The Eastern Province is a hidden gem of the Middle East which is tucked away in the wondrous Kingdom of Saudi Arabia right on the coast of the Persian Gulf.
During the past years, when Ramadan fell during winter vacations when schools were closed; expatriates and Saudis alike travelled abroad. This year, since Ramadan has started in the middle of exam season in the academic term, it was expected that sales would be much higher.
As Ramadan festivities get under way in the Eastern Province, the souqs of Al Khobar and Dammam, in particular, are braced for increased sales. Supermarkets around the province had also stocked up on their variety of goods.
However, like the previous years, Ramadan has been falling within the academic year, resulting in the traditions and customs being slightly delayed rather than rushed to as expected from before.
Ramadan is traditionally the month when Saudis buy new household furniture and jewellery, However, the shop owners reporting dull business. “It appears that the tradition is changing. There’s a consistent drop in sales over the past two years,” said a furniture showroom manager.
The one traditional custom is the gorgeous Eastern Province is of the mass gatherings to break their fast.
“In these tents, nearly 5,000 people break their fasts every evening. We call it the Ramadan Multicultural Gathering,” said one of the volunteer organisers at the Alkhobar Cooperative Office for Call and Guidance.
The program is supervised by the local offices of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the whole program is run with the help of sponsors and donations from the local business community.
Other businessmen have taken care of the rented tents. Others simply have donated money to meet the expenses of running this charitable operation for the entire month. The iftar tents are open to everyone, regardless of religion. The idea is to let non-Muslims know about Islam. Here, they are able to get a firsthand view of what Ramadan is all about.
Many non-Muslims have misconceptions about Islam. Sometimes when they come, we see they are uncomfortable. They are welcomed with open arms and the people that host them also help correct their misconceptions about Islam.
The idea is not to convert them but to make them aware of what Islam is all about — the authentic version of Islam. The iftar dinners draw a mixed crowd. A lot of people who visit regularly, usually bring their non-Muslim friends too.
Nearly 50 young Saudis help in arranging all kinds of facilities for the 5,000 or so arrivals every day.
There are nine tents in all, with each tent having a capacity of 2,000 people. The tents are divided according to language. All Urdu-speaking expatriates are in one tent; Filipinos are in a different tent; Bangladeshis are in another; Tamils have a separate tent, and another one is for Arabic speakers so that communication is easy.
It is not just religious activities that are held at the tents. The highlight of the program is the “Ramadan Friendship Games 2010 Open Invitational Basketball Tournament” organised by the Filipino community in one of the specially erected tents long after iftar.
This brings the entire Filipino community in the Eastern Province to this place. This activity has been on right from the first week of Ramadan and will have its finals soon.
The event serves as a reminder to all those who claim that Saudi society shies away from interaction with other communities. Visitors experience a homogeneous gathering where Saudis and expatriates participate in a variety of social and sports activities that make Alkhobar city a home for all.
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Get to know the cultures and customs that are followed in the holy month of Ramadan in the stunning Eastern Province which lies on the Persian Gulf in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.