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

1 / 7
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)
2 / 7
Ramadan is a time of celebration, as evidenced by the colorful decorations (right) in many places. (Abdullah Al-Faleh, AFP)
3 / 7
Volunteers arrange food and drink in preparation for the iftar meal at a mosque's courtyard in Riyadh. (AFP file)
4 / 7
Worshippers praying at the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (Prophet's Mosque) in Madinah during the fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP file)
5 / 7
A child partake of the sweets being distributed to worshippers gathered at the Grand Mosque in Makkah during Ramadan. (AFP file)
6 / 7
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)
7 / 7
Short Url
Updated 23 March 2023

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.


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.


Malaysian minister lauds Saudi Arabia’s Makkah Route initiative

Updated 01 June 2023

Malaysian minister lauds Saudi Arabia’s Makkah Route initiative

RIYADH: Malaysian Interior Minister Saifuddin Nasution praised Saudi Arabia’s Makkah Route initiative, facilitating the travel procedures of Hajj pilgrims from Malaysia.

The statement was made during Nasution’s visit on Wednesday to a hall dedicated to the initiative at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where he was briefed on its readiness to facilitate pilgrims’ journey.

The Makkah Route initiative enables Hajj pilgrims from six countries to complete immigration, cargo and travel procedures before departing for the Kingdom.

Kenyan defense minister meets Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition chief

Updated 31 May 2023

Kenyan defense minister meets Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition chief

RIYADH: Secretary-General of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition Maj. Gen. Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Moghedi met Kenyan Defense Minister Aden Bare Duale in Nairobi on Wednesday to discuss counterterrorism and violent extremism-related issues.

During his meeting with Al-Moghedi, the Kenyan minister praised the coalition’s framework – for military, counterterrorism, anti-terrorism financing, as well as intellectual and media matters – as a strategic pillar in fighting terrorism and violent extremism.

He added that terrorism has its roots in intellectual and ideological orientations, which constitute the basis of the extremist approach.

“Working on preparing the mindset and integrating it within the proper framework constitutes one of the proactive action pillars aimed to repress and contain extremist thinking,” Duale said.

Al-Moghedi said that strategic initiatives by the coalition in its counterterrorism efforts have taken into consideration the hierarchy of terrorist tendencies.

The secretary-general also spoke about social media and communication platforms, and their role in influencing users. He also discussed countering illegal terror financing through military support and assistance services.


Who’s Who: Hussain AbdRab Al-Nabi, vice president at SAP South Europe, Middle East and Africa

Updated 31 May 2023

Who’s Who: Hussain AbdRab Al-Nabi, vice president at SAP South Europe, Middle East and Africa

Hussain AbdRab Al-Nabi is an innovation and strategy marketing leader and expert who has worked in both marketing and finance fields. He is vice president and head of marketing strategy at SAP South Europe, Middle East and Africa.

He has contributed significantly to SAP throughout his more than decade-long experience with the company.

As VP, his responsibilities include developing and implementing cohesive marketing strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and managing relationships with regional and global stakeholders across all departments.

AbdRab Al-Nabi is also executive marketing director at SAP for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His responsibilities cover seven countries and more than 13 major cities.

Before that, he worked as head of marketing transformation at SAP, where he led a team for restructuring the scope of marketing within the targeted countries.

In 2016, he was appointed marketing director for the newly segmented market unit of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen, and as a financial services marketing program head for the MENA region. During that time, AbdRab Al-Nabi developed marketing programs for the financial services industry.

Previously at SAP, he was assigned as marketing lead for the public services and energy, and natural resources industries, and he worked closely with industry principles to drive a focused marketing plan.

He first joined SAP in 2011 as a country marketing manager, handling the marketing and demand generation initiatives in Saudi Arabian operations.

In 2008, AbdRab Al-Nabi worked at Zain Group as a segment manager of corporate marketing and acting head of business marketing.

Before that, he was a relationship manager in the commercial markets division at SAMBA Financial Group.

AbdRab Al-Nabi started his career in 2001 as a credit and marketing senior officer at ORIX Leasing company, and later worked as a financial controller at Arab National Bank.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. AbdRab Al-Nabi completed the Esade executive leadership program and the Misk leaders program last year. He has also obtained certifications from the Association of International Product Marketing and Management.


Saudi citizen’s kidnapping adds new chapter to Lebanon’s chronicle of crime and impunity

Updated 31 May 2023

Saudi citizen’s kidnapping adds new chapter to Lebanon’s chronicle of crime and impunity

  • Despite Mashari Al-Mutairi’s record-fast rescue, incident revives memories of abductions, hijackings, and armed robberies
  • Saudi Arabia is committed to having Lebanon back in the Arab fold, says Saudi researcher Salman Al-Ansari

JEDDAH: Despite the record-fast rescue by Lebanese security services on Tuesday of a kidnapped Saudi citizen, the incident comes as yet another reminder of the many heists, abductions and hijackings that have plagued the Arab country since the 1970s.

