Ramadan 2023: Expats in Saudi Arabia, UAE looking forward to the holy month

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Despite being away from their families and home countries, expats in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates say they are looking forward to celebrating Ramadan this year in their countries of residence.

With only few weeks left until Ramadan starts, Al Arabiya English reached out to expats living in Riyadh and Dubai to get their take on the holy month’s celebrations in both cities.

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Lebanese expat Farah Fouad el-Turk said that she is very excited to celebrate yet another Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, saying that the holy month in Riyadh has a special significance to it.

“It’s very nice to spend Ramadan here [in Riyadh] and it’s [even] better than spending it in Lebanon because the Ramadan spirit that we used to experience as children has been lost back home,” el-Turk said.

“You can sense the Ramadan spirit here everywhere you go,” she said.

She added that the different nationalities’ respect toward the spiritual significance of Ramadan in the country makes it an even more special occasion.

El-Turk, who has been living in Riyadh for five years, said that her parents will be joining her for Ramadan this year, something she is looking forward to.

“Be it the Ramadan meals, drinks, the family gatherings and the Ramadan TV series, all of these make Ramadan special, and this is something you can sense here,” el-Turk said.

For her, Ramadan decorations also play an important role and are a must within her household.

“It is an essential thing for me,” she noted. “My kid is growing up, and I want him to live this whole experience here.”

Unlike el-Turk, Nadine Fares is set to spend and experience her first Ramadan in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Fares, who has lived in Germany for over a decade, said she is thrilled to “live this experience for the first time” along with her husband.

“I am excited to see all the traditions and customs of the country, the social gatherings and the breaking of Iftars with some delicious traditional dishes,” she said.

“Having spent Ramadan for over 10 years in Germany, I really cannot wait to spend the holy month this time in a Muslim Arab country,” Fares said.

This year’s Ramadan is expected to fall either on March 22 or 23.

During the holy month, working hours change and facilities usually buzz with life in the evenings after Iftars.

Employees will also enjoy reduced working hours, that is usually up to six hours per day.

The spirit of Ramadan is felt even among non-Muslims who don’t celebrate the holy month.

Soumi Ghosal, an Indian expat living in Riyadh for five years now, says that she feels as included in the occasion as others.

Ghosal said it has been an exciting experience “and it ended up involving me somehow because I have my friends and colleagues who are Muslim and are also expats living here. So, [since they are also] away from their families, they had the chance to involve me in the holy month.”

She said that she looks forward for Iftars given their social significance and because they also constitute a “gastronomical adventure” for her.

“[Experiencing this] has given me a chance to understand the culture more closely and to [getting] to know and meet different people.”

Ghosal said that her respect for the spiritual essence of Ramadan, for her colleagues and her Muslim roommate, has prompted her to take up on fasting for this period.

“I also take this as an exercise…to detoxify my mind and body.”

Ghosal added that she was excited about Ramadan’s decorations that put everyone in the spiritual atmosphere of the holy month.

“The small things make a huge difference… I am counting the days,” she said.

Home away from home

Algerian national Lemya Bouzid who has been living in Dubai for 11 years said that despite being away from her family, she feels at home in Dubai, hence, celebrating Ramadan is something she is looking forward to.

“We [eagerly] wait for Ramadan,” Bouzid said.

“You don’t feel like an expat. On occasions such as Ramadan, there are always events that compensate for being away from our families,” Bouzid said.

She said that despite the diversity of cultures and religions in the city, spending Ramadan in Dubai has a special significance where gathering with friends, loved ones and colleagues creates a warm familial atmosphere.

Read more:

Ramadan 2023: Expected UAE Iftar timings, what to eat for Iftar vs Suhoor

Ramadan in UAE: Timing changes, free parking, working hours – all you need to know

Ramadan in the UAE: Some schools get two-week holiday during holy month

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