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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 26 Apr 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Saudi Arabian Universities Push to Recruit Women Faculty

New Age Islam News Bureau

26 Apr 2020

Her Majesty Queen Zein Al Sharaf of Jordan


• Saudi Arabian Universities Push to Recruit Women Faculty

• Jordan Remembers Her Majesty Queen Zein Al Sharaf, the late Queen Mother

• Palestinians Celebrate International ‘Anti’-Women’s Day

• Domestic Abuse Against Palestinian Women Soars

• Afghan Women Worry About Future Role Of Taliban

• Turkish Women In Healthcare Tackling Virus And Violence – Birgün

• COVID-19: Women Doctors In Karachi, Nurses In Quetta Against Relaxation In Restrictions

• Afghan Woman In Windsor Finds Empowerment Through Poetry

• Families Struggle with Social Distancing in Ramadan During Coronavirus Lockdown

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau



Saudi Arabian Universities Push to Recruit Women Faculty

Andy Tay

Apr 5, 2020

As a high school student in Saudi Arabia, Reem Khojah’s dream was to study software engineering at the King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals. “Most of the alumni from KFUPM end up in high-ranking engineering and administrative position jobs, and I want to be successful like them. Unfortunately, at that time, there was no engineering school for women,” says Khojah, now a joint postdoc at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Stanford University.

There are very few engineering programs for women, resulting in a shortage of homegrown women engineers to train the next generation of students in Saudi’s gender-segregated education system, in which students are taught by teachers of the same sex. Despite having a strong passion for engineering, Khojah eventually settled for doing a degree in Medical Applied Science at the King Abdulaziz University.

Traditionally, women in Saudi Arabia have had limited educational choices especially at the university level, but the “government now provides tuition-free education at all levels,” says Maryam Sani, an education consultant in Saudi Arabia. As a result, between 1996 and 2006, the number of women seeking a bachelor’s degree (inclusive of all disciplines) more than tripled in the kingdom, and women currently represent 58 percent of the total number of university students in Saudi Arabia. Sani also notes that much progress has been made since 2005 to open specific fields such as engineering that used to be reserved for men to Saudi women.

To meet the increasing demand from women in newly available programs such as engineering, in recent years, universities in Saudi Arabia have been opening research and teaching positions to women. For instance, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) recently posted a job advertisement encouraging applications from women. KAUST, launched in 2009, was the first co-ed university in Saudi Arabia, but Sani notes that in most public universities, education is still sex-segregated. The King Faisal University is also hiring women faculty in its biomedical engineering department, which is chaired by a woman professor, according to its department list. KAUST and King Faisal University declined The Scientist’s requests for interviews about their hiring policies.

Due to a lack of engineering education for women in Saudi Arabia, there is an insufficient number of women academics in this field to fill expanding STEM departments. This has motivated universities to turn overseas to recruit women professors to the kingdom. To do so, Sani says, universities offer generous remuneration packages with travel allowances and furnished accommodations.

Ken Kempner, a professor at Southern Oregon University who studies the contributions of women faculty to Saudi society, says that while the job benefits at Saudi Arabia’s universities are excellent, they may not be enough to attract women from overseas to relocate. “I think the main concern is still limited freedom of women. In my opinion, it is difficult to change the mindset of the larger society to accept and employ well-educated women. Although there are recent improvements attributing to brave Saudi women speaking up for cultural change and acceptance, changes may not be fast or large enough in a closed society like Saudi Arabia,” he says.

Only since 2015 have women been allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia, and only in 2017 were women first allowed access to government services such as education without consent from their male guardians. Despite these changes, the kingdom continues to rank poorly for gender parity. The 2020 Global Gender Gap Report placed Saudi Arabia at 146 out of 153 countries.

