, so too is spending.

It has become a habit to prepare for Ramadan with a feeling of newness; families go into a cleaning frenzy, decorating their houses, reorganizing furniture, giving some goods to the poor, and, of course, buying new items.

Neama Fadhel, a housewife and mother of five children, said that she likes to plan her Ramadan shopping for kitchen products, accessories and clothes, as the experience brings her joy.

Fadhel also loves buying new items for her household, especially her kitchen, as it “gives me a boost for the daily cooking routine in the holy month that differs from other normal days of the year.”




Shoppers in Jeddah enjoy purchasing Ramadan decorations and items from the annual exhibit at Jeddah International Exhibition and Convention Center. (AN Photo by Abdullah Alfaleh)

Competition is rife as entrepreneurs vie to produce new, trending goods each year to attract customers, who look forward to decorating their homes to welcome the holy month with fervor.

Sufyan Raya, senior digital marketing specialist at Al-Hadaya Center, told Arab News how demand for decorations skyrockets around Ramadan.

Al-Hadaya Center, one of the biggest gift shops and decoration retailers in the Kingdom, distributes products to other shops in the region. For retailers, the season usually begins two months before to the holy month and continues until the middle of Ramadan.

“So far, our Ramadan-only sales represented 7.6 percent of the company’s sales, with Jeddah at the forefront of sales, followed by Makkah and Riyadh. We have imported lanterns and Ramadan decoration items worth SR30 million from Egypt, India, Turkey, and China for Ramadan 2023,” Raya said, adding that more than 70 containers arrived through sea ports and airports to meet the demand.

FASTFACT

Besides fasting, Ramadan is a month of happiness, an Islamic form of worship known as dhikr, Qur’an recital, good deeds and charity.

In a highly competitive market, Raya said, products are kept highly confidential. “We made sure that these products are well kept until they are distributed and unpacked in the stores, as some competitors copy special items and offer them at a lower quality.”

The most popular Ramadan-themed items are lanterns in various sizes and colors, twinkling lights, crescent moons and some distinctive textile-made products like “shkaly,” a printed fabric with a bright pink rose, and “khayamiya,” another popular printed fabric bearing geometric patterns.

Lanterns, an iconic symbol of the holy month, are always in high demand.

“This year, handmade Egyptian and Indian lanterns and ornamented copper, bronze and gold-plated lanterns are trending the most, and this category has achieved the highest rate of sales compared to other items,” Raya added.




Saudi women shop for traditional lanterns known in Arabic as "Fanous", sold during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at a market in the city of Jeddah. (AFP file)

Prices of lanterns vary in terms of material, shape and size, ranging from about SR1.88 to more than SR975. Mass-produced types are the cheapest, while handcrafted varieties fetch the highest prices.

While modern shopping centers and malls are replete with Ramadan merchandise, nothing beats shopping in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historical district, where vendors and kiosks put up lights and decorations, creating a special old-meets-new Ramadan vibe.

Saleh Baeshen, one of the oldest traders in the area, told Arab News that shoppers from across the region, especially from Gulf countries, come to enjoy the “unique Ramadan vibes in the historic Al-Balad.”

Baeshen said: “Loads of vintage decoration items and huge lanterns that are usually hung in big buildings and shops” can be found in Al-Balad. Special exhibitions, which usually begin two weeks before Ramadan and continue until the first week of the holy month, are held annually to promote local products and bring joy to visitors and residents alike.

One such exhibition is being held at Al-Harthi Exhibition Center in Jeddah, with more than 200 local and regional brands taking part.




The exhibition is held annually two weeks prior to the holy month with over 200 participating brands. (AN Photo by Abdullah Alfaleh)

Khidr Ismael, who came all the way from Egypt to take part in the exhibition, said that he inherited the trade of making lanterns from his ancestors. At the exhibition, he offers Ramadan decorations, such as Ramadan-themed printed fabrics, utensils with Arabic and Islamic inscriptions, furnishings, lighting and tents.

“The crescent-shaped lanterns are trending this year; it is available in the two-meter size … and this year we are offering stainless steel lanterns that have better quality and longevity,” he said.




