Families in Saudi Arabia during COVID-19 Pandemic

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In Saudi Arabia families are well known to be very close and social, social gatherings and family gatherings are extremely important to families in Saudi Arabia, these gathering occur on a weekly basis, especially on Fridays. Since Friday is a sacred day of worship for Muslims, men in the family tend to go out for Aljoma’ah prayer in a mosque close to their neighborhood. After the prayer the men gather outside the mosque to catchup with their neighbors, once their done they head back home to their family gatherings. It is very common phenomenon in Saudi for families to gather at their grandparent’s house to host a family lunch, in which the extended family members gather around to have lunch, bond and socialize. During the evenings, each member of the family gathers with their friends to go out or attend a special occasion which usually includes weeding’s or events. With a land area of approximately 2,150,000 km2 (830,000 sq mi), Saudi Arabia is geographically the largest sovereign state in Western Asia. A large number of people work outside the main cities located in the three main provinces, these people tend to work in remote areas and would come back to their families during the weekends for some family quality time. All that changed when COVID-19 pandemic hit Saudi Arabia, where we were introduced to social distancing which is very hard for us as a social and very family oriented community.

During the month of March, the government announced all public and private sectors to work from home. Schools and universities were closed, all students being required to stay at home and attend online classes, the government also announced a curfew, only allowing people to leave the house for necessary supplies. Malls, beauty salons, gyms and restaurants were all shutdown, with the exception of pharmacies, supermarkets and gas stations.

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The holy month of Ramadan, in Saudi Arabia is a time in which families and close friends come together. Under normal circumstances, families gather each day of the month at a different family member’s house to break their fast together at sunset, which is the time when Muslims are required to break their fast. AlMaghreb prayer, also known as Sunset is usually around 6:30 PM, at which all family members would have come back home from work. The holy month of Ramadan is a month in which Muslims tend to focus more on prayer, giving back to the community and strengthen their bonds with their family members, you would barely find someone breaking their fast alone in Ramadan. During the evenings, friends gather in what we call a “Ghabga”. A Ghabga is a gathering event before Suhoor, also known as Sunrise, in which all Muslims are required to restart their fasting and abstain from all food and drink until sunset.

Since Ramadan is a time of giving, most mosques usually organize to provide iftar to less fortunate members of the society. Right before Iftar time, the mosques sets up an eating zone covered by a long table cover filled with food. Another initiative which is usually carried out by members of the society is helping people break their fast in the streets. Members of the community usually organize a small bottle of water, dates and a sugary treat to be distrusted to people making their way back home in streets around sunset time.

In Eid AlFiter families again gather around to celebrate, again these events are usually hosted at the families grandparents’ house during Eid. This year things were completely different, each house had to break their fast with their immediate family members who actually lived in the same house. In Eid the government announced a full lockdown as a precautionary measure, it was the first Eid in which families couldn’t gather which was heartbreaking to say the least. Although it was a hard decision to take, but it was necessary to ensure our safety, the safety of our families and the community as a whole.

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The quarantine was difficult on us all, it doesn’t matter where you come from. Being confined to the boundaries of one’s house is not an easy thing. What we have witnessed a large number of Saudi families and individuals doing during the quarantine time is a testament to their creativity, resilience and perseverance. Families didn’t want the lockdown to affect them in a negative way, instead they transformed it into a positive family engagement opportunity, in which they organized sessions which brought the family together to strengthen their bond. They also kept contact with their extended families and friends through several social media platforms. During that time-Commerce was booming, everyone was either saving money or spending it on online shopping.

On the 21st June 2020 the government announced that the curfew and lockdown was to be completely lifted. Marking the start of a new stage to systematically get the society back to their normal lives while at the same time taking all safety precautionary measures, wearing a mask and applying social distancing. Malls, beauty salons, gyms and restaurants are currently open again, pushing us one step closer to enable our community to be able to resume their normal daily lives.

Published: August 2020