Malak Abedalthagafi, the deputy director of the General Directorate for Research and Innovation at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, says otherwise. “The reality in Saudi Arabia for women is very different from the story that [foreign] media is telling,” says Abedalthagafi, who in 2018 wrote an article in Nature describing negative stereotypes foreigners have about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. She points to what she sees as laudable progress in Saudi Arabia in recent years, such as increasing women’s literacy rate and launching initiatives such as Saudi Vision 2030 to improve women’s education, workforce participation, and leadership positions in society and universities. Abedalthagafi, for instance, is one of many women who was funded by the King Abdullah scholarship to gain overseas work experiences before returning to Saudi Arabia to develop her career.

Peiying Hong, an associate professor at KAUST in the field of Environmental Science and Engineering who is originally from Singapore, says that she initially had reservations about applying for a faculty position in Saudi Arabia. “I had not visited Saudi Arabia before and was influenced by how the foreign media has portrayed it to be. I relayed my concerns to the search committee, and they offered me a no-obligation visit to KAUST. It was not difficult to convince me during the visit of the tremendous opportunities and immense support KAUST has for junior researchers,” she says. Hong says a merit-based funding model that provides competitive grants based on scholars’ proposals and excellent research facilities at KAUST have helped prepare many junior researchers to launch successful careers regardless of their gender.

“I feel fortunate that women’s rights have improved significantly over the past few years,” says Khojah. She recalls that during her undergraduate studies, her commute from her parents’ house to her school took about three hours one way by bus. Now, women can drive and commute alone to another city for work. “With all these positive social changes and exciting research opportunities in Saudi Arabia, I look forward to seeing more contributions by Saudi women in STEM,” Khojah writes in an email.


Jordan Remembers Her Majesty Queen Zein Al Sharaf, the late Queen Mother


(MENAFN - Jordan Times) AMMAN — Jordan on Sunday commemorates the life of Her Majesty Queen Zein Al Sharaf, the late Queen Mother, who passed away 26 years ago.

Queen Zein was born on August 2, 1916, the daughter of Sharif Jamil Bin Nasser, governor of Huran and nephew of Sharif Hussein Bin Ali of Mecca, and WijdanHanim, daughter of Shakir Pasha, governor of Cyprus.

In 1934, she married His Majesty King Talal Bin Abdullah, and together they had three sons, His Majesty the late King Hussein, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Mohammad and Prince Hassan, and one daughter, HRH Princess Basma.

Queen Zein was a highly respected, much-loved figure in Jordan who represented strength, wisdom and courage throughout many years, challenging times and pivotal events in the country's history.

A pioneer of the women's movement, Queen Zein's own leadership qualities, combined with her strong Islamic values, made her an example for Arab and Muslim women everywhere.

In 1944, she created the first women's union in Jordan, and in 1948 she was instrumental in establishing the women's branch of the Red Crescent Society.

She also led national humanitarian relief efforts for thousands of Palestinian refugees who came to Jordan following the war of 1948.

Queen Zein is widely acknowledged to have played an important role in the political development of the Kingdom in the 1950s, also contributing to the drafting of the 1952 Constitution, which gave full rights to women.

She was committed to helping young orphans, establishing the Mabarrat Um Al Hussein Orphanage in Amman, which still bears her name, and to which she remained dedicated until the end of her life.

Over the years, Queen Zein's steadfast commitment to her country and her relationship with its people earned her the title 'Um al Urduneen' — 'Mother of Jordanians'.

Her passing away on April 26, 1994 marked the closing of an important chapter in the history of Jordan, but her memory remains a source of pride, close to the nation's heart.


Palestinians Celebrate International ‘Anti’-Women’s Day

April 25, 2020

The Palestinian Authority celebrated International Women’s Day last month by praising and honoring terrorists who murdered women.

Official P.A. Television, which had been continuously broadcasting news of the coronavirus, paused on International Women’s Day to devote some attention to what was apparently a more important topic. The segment began with an interview with Um Nasser Abu Hmeid, the mother of five terrorists who are serving life in prison for multiple murders. The interviewer praised them as heroes, and their mother spoke about how proud she was of them.

One is Muhammed Abu Hmeid. On Dec. 14, 1990, he and a fellow terrorist burst into a factory in Jaffa. Using long knives, they murdered Ms. Iris Asraf, a 22-year-old clerk, along with two male employees.

