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بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيْم

اَلْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْن،وَالصَّلاۃ وَالسَّلامُ عَلَی النَّبِیِّ الْکَرِيم وَعَلیٰ آله وَاَصْحَابه اَجْمَعِيْن۔

Day and Night in the Blessed month of Ramzan in Saudi Arabia

As soon as the blessed month of Ramzan begins, the daily routine of every person who fasts, to an extent, gets changed. And why should not something of this kind happen given that a lot of changes take place in the skies too. Special blessings of Almighty Allah are showered on His bondsmen. Countless sins of Almighty Allah’s bondsmen are forgiven. The reward for good deeds is increased. Unruly devils are chained. The paradise is every day decorated for the believers. For countless people, the decision to eternally relieve them of Hell is taken. This is the reason why, in order to please their real Lord, Muslims of the whole world, welcome this blessed month as per their capability and inclination. Just the way it is in other countries, in Saudi Arabia too there are special arrangements made upon the arrival of the blessed month of Ramzan. Before the month of Ramzan begins, everyday food items such as rice, cooking oil, sugar, dates etc. are sold at cheaper rates. Seizing this special offer that the blessed month of Ramzan offers, people belonging to middle class buy these food items in large quantities and store them not only for the blessed month of Ramzan but for few more months following Ramzan. Moreover, in the blessed month of Ramzan, the rates of various items, to an extent, remain under control. Production of fruits is low in Saudi Arabia, yet, by the Grace and Benevolence of Almighty Allah, each and every fruit that is to be found across the world is easily found in the country at reasonable rates. There is no electricity problem. Once in years, power cut (of not more than few moments) happens only when there is some fault in the network. Generally, there is no adulteration in food items and beverages. There is no fear at all. In the middle of the night, husband and wife (all alone) can go on a drive for hundreds of miles without thinking even twice. Suffice it to say that the facilities and comfort that is not given to even upper-class people in the subcontinent, is assured to common people in Saudi Arabia. The population of Saudi Arabia is roughly about 33 million. Approximately 10 million of these are outsiders who work in Saudi Arabia, out of which Indians constitute the highest percentage i.e. 3 million. After Indians, Pakistanis top the chart, followed by Egyptians. Saudi Arabia is the world’s fourth largest country where a maximum number of expatriates working in the country.

