Every year Jeddah takes the limelight as the Islamic world gears up to celebrate the Holy month of Ramadan . As Ramadan dawns upon us, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia paints a picture of spiritual transformation and cultural fascination. Jeddah, the Gateway to Mecca – Islam’s holiest sanctuary – has its own set of traditions that identify with the blessed month.
The soul of Jeddah is Al Balad, it contains alleys of souqs with modern shopping arcades in its vicinity. In Al Balad, what catches the eye are the graceful multi-storied houses of coral stone and plaster, adorned with teak doorways and wooden latticework balconies with Naseef House, now accommodating a cultural centre, being the star of all buildings. The chief trading port of the Red Sea, Jeddah is an open air museum with more than 300 splendid outdoor sculptures dotting every important road junction . Residents of the city are immensely proud of Jeddah’s spectacular Red Sea coast; its Waterfront is peppered at frequent intervals with small amusement play areas, parks, beach cabins, sports arenas, resorts and motels, cafes, fishing areas and a cycling arena. The King Fahd’s Fountain , which spouts water 260 metres above the Red Sea, is a pleasant sight from the Corniche. With its pristine aquatic underwater beauty, diving is a major activity in Jeddah. Notwithstanding many glitzy malls that dot Jeddah’s expansive skyline, the place has retained its traditional charm.
Even before Ramadan sets in, Jeddah celebrates Sha’banah, a tradition of the Hijaz region, where families go out on group outings, play games, eat a variety of traditional foods and entertain themselves. This is to mark the end of the month of Shaban, the eighth Islamic month. Using special decorations for Ramadan is one of the traditions of Arab people and Jeddah is noted for its use of lanterns, known as fanoos, to illuminate homes, during the holy month.
Muslims everywhere make it a point to engage in charity as much as possible and in Jeddah such activities increase manifold during Ramadan. Each year, volunteer groups assemble and organise teams to head out to impoverished areas to donate food and clothing; community fasting tents are prevalent everywhere and piety-writ, large mosques are filled with Muslims attending tarawih prayers.
Old Jeddah, with Al Balad as its centre, comes to life as Iftar (breaking fast) time approaches. Old Quarter’s historical open squares such as Al-Mazloom, Al-Sham, Al-Yemen and Al-Bahr Haras are teeming with people gearing up to break fast. The Ramadan festival here is a gamut of delights from shopping to food stalls. Apart from a mind-boggling variety of traditional delicacies, the place and its environs fill you with generous helpings of history and culture.
Souk Al-Nada, Souk Al-Alawi, Souk Al-Khaskia, and many others are open late into night. The food kiosks, commonly known as Bastas, here serve luscious traditional foods, drinks and desserts; popular among them include luqaimat or sweet dumplings, pancake-like qatayef, samosas, mandi, foul (fava beans), custard and various drinks like sobia, tamr hindi, and magneta coloured karkadé. It is especially difficult to resist the Ramadan-speciality Balila, a light dish consisting of boiled chickpeas seasoned with a variety of spices and sauces.
Jeddah’s famed waterfront (Corniche) is a favourite place for Iftar. A festive ambience rents the air as families and friends gather at various places facing the Red Sea to break their daily fast.