I will spare you the horrific details of what the “hero” Muhammed did to Ms. Asraf. But I will note only what the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported at the time: “The body of one victim reportedly was sliced into quarters. Another was nearly decapitated, and the third was disemboweled.”

After the glowing interview with the murderers’ mother, photographs of Arab women terrorists filled the screen. The narrator described their “heroic” deeds and hailed them as “martyrs.” (Thanks to Palestinian Media Watch for these translations.) The fact that many of their victims were women did not diminish their status as the P.A.’s heroes of International Women’s Day.

There was Leila Khaled, who twice hijacked airplanes on which there were many women passengers. There was Fatima Barnawi, who planted a bomb in a Jerusalem movie theater where many women filled the seats.

Most of all, there was DalalMughrabi. She occupies a special place in the hearts of the P.A. regime and the Palestinian Arab public. The P.A. has named numerous girls’ schools, public squares and sports tournaments after her.

On March 9, 1978, she led a squad of Arab terrorists who set out from Lebanon towards Israel in several small boats. They were members of Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. At the time, Yasser Arafat was chairman of the PLO and Fatah, and Mahmoud Abbas was his second in command. Today, Abbas is head of the PLO, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority.

When DalalMughrabi and her fellow terrorists landed on a northern Israeli beach, they happened to encounter Gail Rubin, an American Jewish nature photographer, who was taking photos of rare birds. Her work had been exhibited at the Jewish Museum in New York City and other prominent venues. She was also a niece of U.S. Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.).

One of the terrorists, Hussain Fayadh, later explained to the Lebanese Television station Al-Manar what happened: “Sister Dalal al-Mughrabi had a conversation with the American journalist. Before killing her, Dalal asked: ‘How did you enter Palestine?’ [Rubin] answered: ‘They gave me a visa.’ Dalal said: ‘Did you get your visa from me, or from Israel? I have the right to this land. Why didn’t you come to me?’ Then Dalal opened fire on her.”

As Gail lay dying on the beach, Mughrabi and her fellow terrorists walked to the nearby Coastal Road. An Israeli bus approached. They hijacked it. And they murdered 37 passengers. Eleven of their victims were women or girls.

TaliAharonovitch. Naomi Elichai. GalitAnkwa. Mathilda Askenazy-Daniel. Rina Bushkenitch. Liat Gal-On. NaamaHadani. Rebecca Hohman. Malka Leibovitch-Weiss. TzionaLozia-Cohen. Rina Sosensky. Gail Rubin. That is who should be remembered on International Women’s Day.

Instead, the Palestinian Authority turned the occasion into a veritable International Anti-Women’s Day. Where were all the protests from feminist groups who claim to care about women’s rights? Where was the outcry from all the self-described progressives and peace activists? Do women’s lives mean so little to them?


Domestic abuse against Palestinian women soars

by Farah Najjar

21 Apr 2020

Banging pots and pans and waving homemade banners, scores of Palestinians have expressed their solidarity with women enduring various forms of domestic violence during a lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative on Monday, which saw both women and men stand at their windows and balconies across the occupied Palestinian territories and historic Palestine, was aimed at shedding light on the plight of women who are locked down with their abusers.

According to a tally combined by Tal'at, an independent political feminist movement that organised the campaign, 11 Palestinian women have been killed as a result of domestic violence so far this year, with five of the fatalities occurring since the implementation of the lockdown in early March. Of these five, four succumbed to gun wounds.

"It means living with someone who could end your life," Assad told Al Jazeera from Haifa, describing the reality faced by some women during the lockdown.

Assiwar, a women's support NGO, says the number of calls it has received in recent weeks has risen by 30 percent, notwithstanding a plethora of messages landing on its social media platforms. Other groups report similar increases, with the Palestinian Working Women Society for Development (PWWSD) saying its counseling hotline received 924 calls between March 22 and April 15.

Lamia Naamneh, head of Assiwar and a women's rights defender for more than 20 years, said most appeals for help involve women who have received death threats.