Vendors are all set for the influx of Muslims from all over the world at a market in the western Saudi city of MadinaH. (AFP)

The Culinary Arts Commission has also launched the Ramadan Market in Jeddah, which will run until March 22. The market displays local culinary and Ramadan products, including baked goods, sweets, dates, spices, coffee, nuts, honey, toys, clothes and antiques.

For families coming to enjoy the holiday, the market hosts spaces such as a children’s area and activities including drawing, photography and henna. It will also serve as an opportunity for local vendors to display their products.

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture has launched Ramadan Season, a series of events that will take place in 14 cities across Saudi Arabia and will be held in more than 38 locations. Ramadan Season offers a variety of experiences, including cultural, educational and entertainment events with a distinct Ramadan look.

 


Russell Peters, the comedian enjoying the last laugh

Updated 29 February 2024
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Russell Peters, the comedian enjoying the last laugh

  • Canadian performer advises people to follow their dreams despite setbacks
  • Stand-up veteran recalls earning $50 for gigs, being booed off stage and learning on the job

RIYADH: Award-winning Canadian comedian Russell Peters has revealed the secret behind his successful career.

“Identify your dream and actively chase it,” Peters said during a recent interview on Arab News’ podcast, The Mayman Show. “It’s far more rewarding to have pursued your dream, even if you fail, than to passively wonder about it.”

Peters found his own path in 1989 when he began performing stand-up comedy at amateur shows. Despite not being allotted more than five minutes with the mic, he was determined to pursue his passion.

“If I got one laugh, I think that’s all I needed: Let’s figure this out, let’s try to figure out how to get more of those people,” he said on learning from his first performances.

Discussing his early career, he talked about being booed off stage in Toronto in 1993 while opening for The Pharcyde, a hip-hop group from the US. With hindsight, he laughs at his own arrogance then, viewing the experience as a well-deserved lesson.

Peters recounted how he would drive hours to perform, earning $50 plus complimentary chicken wings, a tank of gas, and a soda. During those days, he thought: “If I stayed, I’d be in the exact same financial position I would have been had I gone. So I wasn’t losing anything and I’d stay there and I’d be talking to people for free,” he said. “I just remember all the hard gigs, those were the fun ones.”

Fast-forward to 2024, and Peters has been hailed as one of the greatest comedians of all time by Rolling Stone, and has held the record for being the longest-standing comedian since 2007. He was also the first comedian to sell out Toronto’s Air Canada Center in 2007, and has performed in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, London’s O2 Arena, and more. As part of his “Act Your Age” tour, which he has been doing since 2021, Peters recently took to the stage in Riyadh, performing at the Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University on Feb. 24.

This is his third visit to the Kingdom, and Peters admires the generosity of the Saudi people: “I remember at the hotel, they said, how did you sleep? And I said, it was honestly like the best, the most comfortable bed I’d ever felt in my life, and when I came back to my hotel room, they had packed up all the stuff that I complimented and shipped it to me in America.”

Peters also cherishes the memory of his performance at the Maraya building in AlUla in 2016, renowned as the world’s largest mirrored concert venue. “The acoustics are great in there because it’s built for that. And they put the sound dampeners in there. The same can’t be said for when I just performed in Egypt,” he said.

During his one-night performance in the country, American comedian Adam Hunter opened his show. Hunter is known for his popular Instagram channel, MMA Roasted, in which he humorously critiques fighters, and has been traveling with Peters for some time.

His latest show in the current tour is scheduled for March 3 in Bangalore, India, a place he regards as his true home. Beyond the stage, Peters also feels at home in the DJ booth. He said that his DJ career was purely for enjoyment, focusing mostly on old-school music. Peters said that his go-to song is “Black Trump” by Smif-N-Wessun and Raekwon.

Peters is currently practicing jujitsu, a form of martial art. His enduring passion for combat disciplines began at the age of 16 with boxing, because of bullying at school. Boxing became more than just a sport; it was a coping mechanism, especially after he was kicked out of school.

Later on, as his career developed in comedy, it also became a way of dealing with challenges.

“I would do it all the time growing up,” Peters said, “to try and get out of situations, dealt with a lot of racism growing up. So you just kind of figure out a way of getting out of situations by being funny.”


