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The holy month of Ramadan is considered the holiest and most sacred month of the Islamic Hijri (lunar) calendar. Muslims firmly believe that it was during this exalted month that the archangel Gabriel descended from the heavens and revealed the Message to the Prophet Muhammad.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are required to elevate their level of spiritual and physical submission to God by way of fasting; that is to say, Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and also husband-wife intimacy from the breaking of dawn until the setting of the sun.
As we prepare to welcome the holiest of months, here are the dates, calendar and guide to spending Ramadan 2021 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Ramadan dates and calendar 2021
The arrival of Ramadan has always been associated with a certain amount of mystique and contemplation. The exact date of the month’s beginning is traditionally determined by religious scholars/authorities under the cover of night as they seek to observe certain sightings related to the appearance and cycle of the moon.
This year, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court stated on Sunday 11 April that it had not received any evidence of the sighting of this year’s Ramadan crescent, as reported by the state news agency SPA.
Therefore, due to the absence of the sighting of the moon, Monday 12 April is regarded as the last day of Sha’ban which means that Ramadan in Saudi Arabia starts from 12 April and will last until 12 May 2021, followed by the Islamic festivities of Eid al Fitr.
Ramadan in Saudi Arabia
The common thread that runs through all predominantly Muslim countries in Ramadan is that life generally slows down as the hours for working and schooling are reduced by two to three hours. Many opt to embrace a nocturnal lifestyle in the sense that they shift their schedule to allow them to sleep through the day and work through the night.
Unlike in places like Dubai, most supermarkets, malls, shops, restaurants, cafes and nearly all other eateries close down during the daylight hours. Hotels remain open and may still offer food to their non-fasting guests, albeit in screened and partitioned areas.
Close to sunset, numerous mosques are filled with lines of people sitting in lines facing spreads of food. As the call to prayer is heard signifying the arrival of Iftar (breaking of the fast), numerous people can be heard chanting their prayers before helping themselves to the available sustenance.
It’s also common to observe people, both local residents and visitors, handing out dates and bottles of water to passersby while shouting ‘halal‘ at busy intersections close to Iftar time. The month of Ramadan indeed encourages Muslims to further practice benevolence and charity.
Most businesses resume operations after Iftar and continue to do so until 1 or 2 in the morning. This naturally makes the Ramadan nights alive and wonderful as opposed to its slow and somber days. Friends and family gather at midnight at malls, restaurants and cafes to shop and indulge in Ramadan snacks, before retiring to their homes and prepare the pre-dawn meal.
Some rules to observe
The month of Ramadan is strictly observed in Saudi Arabia. Although non-Muslims are not expected to fast during the month, they are strictly forbidden to eat, drink and smoke publicly during the day, as it’s punishable by law. The word ‘public’ extends to not just open-air places like streets or parks, but also to offices, factories and other types of workplaces.
COVID-19 rules and restrictions in Makkah and Madinah
As much as we hope Ramadan this year will inch closer to some semblance of normalcy following the KSA vaccination drive, the authorities are still imposing strict measures in an effort to further mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. In light of the development, there are a series of fresh measures being adopted in all the emirates across the country.
- As approved by his majesty King Salman, Taraweeh prayers may only be performed in a maximum of 10 raka’ah, thus limiting the duration of the Ramadan prayer to 30 minutes
- Social distancing and wearing of masks will be mandatory for all visitors
- The practice of iftar spreads and l’tikaaf at the grand masjids in Makkah and Madinah will be suspended for the whole month
- The mataf (area for tawaf) will only be afforded to Umrah pilgrims only. Five areas inside the Grand Masjid and its eastern courtyard will be designated for praying
- Entry to the two Grand Masjids will only be afforded to those with permits. Pilgrims attempting to perform Umrah without a permit will be issued a hefty SR 10,000 fine. Those entering the Grand Masjids without a permit will be fined SR 1,000
- Children under the age of 15 will not be allowed to enter the Prophet’s Mosque or its courtyards during Ramadan.
COVID-19 rules in masjids across KSA
Authorities have confirmed that masjids throughout the kingdom are permitted to remain open. The following are some of the rules to be observed
- Social distancing and mask-wearing must be observed at all times
- Hosting of iftar and suhoor will not be allowed. l’tikaaf is also not allowed
- Friday sermons are shortened to 10 minutes. Everyone must bring their own prayer mat and Quran
- The duration of Taraweeh and Isha prayers will be capped at 30 minutes
- Iftar tents or banquets outside masjids are not allowed, the same is true for public gatherings outside of masjids
It has been confirmed by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah that indeed the Umrah pilgrimage will be allowed to be undertaken this year, albeit with a number of fresh rules and restrictions. The following are the key points pertaining to this year’s Umrah.
- Umrah is only available to those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from coronavirus.
- Every worshipper must ensure that they have the proper permit to enter the masjids while always attempting to maintain social distancing
- Children will be allowed to enter the two main masjids
- Foreign pilgrims are required to verify their permits and vaccination status by visiting a care center in Makkah
- Pilgrims will only be granted permits to perform Umrah once for this Ramadan.
For a detailed breakdown of this year’s Umrah, please do visit our Umrah 2021 article.