"Just yesterday, a call led us to a woman who was only able to speak to us via Facebook Messenger chat while at home," Naamneh told Al Jazeera on Monday.

Naamneh added there has also been a surge in cases of both sexual violence and domestic abuse against children following the implementation of the lockdown measures.

"Fear is the biggest barrier faced by abused women … Fear of being ostracised, excluded, abandoned, of not being a good mother or daughter," said Amany Khalifa, a social worker who also participated in Monday's campaign.

The situation becomes even more difficult when authorities do not work to protect women, she told Al Jazeera from occupied East Jerusalem.

It is common for cases to be under-reported in certain areas of the West Bank, such as in Area C - which is under full Israeli military control. This is because it is difficult for the police to reach homes in these areas, according to PWWSD coordinator Futna Khalifa, who notes there are checkpoints hindering the movement of Palestinians.

"Many Palestinian families live in small apartment complexes, and the small spaces can increase the chances of friction and conflict between a husband and wife," Khalifa said.

"This is especially true for those women who already faced abuse prior to the lockdown. What may have been psychological abuse, may have turned into a physical form of abuse during this time."

While many women across the world share similar realities, abuse is especially complex and systematic for Palestinian women, Tal'at's Asaad said. Palestinian women live in "fragmentation" and endure the various consequences of the Israeli occupation, she added.

Tal'at, which translates to "rising up", emerged in September last year following the murder of 21-year-old Israa Gharib in the occupied West Bank. It seeks to create a discourse where violence against Palestinian women is talked about within the context of "Palestinian political and national liberation".

"We understand violence as social, economic and political injustice against women - not only as domestic violence," Assad said. "These aspects have affected the way we experience violence and our ability to resist it and even talk about it."

Alongside the strict measures in place due to the pandemic, the situation is compounded by the pressures of Israeli occupation, economic subjugation and political apathy, activists say.

"This is why we wanted to create a space for Palestinian women to be part of our movement," Assad said of Monday's initiative. "If we can't be on the street … we are all in our homes and we will not be silenced".

Khalifa agreed. "It's very important for a voice to appear in the public sphere, to disrupt it, because life cannot continue while there is this huge presence of violence against our women."

There are only two safe houses designated for Palestinian women in Israel, which results in a constant lack of space to accommodate newcomers.

What further complicates the situation these days is that NGOs such Assiwar have first to ensure that the new arrivals are not carriers of the coronavirus. Often, these women are required to reside in hotels for 14 days at their own expense, a luxury most cannot afford.

"We're fortunate that friends who support our work have agreed on several occasions to take these women in," Naamneh said, adding that some women "end up on the streets" after not being admitted to safe houses.

Meanwhile, many Palestinians who work in the Israeli service sector have lost their jobs in the past few weeks, which has worsened an already dire economic situation.

While being confined to their homes, many tend to take out their frustration on vulnerable women who are left without refuge during the lockdown, Khalifa said.

"Violence is often practiced when the abuser is frustrated, which is manifested in the form of abuse," she said. "This is why homes are not a safe space for many women."


Afghan women worry about future role of Taliban

April 26, 2020

When the United States and the Taliban militant group reached a historic peace agreement in February, people around Afghanistan started hoping that an end to over 18 years of fighting was finally in sight. But Taliban violence has not stopped, and little progress has been made on negotiations toward a ceasefire.

Many see possible dialogue between the Taliban and the government as the first step toward an agreement that could see the militant group become a part of the government. But for the country’s women, who have been terrorized by the group for decades, the development is one that causes great anxiety.

Many people in Afghanistan have welcomed the peace accord between the US and the Taliban. But among women, the reaction is more one of concern than excitement.

“Under the rule of the Taliban, women’s rights were completely destroyed,” says one woman citizen. “I just hope our opportunities and rights will be protected this time.”

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The group follows Islamic fundamentalist principles and implemented strict restrictions on individual freedoms. Women’s rights, in particular, were severely limited.

