Our First Ramadan

By | August 27, 2011

Ramadan is an exciting time in the Islamic calendar. It’s a time to celebrate religion, culture and family, and it is a time of peace and charity. Ramadan was not unfamiliar to us before we arrived here – we have several Muslim friends and were aware of the main religious reasons for the event as some of the practices like increased prayers and fasting. What we didn’t realize though, is how much fun it is!

In case you’re not familiar with Ramadan or want to learn more, you can find more on the Ramadan entry on Wikipedia.

While Kevin and I are not Muslim we appreciate the holy month, and took it as a time to listen and learn– and partake a bit too. Here are a few highlights:

Celebrating in Al Balad, Jeddah

We took a trip one night to Jeddah, the second largest city in Saudi, which is located an hour south of KAUST. One thing that is notable about Ramadan is that all of the hours for shops and services change for the month. Because Muslims are required to fast during daylight hours, many people choose to shift their waking hours to be overnight. So, many shops don’t open until after 5pm for the day.

So, we took the bus to the old area of Al Balad in Jeddah. The bus left Kaust well into the evening and when we arrived in Jeddah we found a bustling souk. We hadn’t been to this old part of Jeddah before and were amazed by all of the tiny shop-fronts selling prayer rugs, abayas, thobes, shoes, kids clothes, and spices. We have been told that there are many places to celebrate Iftar (the time at sundown when Muslims break their fast), but we sadly didn’t find a place to join in. Instead, we walked the meandering alleys of shops and enjoyed being part of the Jeddah night life!

I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos, but here is one from Susie of Arabia that pretty much sums up the scene:

Al Balad at Night


 The KAUST Souk

KAUST decided to mark the holy month by erecting a souk with stands and shops that were designed to feel a lot like Istanbul or Al Balad. There were vendors selling handmade wares, handing out Saudi coffee, tents to congregate in, and decorations to enjoy.

I thought it was an excellent event and a great way to invite KAUST residents – both Muslim and non-Muslim – to celebrate the holy month together.

Here are a few shots I took from the souk and Discovery Square:

Ramadan Lights in Discovery Square

Kevin Celebrating Ramadan

Kevin Celebrating Ramadan at Disco Square

Decorations at the KAUST Ramadan Souk

Coffee Pots at the Souk

Coffee Pots at the Souk

Tent at the Souk

KAUST Ramadan Shopping

Iftar at KAUST

Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. There were places all over the compound to get traditional iftar meals at the dining hall and restaurants. A few nights ago, we decided to go to the Al Marsa Yacht Club for Iftar.

Here are a few photos of the delicious dishes:

Fresh dates

Fresh dates are a Saudi staple!

Kibbeh and Sambousa - two traditional iftar appetizers

Kibbeh and Sambousa - two traditional iftar appetizers

"Foul Medames" - a bean dish traditionally served at Iftar

I had a great time learning about Islam and Saudi traditions during my first Ramadan living in the Middle East. How did you celebrate the holy month this year? I’d love to hear!