The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began here on September 23. I say "here", because the Islamic (Hijri) calendar is based on lunar months and each one starts on the new moon, so for this reason Ramadan starts at slightly different times depending on where you are in the world. Working to this calendar means that, for those of us using the Gregorian calendar, Muslim festivals such as Ramadan and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (The Hajj) come around 11 or 12 days earlier each year.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Hijri calendar and is the most sacred to Muslims, as it is believed to have been the time when God began revealing the Qu-ran to Mohammed. During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to dusk, and what with Saudi Arabia being home to the Two Holy Mosques and the strictest Muslim country in the world, Ramadan traditions are strictly observed. Even non-Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink, or smoke in public during daylight hours, and anyone caught doing so would be arrested and may even risk deportation.
What does all this mean in terms of our daily lives and experience? Well, I guess it's a little early to say, but I have noticed a general quietening down of city hustle and bustle during the day, and when we're out we try to be even more mindful of Saudi culture and restrictions than we usually are. Shops' opening hours have always been hard to get used to here, closing as they do five times a day for prayers, but during Ramadan they all change again. Most shops will open from 12.30 to 4.30pm, then re-open at 8pm until around midnight or even 1am. This is because although people fast and are quiet during the day, in the evening there are celebrations and feasting, so the shopping malls and streets are exteremely busy at night. I haven't seen this myself yet as we haven't been out in town that late in the last few days, but we plan to soon.
Ramadan will finish this year on Oct 23, after which comes the festival of Eid Al Fitr, a public holiday lasting around three days. The Embassy will be closed during Eid so Karen gets those three days off, and we'll be taking a short break to Abu Dhabi.