NHK spoke to a former senior Taliban official. He says much of the same can be expected if the group is allowed to join the government.

26-year-old KhateraNadiri lives with four family members in the northern province of Kunduz. Her father was killed four years ago during a battle between the Taliban and government forces.

Khatera managed to put herself through university by working part-time jobs and has been teaching English in her hometown for about three years. She worries that a return of Taliban rule could mean an end to her career—and the education of millions of girls throughout the country.

She is now trying to protect her future by working with NajiaAymaq, a member of the provincial assembly. Najia is a women’s rights activist who remained active during the six years of Taliban rule. Now, she and Khatera are compiling a petition demanding that women’s voices be included in peace negotiations.

“We are going to urge the government to include women in any future peace process,” Najia says. “We were victimized in the past. We should not be made to suffer any more.”

“If you remain quiet, women’s rights will be trampled on,” she said at a recent gathering. “Let’s make our voices heard. The dream of Afghan women is peace in our country. We want a society where men and women can work together and live in peace.”

But for all the visible activism of Khatera and Najia, many women in the country are reluctant to become politically involved for fear of reprisals. Especially in rural regions, attitudes toward women remain conservative. And as the Taliban expand its influence in these areas, many working women have received threatening messages and phone calls from people claiming to be associated with the group or other armed factions.

Observers say the possibility of a return to power for the Taliban is low but that there is an opportunity for the group if it can reach a ceasefire with the government.

Negotiations toward the agreement in February were led by the United States. The government was kept almost entirely out of the loop. Kabul and the Taliban are still at war and are not talking, which means a workable political solution involving both sides is still not in sight. But a ceasefire would change everything, potentially paving the way for the Taliban to participate in government as a democratically elected political party.

The Taliban say prisoner exchanges are a precondition for ceasefire talks with the government. The group is demanding the release of 5,000 members in exchange for 1,000 Afghan government officials and military personnel it has captured. Both sides have already released some prisoners but there is uncertainty on how to proceed. The Taliban are demanding immediate release, while Kabul is calling for a more gradual process.

Meanwhile, a domestic political crisis has thrown another wrench into the peace process. President Ashraf Ghani was reelected in an election in September but runner-up Abdullah Abdullah did not accept the result. A US effort to mend the relationship between the rivals has so far been unsuccessful.

The coronavirus is posing a grave threat to Afghanistan’s fragile healthcare system and the country is currently under lockdown to limit the spread. Crises on multiple fronts have come together to create a time of great uncertainty for the people of the country.


Turkish women in healthcare tackling virus and violence – BirGün

Apr 25 2020

Women, who make up the bulk of Turkey’s healthcare workers, have faced increased violence during the coronavirus pandemic as relatives of COVID-19 patients are exhibiting increasingly extreme behaviour, BirGün newspaper reported on Saturday.

Patients have been encouraged to demand more services, and the number of patients visiting emergency rooms has increased, which provokes violence against healthcare workers, gynaecology assistant BurcuÖzdoğan told BirGün.

Women make up 68.6 percent of medical staff in Turkey, according to Turkish Statistical Institute data and healthcare is the sector with the highest increase in women in the workforce, the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey reported.

Women have to deal with an increased workload, and spend more time for childcare, as schools remain closed in Turkey, said Emergency Medicine Specialist BenanKoyuncu from the Ankara Chamber of Medicine. “It is a historic issue that women don’t get spousal support in this matter,” she added.

Meanwhile, patients placed in isolation due the novel virus and their relatives have become more aggressive, Özdoğan said, especially towards women.

Men in healthcare have been able to get away from their families and stay in isolation in other accommodation, while women continued to care for the children, Koyuncu said, increasing their fear of infection by risking their children as well.

“Daily disinfection of their homes put a second burden on women, who were forced to stay alone due to isolation measures,” she continued.

Despite the majority of healthcare workers being female, the personal protective equipment they use was designed with male dimensions in mind, Koyuncu said.

“We can say that, in the light of all this, the pandemic has exposed inequality in the family and the system once more,” Koyuncu said.