Turkish ambassador bids farewell, reflects on his time in Saudi Arabia

Updated 29 February 2024
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Turkish ambassador bids farewell, reflects on his time in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh: Turkish ambassador to Saudi Arabia Fatih Ulusoy is bidding farewell to the Kingdom at the end of his tenure in Riyadh, and reflecting on the growth of Saudi-Turkiye relations over the past two and half years.

“I have had a fantastic time here — you usually get more or less emotional when you bid farewell, but if you are a diplomat you are quite used to it changing from one place to another,” Ulusoy told Arab News.

“I feel privileged to serve as the ambassador of Turkiye in Riyadh, as I had the opportunity to personally witness the historic transformation in the Kingdom as well as the concrete progress and positive momentum in the bilateral relations between Turkiye and Saudi Arabia,” the envoy said.

“Having served as the Turkish ambassador for two and a half years, I saw three visits by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Saudi Arabia and the visit by Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman to Ankara in this period.

“On his way back from his visit to Jeddah in April 2022, President Erdogan announced Turkiye’s solid support for Riyadh’s candidature for Expo 2030. We are happy to see Riyadh will host the World Expo 2030 as that year means a lot for Saudi Arabia. Turkish companies will be ready to work with their Saudi counterparts to make Expo 2030 a huge success,” Ulusoy said.

“In the margins of the visit by Erdogan to Jeddah in July 2023, four governmental MoUs and one G2B agreement were signed in the fields of defense, investment, energy, media and defense industry, bringing Turkiye and Saudi Arabia, two brotherly countries, even closer. These areas stand as key areas for our future collaboration, however, our cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not limited to these fields. We have frequent ministerial and high-level visits between Turkiye and Saudi Arabia.

“For example, during FII7 in late October, our Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek signed a deal on cooperation in financial areas with his Saudi counterpart Mohammed Al-Jadaan.

“October 29, 2023 was a special day for us, which is our centennial anniversary, and we celebrated our national day at our embassy with a big crowd of guests.

“I was very happy and emotional to see Turkish flags on the huge screens of Riyadh Boulevard on that day,” the envoy said.

“In mid-February this year, a Turkish-Saudi investment forum was held in Istanbul with the participation of four esteemed ministers from two brotherly countries. I was delighted to see the big interest and hundreds of companies from both sides to this key forum.

“Within the past year we witnessed fruitful contacts between two brotherly countries in the field of military and defense industry. Turkiye participated in the World Defense Show in February 2024 with 63 companies, covering 15 percent of the entire exhibition area.

“I was so happy to see our air acrobatic teams, Turkish Stars and Saudi Hawks perform together up in the sky, side by side during the World Defense Show early this month,” Ulusoy said.

“I want to highlight the field of tourism, which represents a huge potential for cooperation between our brotherly countries. Turkiye is ready to share its experience with Saudi Arabia as we are among the top tourist destinations in the world. We announced visa-free entry to Turkiye for Saudi citizens in December 2023 and we look forward to hosting more and more Saudi brothers and sisters every year.

“Saudi tourists traveling to Turkiye can avail of visa-free entry after Erdogan issued a decision last December granting Saudi citizens a visa exemption. It allows Saudis to visit Turkiye for tourism without obtaining a visa in advance. They are allowed a stay up to 90 days within six months.

“We are expecting the visit of our Trade Minister Omer Bolat in the first week of March to Saudi Arabia, and a Turkish trade fair and business forum will also be held in Riyadh within the same week.

“We also expect more agreements to be signed between two brotherly countries in the near future. The main philosophy of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia is to share our strengths and achieve win-win results. As Saudi Arabia is going through a massive transformation, this era represents enormous opportunities to further prosper our relations and cooperation. We have contributed to the development of Saudi Arabia in the past and we will be walking together with Saudi Arabia through its important journey under the Saudi Vision 2030,” Ulusoy said.

The dean of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Kingdom organized a farewell ceremony at the Cultural Palace in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh at the end of Ulusoy’s mission as Turkish ambassador, which was attended by many ambassadors and their wives.