As per the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), on the 29th of Shaban, based on the announcement of Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon watching) witnesses, the Supreme Court declares the sighting of the moon and the first fast of the blessed month of Ramzan begins. If the moon is not sighted on the 29th, then the blessed month of Ramzan begins after 30th of Shaban. Given the fact that moon rises (and is sighted) at different points in various parts of the world, generally the first day of the lunar month in Gulf countries is a day ahead as compared to the beginning of the lunar month in the subcontinent. Just the way it is in the subcontinent, in Saudi Arabia as well people do not try to see the moon by themselves. Instead, between Maghrib and Isha, they sit before the television sets and wait for the government’s announcement. Committees that comprise government officials, learned scholars and weather experts, employ the best possible technological apparatus for moon sighting and make arrangements to see the moon in various places across the country. In all the mosques of Saudi Arabia, the call to prayer is made as soon as it is time for the respective prayer. This is the reason why in Saudi Arabia, all the mosques of a city hold prayer congregations at the same time. As soon as the announcement regarding moon sighting is made, people head towards the mosques. In Saudi Arabia, there are a lot of mosques. Furnished with expensive carpets, almost all the mosques are air conditioned. As it is in the case of the call to prayer (Adhan), all the five prayers, Taraweeh prayer and Tahajjud prayer during the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramzan are offered over the loudspeaker. In Saudi Arabia, in the case of all the five prayers, from the moment the call to prayer is made till the time the prayer is offered, the entire market and ordinary shops are strictly shut down. However, since Taraweeh prayer is not obligatory, when it is performed in the mosque, the markets may remain open. In the blessed month of Ramzan, the believers are required to offer Taraweeh prayer right after the Isha prayer. In the Grand Mosque (Makkah), Masjid-e-Nabawi (Medina), Islam’s first mosque Masjid-e-Quba, and several other mosques, twenty rak‘ats of Taraweeh prayer are offered, whereas in other mosques eight rak‘ats of Taraweeh prayer followed by three rak‘ats of Witr are offered by two salaams. However, there are few mosques where, once in a while, three rak‘ats of Witr are offered by one salaam. Some people from the subcontinent, gather in a house in the presence of a Hafiz (a person who has memorised the Holy Quran by heart) and listen to the entire Holy Quran in twenty rak‘ats of Taraweeh prayer offered all through the blessed month (or few days of the month) of Ramzan. In the third and last rak‘at of Witr prayer, fairly long prayers in Arabic are said for the success in this world and the Hereafter, and for the peace and prosperity of the global Muslim community. Often, as a result of unusually prolonged supplications, people in the congregation even get tired. It is indeed worth admiring that in the Taraweeh prayer, the Imam recites the Holy Quran at ease with the required pauses as a result of which once in a while people even cry when they listen to verses of the Holy Quran that warn human beings. It takes approximately an hour and a half to get done with Isha, Taraweeh and Witr prayers. The weather is extremely hot in Saudi Arabia. In summers, temperature usually remains around 45 degrees Celsius. There are times when the temperature rises up to 50 degrees Celsius. However, given high and better living standards, one does not feel thirst and hunger that much. Generally, schools are closed down during the blessed month of Ramzan as a result of which shopping centres and highways are flocked by people in the night. From Maghrib till Sahri (daybreak or the time up to which one can eat and drink), all the hotels and shops are open. Essentially what it informs us is that buying, selling, shopping and businesses usually happen during the night. However, after Sahri there is not a single restaurant that is found open, not even a tea shop. As far as the general routine of people is concerned, after having Sahri and performing the Fajr prayer they usually sleep. As per the directions of the government, duty hours are decreased by two hours during the blessed month of Ramzan. Men usually set out for their office around 10 AM whereas women sleep till Zohr prayer. Men offer Asr prayer in early hours and sleep afterwards in order to catch up on remaining sleep hours of the day, whereas women are found busy in the kitchen. Few women recite the Holy Quran whereas there are few who assign tasks to maidservants and once again take rest with their husband. Instead of a tasty and delicious fruit chaat, various kinds of fruits are there on the table for Aftaar. Saudi society is not familiar with pakoras, however, chicken, mutton and paneer samosas are used a lot. Along with the dates, there are various kinds of beverages available with edible olives. They also make a dish called Al-Humus by grinding grams with salad and pouring olive oil over it. Porridge is mixed with meat to make a dish known as Jareesh that is loved a lot and also happens to be extremely good for health. Saudi people eat more rice as compared to bread which is why a special dish called Kabsah, made with rice and chicken (similar to Biryani) is eaten a lot. A dish made by cooking mutton with basmati rice known as Mandi is a much-loved dish of Saudi Arabia. In Walimah (reception thrown by the groom’s family after consummation of marriage) and other important gatherings, generally Mandi is served. In a fairly large dish there is rice surrounded by dry fruits and in between there is kept a fully roasted goat with its head. People merrily eat from the same dish shreds of roasted goat meat (from their side). Between Maghrib and Isha, people usually stay in their homes.

In the light of the words of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), in order to gain as much reward as possible, in Saudi Arabia, Aftaar arrangements are made on various places as a result of which millions of people eat Aftaar for free. The Aftaar that is arranged is prepared so generously that people carry the remaining food with them to their homes and eat it till Sahri. Similarly, those who stay without their families, especially Bangladeshi workers, majorly cut down on their personal expenditures during this blessed month. Every day, in the Grand Mosque and Masjid-e-Nabawi too, millions of guests of Almighty Allah who visit these sites from different parts of the world eat Aftaar. Sitting side by side on the same tablecloth, people of different nationalities, language and colour help each other through gestures. In the Aftaar that is served in the Grand Mosque and Masjid-e-Nabawi, people are served with various kinds of dates, water, yogurt drink, tea, Arabic coffee and juice etc. People who hail from higher echelons of society consider it a source of utmost bliss and blessing for themselves to serve Aftaar to the visitors. This is the reason why, in the spirit of love and brotherhood, they present such variety of dates to the visitors that are not to be found anywhere in the market. In Masjid-e-Nabawi, a special kind of bread made up of milk and wheat flour is served that is exceptionally tasty. In the open space of both the holy sites, all kinds of food items are there for Aftaar, however, the workers deputed for cleaning the premises of Haram clean the entire site within minutes. There is a gap of fifteen minutes between the call to Maghrib prayer and the Maghrib prayer held in congregation.