Meanwhile, less experienced nurses in intensive care units have had to take on care duties for COVID-19 patients as the number of ICU beds in Turkey’s hospitals increase without a corresponding increase in personnel, BirGün said, citing a report by Turkish ICU Nurses Association.

According to the association, a qualified ICU nurse should be caring for a maximum of four patients at most at any given time, with the ideal not exceeding two. But newly graduated nurses have to take on patients, it said, directly correlating to increased complications during treatment.


COVID-19: Women doctors in Karachi, nurses in Quetta against relaxation in restrictions

April 25, 2020

Zubair Qureshi

ISLAMABAD: Lady doctors in Karachi and nurses in Quetta have warned the government that allowing people to shop in the markets and offer prayers including Taraweeh in the mosques during Ramadhan could destroy all the past efforts to check the coronavirus in the country.

On Saturday, Pakistan reported 11,750 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 248 deaths and 2,750 cured from virus.

Addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club Dr Nighat Shah, Dr Nusrat Shah, Dr Safia Zafar, Dr Razia Korejo, Dr Farah Abu Hala and others — all doctors at local hospitals — expressed their concerns over people’s listless attitude towards social distancing which they said was the only viable solution at the moment to avoid contracting COVID-19.

“We urge the government to further tighten and enforce the lockdown in the month of Ramadan and there should be a complete ban on all types of congregations in the country,” said Dr Nighat.

Referring to the fact that 250 doctors, nurses and paramedics have been infected with COVID-19 in the country, she said three health care providers, including two doctors and a nurse, had already lost their lives due to the contagious disease; whereas, the condition of two others was critical.

Already 1,500 persons are in quarantine in the country at the moment and if strict measures were not adopted, there would be no health care providers left to treat the COVID-19 patients, said Dr Nusrat.

They begged the people to listen to what the health care providers and experts were saying at the moment as there was no other option available anywhere in the world except social distancing to avoid contracting the viral disease.

A doctor on the occasion urged the mothers to keep their children and other members of the family at home and not to let them go out as there was an extreme shortage of ICUs and ventilators in the country.

Addressing the media persons at the Quetta Press Club, The Nurses Welfare Organisation of Pakistan has called upon the federal government to impose curfew across the country to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Faheem Abbas Secretary General of the organisation said the government should ensure their security and provide them with all the necessary PPE along with safety kits, etc.

While speaking on the occasion, nurses’ representatives said nurses were the frontline soldiers in the war against virus. They remained in direct contact with the patients and thus risked their lives by exposing to virus, they said.

Already three nurses in Pakistan (50 around the world) have lost their lives while treating coronavirus patients. Thus the only way to secure these frontline soldiers in war against virus is to impose strict measures and restrict people’s movement and ensure the guidelines health authorities have issued time and again are followed, they demanded of the government.


Afghan woman in Windsor finds empowerment through poetry

Apr 24, 2020

It was just six years ago when Bas Bibi Shiva boarded an airplane in Afghanistan — leaving behind her family, friends and the country that she called home.

She spoke to CBC News in Dari, one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan, about the difficulties she faced when she first moved to Canada and how poetry has helped her find a deeper connection to her new home.

"Whenever I would see somebody that had dark hair, I would approach them and ask them if they're Afghan and they would say no. This would upset me further," she said.

A lot of has changed since then for Shiva — who, despite living in downtown Windsor, commutes an hour to Leamington to work at Mucci Farms where she packages produce.

One way she stays connected to Afghanistan is through her poetry where she gets the opportunity to express herself in one of the country's most ancient art forms.

Poetry empowers Shiva as it allows her to share her innermost thoughts and daily struggles to the public and connect with others who've shared her pain.

Although living in Afghanistan as a woman is challenging, according to Shiva — who is a widow — she says it's especially difficult without a husband who can share the responsibility of raising children and providing financial support.

Yet, she considers herself lucky to be educated because she says many women back home aren't literate, adding that she worked as both a teacher and a midwife in Afghanistan in addition to writing poetry.


