1. Welcome to the 15th Century! Seriously.
Believe it or not folks, the current year recognized in this part of the world is not 2009…it’s 1430. Yes. you read it right…1-4-3-0. No, it’s not time traveling, it’s just the way it is. See, Saudi Arabia, being the cradle of Islam, follows what they call the “Hijra calendar” which is a lunar calendar. When Prophet Mohammed (PbUH) and his followers first migrated to Mecca from Medinah (which is dubbed as the “Hijra“), it paved the way to establish the first Muslim-state and that’s the point of reference that they have agreed to use for the Islamic calendar.
2. Not your ordinary weekend.
Thursdays and Fridays are the official weekend days here in Saudi Arabia. In other Muslim countries, they may vary, but still, Friday (called “Al-Juma’a” in Arabic, meaning “The gathering day“) is a sacred day dedicated to spending time with the family and attending holy prayers. It’s basically the Islamic counterpart of Christian’s Sundays. I remember when I was younger, the parking lot of the big mosque beside our house would always be jam-packed with cars on a Friday afternoon and on the evenings, the parks in our neighborhood will be filled with families enjoying a picnic.
So, here in Saudi Arabia, we’re not faced with Manic Mondays, but rather with Sacre bleu! Saturdays…the fast food chain should be renamed “TGIWs (Thank God It’s Wednesday!”) and not TGIFridays…and as for the song, it would be sung here as… “…that’s why I’m eassssyyyy…eassssyyyy on a Friday morning…” 😛
3. Pray all Day.
If you are new here, you might jolt out of your bed at past four in the morning to the sound of throat-clearing or mic tapping via a very loud mega-phone. Don’t be alarmed, it’s just the Imam (Priest of Islam) beginning his call for morning prayers. It’s a very pious nation and you will find that Saudis and Muslims here pray FIVE times a day. There are mosques (with large mega-phones) located at every block, to ensure that any man is always in walking distance to a house of prayer. So there is no excuse for them to NOT pray. These five prayers also indicate that since people should be praying, then no one should be doing anything else. Therefore, all business establishments close their doors during prayer time, or what we call as the “Salah/Salat”.
The five prayer times:
To find out the Salat/Prayer Time in your part of the world, click on this link.
The longest Salat is the Isha’a and it lasts for 30-45 minutes. Usually, most people go out of their houses after this prayer in the evening so that they can better enjoy their night out on a restaurant or mall, because if you’re out there and prayer time hits, you better be prepared to sit it out.
4. Read the opposite way.
You are reading this sentence from a left-to-right orientation. Arabic language does it the other way around. Yes, try not to be confused. Since Arabic uses a totally different character system, it can very well manipulate how it should be read (you know, like how the Japanese reads downwards?). It is also the language used in the Qur’an (Islam’s Holy Book).
This is how my name is written in Arabic, those who can read, it will be OUR secret!
PS. I’ve always wondered this, and please, if anyone can answer this question, feel free to bombard the comments box with your intellect….Though Arabic words are read right-to-left, how come in reading numbers, they’re read from left-to-right???
5. Roll out the red carpet please?
By the way, we are living in a Kingdom. As in a KINGDOM…like the place you only read in fairy tales when you were little. Yes, that’s where we live right now. The official name of the country still is, “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia“. However, in recent years, a lot of media channels have opted the use of just “Saudi Arabia”. Saudi Arabia follows an absolute monarchical form of government. We have a King and his name is King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. The Royal Family is made up of the descendants of the first monarch of the country, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Trivia: the word “bin” means “son of“, so our King Abdullah’s full name is King Abdullah, son of Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Most Saudi names follow the format using “son of” or “daughter of” (as in “bint”).
I have yet to see them wearing their crowns, though (if they do have an actual coronation ceremony, I am not aware of it). And sadly, there are no apparent castles (like those we see in Europe), but there are what we call the King’s Palaces. They are huge and luxurious estates belonging to the Royal Family.
So, that’s it for this first installment of “Only in Saudi Arabia”. We’re cooking up more bits of trivia because there is a lot more you may not know about this desert country. Keep posted!