Mashari Al-Mutairi, an employee of Saudi Arabia’s Saudia airlines who lived in the Beirut suburb of Aramoun, was abducted at about 3 a.m. on Sunday. The Lebanese Army’s intelligence directorate found and freed him after a security operation on the border with Syria.

He was received at the Saudi Embassy in Beirut by Ambassador Walid Bukhari, who said in a statement: “The released Saudi citizen is in good health, and we thank the army and internal security forces. The security efforts confirm the Lebanese authorities’ keenness to secure tourism security.”

News of Al-Mutairi’s abduction will have come as little surprise to millions of Lebanese who have endured decades of similar disappearances, hostage situations and armed robberies — crimes that are again on the rise as the nation grapples with chronic economic woes.

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari, right, and Lebanon’s caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi attend a press conference at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters)

In the first 10 months of 2021, the number of car thefts rose by 212 percent, robberies by 266 percent and murders by 101 percent compared to the same period of 2019, according to figures from International Information, an independent consultancy based in Beirut.

Ever since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been a transit, source and destination country for arms trafficking. These same networks are today used to move stolen goods, control the black market and facilitate the burgeoning drugs trade — many of them controlled by the armed Shiite group Hezbollah, which continues to dominate Lebanese public life.

“Any country that has a non-state actor within it is considered a ‘failed state,’” Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi political researcher, told Arab News. “Lebanon has never been this dominated by a militia that works for an outside power.

“The crime, drug smuggling, economic collapse, currency decline are only symptoms of the actual root problem, which is the lack of national sovereignty. There is no point in rectifying the symptoms as long as the actual root problem exists. It’s like hoping to treat a serious illness with a painkiller.

“Lebanon should change course and realize that their future is very dark if they allow a non-state actor to dictate its trajectory.”

Events in Lebanon today have echoes of the bad old days of the 1980s, when kidnappings, torture, murder and drug trafficking reached endemic proportions against the backdrop of the civil war, which devastated the country.

Back then, Westerners were common targets. In 1982, pro-Iran extremists kidnapped Davis S. Dodge, then president of American University in Beirut, from the university campus. He was flown to a prison near Tehran and held until his release a year later.

In 1984, Dodge’s successor as president of the AUB, Dr. Malcolm Kerr, was shot dead by two gunmen outside his office. The Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the killing, citing the US military presence in Lebanon as its motive.

The same year, William Francis Buckley, a CIA operative working at the US Embassy in Beirut, was kidnapped by Hezbollah and later murdered. One of the reasons for his abduction was thought to be the upcoming trial of 17 Iran-backed militants in Kuwait.

Several times during this period, whole planeloads of people were taken hostage. In 1984, a Kuwait Airways flight from Kuwait City to Karachi, Pakistan, was hijacked by four Lebanese and diverted to Tehran.

Due to unmet demands, the hijackers shot and killed American passengers Charles Hegna and William Stanford, both of whom were officials from the US Agency for International Development, before dumping their bodies on the tarmac.

Less than a year later, on June 14, 1985, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked soon after taking off from Athens. For three days, the plane went to and from Algiers and Beirut. US Navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered aboard the flight.

Dozens of passengers were held hostage over the next two weeks until they were finally released by their captors after some of their demands were met. The hijackers had demanded the release of 700 Shiite Muslims from Israeli custody.

Western analysts accused Hezbollah of hijacking the plane, a claim the group rejected.

In 1987, British humanitarian and hostage negotiator Terry Waite traveled to Beirut to negotiate with the IJO, which had taken several hostages. However, he was himself abducted by the group and remained in captivity for 1,763 days — the first four years of which he spent in solitary confinement.

A year later, Col. William Higgins, a US marine serving with the UN forces in South Lebanon, was kidnapped and murdered by a Hezbollah-aligned splinter group of the Al-Amal movement, “Believers Resistance.”

 Malcolm Kerr, President of the American University of Beirut, who was shot and killed by gunmen as he arrived at his office on campus. (AUB)

Although Lebanon is no longer in the grip of outright civil war, the financial crisis which began in 2019, combined with the political class’s failure to establish a new government, have created an environment of growing lawlessness and desperation.

Indeed, there are indications that the kidnapping of Al-Mutairi could have been orchestrated by a criminal organization with a hand in the production and trade of the amphetamine Captagon, which blights the entire region.

Lebanese news station MTV reported in recent days that a drug dealer known as Abu Salle, who is described as one of the region’s most prominent cartel bosses, was behind Al-Mutairi’s kidnapping.

The Lebanese Army raid of a Captagon factory in connection with the kidnapping lends weight to this theory.

Criminal networks move stolen goods, control the black market and facilitate the burgeoning drugs trade in Lebanon — many of them controlled by Hezbollah. (AFP)

Although Lebanese officials were quick to condemn the kidnapping, there are concerns the incident could hamper efforts to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, which have long been strained by the influence of Hezbollah.

However, Al-Ansari is confident the kidnapping will not obstruct progress on normalization.

