Contact us


The holy month of Ramadan is upon us. I am not qualified to explain what Ramadan means in religious terms, but the Saudis and other Muslim residents here take it very seriously. What I can comment on is the practical effects that Ramadan has on everyday life.

One noticeable thing was that nobody knew when Ramadan was going to start. Well OK, they had a fair idea, and some calendars published it in their pages as 6 June.  But nobody was really sure. To put things into context there is doubt here as to what day any day is. According to the Gregorian calendar today is (as I write) the 19th of June 2016. Each Islamic month starts with the first crescent of the new moon. So the new day starts at moonrise after dusk. Days therefore can be longer and shorter than the exact 24 hours we are used to. I am told that the start of each Islamic month is dependant on how visible the new moon is. It is not for scientists to decide when the moon is in its new phase. No, no, the religious leader has to go to a high point and physically observe the new moon, then he advises the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques His Royal Highness the King of Saudi Arabia that Ramadan is here, and then the King proclaims it to be so. (I'm so glad to have found someone with a longer formal title than our own Kirk Moderator). 

As the Islamic year has twelve months and is based on the lunar calendar, there are fewer days in it than the Gregorian year, usually eleven or so. My daughter born on 29th February would feel right at home with this concept. So with 353 or 354 days the year goes around more quickly here. That means for every 32 of our years, Saudis have 33. How do they do birthdays? How old are dogs here?  Just to add to the mix, the Islamic years started in our AD 622. This was the year that the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) left Mecca and went to Medina. This event was known as the Hijra, so following that starting point in the Islamic history, years became known as AH. We are now in AH 1437. I have had a go at the calculations, if the two calendars continue in this alignment, it will take until the year 20544 before the Saudis catch up. Or thereabouts. Therefore the old British Airways joke of "Welcome to Riyadh, please adjust your watches back 50 years" is actually wrong - it should be back 579 years!

Enough of the technical stuff. Once the Saudis have decided that Ramadan is here they go semi-nocturnal. This helps with the Ramadan prayer cycle. The local prayer times for Riyadh today are: 18.44, 20.44, 03.33, 05.04, 11.55 and 15.15 (I found an app). They also fast from sunrise to sunset. So, to update my last blog on shopping, during Ramadan we have complete closure of all food outlets and restaurants during daylight. This includes coffee shops as the fasting is taken as nil-by-mouth, not even water. The Saudis break their fast after the sundown prayer session with a big meal, called an Iftar. Last week as I was returning to the compund around 19.30 the security guards were enjoying their Iftar, a picnic was laid out behind the security bothy. One of the features of Ramadan is emphasisng the Islamic tradition of kindness to strangers, and I was offered dates by the vehicle checker. I could not refuse. When I went into my apartment and brought him out an apple to reciprocate, he was so delighted that I was forcibly dragged to sit with him and his colleagues and share some of their Iftar. It was very pleasant.

As sunrise and sunset  differ in every city across KSA (and indeed everywhere there are Muslims), the prayer times differ from city to city. This is almost like what it was in the UK before the 1840s when every town had its own time based on the sun. It was only when railways started spreading across the country and timetables were introduced that our towns' times became harmonised. Here's some trivia for you - the Greenwich Observatory used to send a clock set exactly to GMT every night on the Irish Mail train from Euston to Holyhead which was then transferred to the boat to Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown) and thence to Dublin so that the Irish could know the correct time. This practise continued until 1939 when radio time signals took over.

An upside of Ramadan is that offices open late and close early. I benefit from a shorter working day, and do not have to be in until 09.00, finishing at 16.00. There isn't a lunch hour of course, but our Muslim colleagues head off to their mosque (there is a prayer room in every public building) at midday. Out of respect for our colleagues we do not eat or drink in the office . Nor do I do it on the way home - I heard a tale of road rage when a non-muslim was supposedly run off the road and beaten up for drinking water in his own car during the day in Ramadan. It may not be true, but I'm not taking chances. Some muslims chew a special stick called a miswak which apperently does not break down or become digestible. I am told this helps keep the mouth fresh and moist. I might try that.

The roads are pleasantly quiet on the journeys to and from work. They really get busy in the run-up to sundown, and even busier as the evenings wear on. Peak traffic is around midnight and the roads are packed with families heading home, or onto the next social or religious event. Schools are closed, so children are out till all hours of the night. It reminds me of a Scottish new year in that respect. No alcohol, though.

 ps I have just had a worrying thought. My employment contract is written in English and Arabic, and it states where there is any variance between the languages, the Arabic one will prevail. My English contract says I have a one year contract. I can't read what the Arabic says. We'll see.




Contacting us is straightforward

* Email:

* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212