JEDDAH — Some of the age-old customs of Ramadan have become extinct with the development of technology and many others gave way to the hectic schedule of modern life.
Most prominent of these traditions that have quietly disappeared from Saudi society is Al-Zuwarah Al-Ramadaniyah, the exchange of customary visits between friends and family to convey greetings on the advent of the holy month. In good old days, people used to visit and congratulate one another as soon as the sighting of the Ramadan crescent was announced. They would stay until dawn to have suhoor — the early morning meal before beginning the fast — together. Friends and families also used to get together for the fast-breaking meal at sunset.
Modern means of communications have made such practices obsolete. Today it suffices to send an electronic message to hundreds of friends and relatives with just one click of a button on festive occasions.
The custom of visiting one’s own family has also been deeply buried. Most often, such practices disappear with the passing of an elderly member of the family who used to bring together all members of the extended family under one roof at least during festive occasions.
With people pursuing diverse career options and innovation taking place in all walks of life, and particularly with women’s employment, it has become practically impossible for every individual member of a family to join the iftar gatherings. The majority of people prefer to rest at their homes after a hectic day instead of engaging in the civility of Ramadan visits.
Despite the fact that the custom is fast dying out, reports about family visits ending up in divorces are not rare in the local media. The problem starts when the husband insists on the couple joining his family for iftar on the first day of Ramadan while the wife wants to visit hers instead.
Noorah Al-Thaqafi, 44, who is married for 27 years, says visiting her husband’s family in their home for iftar on the first day of fasting does not appeal to her as it contradicts the tradition in her family of not visiting anyone for iftar. However, Al-Thaqafi used to heed her husband’s wish and visit his family home. The custom did not last long as her husband’s parents died in quick succession. Her husband’s siblings and their families continued to get together for suhoor for some time but that custom too gradually came to an end.
Munirah Khaled, 25, got married four years ago. She says her husband’s siblings prefer all of them gather for iftar at their mother’s home on the first day of Ramadan. This gives her the opportunity to visit either her maternal or paternal grandmother.
Maryam Al-Twairqi, who is married for 24 years, says her family has a custom of inviting all relatives for an iftar gathering on the first day of fasting. Her husband’s family also has the same custom. In the beginning of their marital life, she accompanied her husband to his family, but her father used to chide her for not visiting him for iftar. She wished to make repairs and, as a result, differences rose between her and her husband.
Finally, they reached a compromise deal – one year they would go to his family and the next year they would visit hers.
“However, the custom of Ramadan visits is dying out. No one is taking initiatives any longer to invite friends and relatives to iftar gatherings, or to bring together all members of the family for suhoor,” Al-Twairqi said. “It could be that people are preoccupied with their work and chores of daily life, among other reasons.”
Samar, who has been married for two years now, said she made it clear to her husband from the very start that they would not visit anyone for iftar. She said she might consider having suhoor outside. Samar says she inherited this custom from her family. She prepares iftar meal and recites as many chapters of the Holy Qur’an as she could. This has become an ingrained family habit.
Muhammad Al-Ghamdi, 35, who works in a bank from 9.00 A.M. to 4.00 P.M., says he returns home from work very exhausted and immediately drops off to sleep. After iftar he prefers to stay home instead of visiting relatives and spending time in long conversations keeping with the Ramadan tradition.
Hiba Ahmad, 29, agrees with Al-Ghamdi. She prefers to have iftar at home instead of exchanging visits. Like Al-Ghamdi, she also works from 10.00 A.M. to 4.00 P.M. in Ramadan. At the end of work, she is exhausted. On reaching home, she helps her mother in household chores and recites from the Holy Qur’an before iftar. She says it is impossible to do all these if she went for iftar with friends and relatives, and therefore she gratefully turns down all invitations.