Families struggle with social distancing in Ramadan during coronavirus lockdown

April 26, 2020

JEDDAH: With the first day of Ramadan over, many families found it difficult going without their social gatherings and not partaking in their traditions because of strict rules on social distancing amid the lockdown.

Every year, Saudis welcome the month of Ramadan with anticipation as the beauty of the month and its blessings inspire worshippers across the country and the Muslim world to perform acts of kindness, spread joy and be charitable. With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, almost all this has been stopped.

Um Mohammed, a resident of Jeddah, usually prepares a feast for iftar (breaking of the fast) on the first day of Ramadan for the whole family. She thinks about all her grandchildren’s preferences, prepares the different drinks early, and sets out a colorful variety of dishes covering the table from one end to the other.

This year though, as she spent her home isolation with her son and his family, it was difficult for Um Mohammed to accept the fact that she would not be seeing her family members and share a meal.

“For years, I’ve had my family for iftar on the first day, as well as good friends of the family. For some time, as the grandchildren got older and traveled to pursue their degrees abroad, the gatherings became smaller,” she said. “In recent years, they came back and I had them all under my roof and what a joy it was. Though it’s not a rare occasion in our household, Ramadan is special and my heart soars seeing how all my children and grandchildren are together again. This year is different and is extremely difficult, I finally have everyone here in Saudi and now with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s painful not having them over.”

“In all my years, I have never been in such a situation. I have lived through troubled times in Egypt, the Gulf War, my kids traveling for their own university degrees, my grandchildren too, and so much more, but this … this time it’s different and I can’t believe that we’re in isolation this way,” she said. “I understand it’s important to self-isolate, it’s necessary and naturally we’re all being careful as we want this pandemic to be over with and live our normal lives peacefully. Coronavirus has stolen our traditions, it is very surreal.”

Um Mohammed is not alone. Expats and Saudis alike have tried to keep their morale up as they spent the first day of the blessed month alone or with their immediate family. As many decorate their living rooms with lanterns and lights and delicious smells waft from the kitchens the fact remains that this Ramadan is one that “stole our traditions.”

Aya Alzubi, a Syrian-American resident in Saudi Arabia, misses her cousins with whom she usually spent her Ramadan. “What I miss most this Ramadan is being able to pray Taraweeh at the mosque and gathering with our families after iftar. We have a tradition in our family that we spend Ramadan together.”

Alzubi said that even if she were not meeting them after iftar they would catch up during Taraweeh. “Other than that I usually have the cousins that are my age spending a week or two at our house, staying up all night together, making sahoor (last meal) and iftar together,” she said.

Many friends and families take the time to greet one another and send the month’s blessings via text message, but the use of videocalling applications have surged in the past couple of weeks and many families communicated through various apps to see how their iftar was and catch up on a rather somber day.

On a positive note, Alzubi suggested that this lockdown can also help make this Ramadan more fruitful. As she said: “We can spend this time trying to break our bad habits and form new better ones.”

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Ranum Ali recently moved to Pakistan for further studies and she is spending her first Ramadan away from her family. Despite the separation, Ali decided to decorate her house in Pakistan the same way she would decorate it in Jeddah.

“I put up little lights, some candles, and used bukhoor to make my house smell like home. Video calls and text messages are the only things that are keeping me in touch with them. I never thought I would appreciate small things like these so much.”

She drew a sentimental picture of all the things she will miss during this Ramadan, “Just being around my family, doing everything together. From helping Amma (my aunt) in the kitchen to fighting with my little sister over who will do the dishes, reading the Qur’an and listening to lectures with my father. For me, these were the things that had the essence of Ramadan.”

Fahd Naseem, who is currently quarantined with his family in Jeddah, said that he was lucky to be quarantined with his family. “Since we are all together it isn’t as sad for me as it is for some other people. One thing I did miss was going to Makkah and praying our first Taraweeh there, which is something we have been doing every year,” he said.

“The women in my house even walk into the room and greet each other as if they are meeting each other in a mosque,” he added jokingly.




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