In the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramzan, other than the Taraweeh prayer, after midnight, in all the mosques of Saudi Arabia, Tahajjud prayers are offered in the congregation at fixed timings. For Tahajjud, usually eight to twelve rak’ats are offered. There are few mosques where even fewer (than eight) rak’ats are offered. After that, three rak’ats of Witr are offered. In relation to offering Tahajjud prayer regularly in congregation in the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramzan, one does not find any evidence of the same in the period of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), his (PBUH) companions, the following generation of believers, and in generations afterwards. However, since people offer Tahajjud prayer regularly during these ten days (given the overall charged up atmosphere that promotes virtuous deeds and worshipping of Almighty Allah), there is scope for offering the prayers in congregation. That said, following the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his noble companions, it is much better and more virtuous to individually offer Tahajjud prayer at home. In the Grand Mosque of Makkah and Masjid-e-Nabawi a chapter and a half (chapter here does not mean Surah but one of the thirty parts of the Holy Quran) are recited every day in Tahajjud prayers which leads to completion of almost 15 chapters in ten nights of Tahajjud prayers. In the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramzan, in the Grand Mosque of Makkah and Masjid-e-Nabawi (Medina), immediately after the Isha prayer, twenty rak’ats of Taraweeh are offered in congregation. After Taraweeh, post-midnight, ten rak’ats of Tahajjud are offered followed by three rak’ats of Witr. In the last rak’at of the Witr prayer, very long supplications are made in Arabic. In ordinary mosques of Saudi Arabia, there is not much attention paid to completion of the Holy Quran in the Taraweeh prayers. However, in the Grand Mosque of Makkah and Masjid-e-Nabawi, the Holy Quran is invariably completed in the Taraweeh prayers on the 29th night of the blessed month of Ramzan. In the 20th rak’at of the Taraweeh prayer, there is supplication for almost half an hour. On the 27th night of the blessed month of Ramzan, there are strong chances of Shab-e-Qadr (Night of Decree or Power) falling in that night. It is a night that is better than a thousand years (worshipping during this very night is better than worshipping for thousand years). This is the reason why, just the way it is on the 29th night of the blessed month of Ramzan, on the 27th night the Grand Mosque is absolutely packed with people. On the 27th and 29th night of the blessed month of Ramzan, the gathering in the Grand Mosque is close to 3 million, numbers close to annual pilgrimage (Hajj). Suffice it to say that in Saudi Arabia, in the blessed month of Ramzan, especially during the last ten days of the month, people generally worship and pray throughout the night. One of the disadvantages of this practice is that during the daytime (especially during the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramzan), people do not have the required energy to do things they are expected to do. This is the reason why in government offices, little work is done during the blessed month of Ramzan, especially during the last ten days. After the 24th day of the blessed month of Ramzan, all the government offices are closed for ten days. In private companies too, there are holidays for almost a week. In Saudi Arabia, holidays are only on the occasion of ’Eid-al-Fitr and ’Eid-al-Adha. In all the big cities of Saudi Arabia, there are specific areas where Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are found in a large number. In the blessed month of Ramzan, in the hotels of these areas, one can easily find anything and everything that people of the subcontinent eat for their Aftaar or Sahri. In order to sustain and preserve their social and cultural life, people from the subcontinent invite each other for Aftaar. This year I am spending 20th consecutive blessed month of Ramzan in Saudi Arabia. I pray to Almighty Allah to help us act and live as per the teachings of the Holy Quran and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Ameen.

Dr. Mohammad Najeeb Qasmi