India’s top business body prepares to open Riyadh office

Updated 29 February 2024
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India’s top business body prepares to open Riyadh office

  • India organized the first trip of the country’s top CEOs and government officials to Riyadh
  • `From the Indian side, the office in the Saudi capital will be led by an FICCI member, the federation’s secretary general S.K. Pathak told Arab News

NEW DELHI: India’s top business federation is preparing to open its office in Riyadh after leading a high-powered delegation to the Kingdom to explore the possibilities offered by Saudi megaprojects.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, India’s largest and oldest trade association, organized the first trip of the country’s top CEOs and government officials to Riyadh and the site of the flagship multibillion-dollar NEOM project in Tabuk, on Feb. 18-21.

The visit was in the wake of the growth of Saudi-Indian ties during India’s presidency of the G20 last year, which was followed by the state visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi-India Business Forum in September.

During the forum, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih and his Indian counterpart, Piyush Goyal, agreed to open chamber of commerce offices in their respective countries.

From the Indian side, the office in the Saudi capital will be led by an FICCI member, the federation’s secretary general S.K. Pathak told Arab News.

“We have already identified the location. We are just waiting for the paperwork, and we will launch. This will be in addition to our other offices in GCC. It’s a matter of weeks,” he said in an interview in Delhi on Wednesday.

The office will facilitate better business interactions between Indian companies and those based in the Kingdom.

“Whether you are a FICCI member or not, we are all Team India. Anyone from the Indian industry wanting to have ties in Saudi Arabia, this office will help you. That’s the objective,” Pathak said, adding that following last week’s visit there had already been multiple inquiries from companies interested in the Saudi market, and especially NEOM.

The FICCI delegation met NEOM leaders and executives responsible for projects such as The Line linear smart city, the floating Oxagon city, Trojena futuristic ski resort, Sindalah island resort, TONOMUS — the world’s first ecosystem of cognitive technologies — and ENOWA, which leads the development of NEOM’s sustainable energy and water systems.

“The NEOM project itself is a trillion-dollar project. It’s going to be a multi-decade project, and there is so much that India and Indian companies can do there,” Pathak said. “We have been flooded by inquiries from FICCI members and many who want to become FICCI members saying they also want to participate in this business opportunity.”

There was also an opportunity to learn, he said. The way water will be recycled in NEOM, which is set across desert valleys, and the smart city and biotechnological services designed for the site, were relevant to India too.

“That’s a great lesson for all Indian cities,” Pathak said. “It is quite an exciting opportunity for anyone in infrastructure and services to go and look at.”

Under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, increasing opportunities have been available for Indian companies and the number of them operating in the Saudi market has grown from 400 in 2019 to 2,900 in 2023. Their biggest presence is in construction, information technology, health, oil and gas, telecommunications and financial services.

“This is a great time for India, and we are looking at the next 10 years, 25 years being a very good time for Indian business,” Pathak said. “Vision 2030 gives us the confidence that India and Saudi will grow even closer together.”


Saudi surgeons begin complex 14-hour operation separating Nigerian conjoined twins

Updated 29 February 2024
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Saudi surgeons begin complex 14-hour operation separating Nigerian conjoined twins

Riyadh: Surgeons in Saudi Arabia on Thursday began the complex procedure of separating Nigerian conjoined twins Hassana and Hasina at King Abdullah Specialist Children’s Hospital in King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh.

The twins, who arrived in Saudi Arabia last October, share areas in the lower abdomen, pelvis, lower spine, and lower spinal nerves.

The separation surgery is expected to take about 14 hours and involves 38 consultants, specialists, technical, nursing, and support staff, state news agency SPA reported.

Med-day on Thursdat Al-Ekhbariya reported that the 4th stage of the operation started.

Head of the medical team Dr. Abdullah Al Rabeeah said the operation has a 70 percent success rate and will involve nine stages.

This is the 60th operation performed by the Saudi program for separating conjoined twins. Over the past 34 years, the program has cared for 135 sets of twins from 25 countries.


Saudi crown prince, French president discuss cooperation

Updated 29 February 2024
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Saudi crown prince, French president discuss cooperation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a call from French President Emmanuel Macron, the Saudi Press Agency said early Thursday.

The pair discussed bilateral relations and ways to enhance cooperation in all fields, in addition to issues of mutual interest.

They also exchanged views on several regional and international issues and the efforts made regarding them to achieve security and stability.