“This could be considered a small obstacle in the way, but at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia is committed to having Lebanon back to the Arab fold in a way that it can have its own sovereignty away from Iranian hegemony,” he said.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran restored diplomatic relations under a Chinese-mediated deal. How this new arrangement will impact the activities of Iran’s proxy forces throughout the region, however, remains ill-defined.

TWA Boeing 727 captain John L. Testrake from Richmond, Missouri, emerges from the cockpit of his hijacked airliner 19 June 1985 at Beirut airport to talk to newsmen. (Getty Images/AFP)

“It is still unclear what the Chinese mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran will result in with regard to the Lebanese file,” Al-Ansari said. “It will de-escalate the tension, but it will not solve the problem overnight.”

Although Lebanon is a long way from reaching stability, Al-Ansari believes Saudi Arabia “will work hard with the highest level of government in Lebanon to find a way to have political and economic reforms, combat corruption and drug smuggling, and have the right kind of governance.”

International observers warned of a potential power vacuum after long-time president Michel Aoun left power in October. To this day, Lebanon’s parliament has yet to elect a new president, prolonging the nation’s political paralysis.

“The Saudi ambassador to Beirut has been vocal and supportive in finding a solution to the power vacuum and pushing for reforms and appointing a government, because at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia can’t provide anything if there is no actual solidified government in Beirut,” Al-Ansari said.

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t want anything from Lebanon except for it to be politically stable and prosperous. It will take a long time to accomplish these goals, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the Lebanese to decide their future, and the Saudis will be helping them with whatever they can.”


Sudan crisis sparks EU fears of ‘spillover’ to other nations

Updated 30 May 2023

Sudan crisis sparks EU fears of ‘spillover’ to other nations

  • The risk of having an arc of instability between the Sahel and the Red Sea is serious, says Annette Weber

RIYADH: The EU envoy to the Horn of Africa has hailed Saudi-US efforts to end the violence in Sudan but warned that the ongoing fighting continues to threaten regional stability.

In an interview with Arab News on Monday Annette Weber, the EU Special Representative, said that the risk of a “spillover” of violence was clear. 

Weber arrived in Riyadh on Saturday to discuss the Sudan crisis with officials from the Foreign Ministry and representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“The focus was on Sudan and the current engagement of Saudi Arabia and the US in Jeddah with the two generals,” Weber said in reference to preliminary talks between the rival Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. 

She said that a solution would not be found without the Saudi and US efforts to get them talking.

“The focus was really on the question, ‘how can we get to a comprehensive agreement?’ A peace agreement. There’s clear support from the EU member states for this engagement and for these negotiations.”

While she acknowledged that gaining a permanent ceasefire might be considered “far-fetched” at this point, she hoped at least for a cessation of hostilities in order to allow aid shipments to Khartoum and beyond.

“We all made it very clear that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the US are doing this first step. The ‘pre-negotiation’ as they call it, for a ceasefire, opening a window for humanitarian (aid),” she said.

However, she warned that the violence could easily spread across the Horn of Africa without a firmer agreement in place.

“We need to contain the conflict in Sudan. I think this is very clear and I think … the faster they can agree in Jeddah to have at least a ceasefire or cessation of hostility, the less likely the spillover is going to be,” she said.

“But the risk of spillover is clear. We’ve seen people crossing ... We’ve seen the risk of the conflict crossing into Chad, into South Sudan.

“We see a lot of refugees crossing into Egypt and into neighboring countries. The region is very volatile. The risk of having an arc of instability between the Sahel and the Red Sea is serious. 

“And for us as the EU, of course, it's our neighbor. It's our neighborhood. So to contain the conflict and to end the conflict is imperative.”

A solution would not be found without the Saudi and US efforts to get them talking.

Annette Weber

According to the UN, nearly 1.4 million Sudanese have fled their homes since fighting began on April 15. Of those, 330,000 have crossed over to a neighboring country. To this day, Saudi Arabia has helped more 8,200 people from more than 100 nationalities leave Sudan on evacuation flights.

Saudi Arabia and the US urged the warring sides to work toward a ceasefire and welcomed the start of pre-negotiation talks in Jeddah on May 6.

Both sides agreed to a temporary ceasefire on May 20. However, the deal fell apart almost immediately as fighting continued in Khartoum and beyond. Saudi Arabia and the US said both sides had a hand in its breakdown.

The EU representative said that the efforts to support Sudan’s neighboring countries were “ongoing.”

“We are very much engaged in Chad and South Sudan. It’s an ongoing effort. The EU has one of the biggest donors and humanitarian efforts in Sudan now and before the war,” she said. “So we will continue on this. That’s very clear.”

During her visit to the Kingdom, Weber also met the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Jasem Albudaiwi to discuss regional cooperation and security.

“It is necessary for all of us: The EU, Saudi Arabia, UN, and everyone, to cooperate and coordinate the relief efforts and the humanitarian efforts,” she said, adding that the GCC was an “important counterpart” in the region. 

“I think we are aligned in the situation in Sudan,” she added.