Eid Mubarak from Jeddah

My husband and I have been living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for more than thirty years, alhamdulillah. We live in Safa District, in the northwest of this huge, sprawling city.

We used to go, for both Eids, to the large outdoor prayer area beside the Airplane Roundabout. It was too far to walk, so we always drove. I mean that we rode and my husband drove since women are not allowed to drive here. Now the Airplane Roundabout has been demolished to make way for an overpass. The place is called “The Former Roundabout Where There Used to be an Airplane.”

We then found a nice mosque, Masjid Bin Hamd, within walking distance of our apartment, and we’ve been going there for several years. The regular imam is not very good in giving khutbahs (sermons), and he often seems to be ill-prepared, but sometimes there is a guest imam, whose name I have forgotten but who is nicknamed “The Pilot.” This man is a retired Saudia Airlines pilot and recites the Qur’an beautifully and speaks wonderfully, masha’Allah.

He gave a khutbah a couple of years ago that was the talk of the town. Up until that year, I had never heard an imam address the men in the congregation and tell them to be kind to their wives, not ever. The usual khutbah given by most imams, in great detail, directs the women to cover themselves and to obey their husbands and to behave properly, but there is never a word about how the husbands should behave toward their wives or how the men should behave in general. So we continue going to this mosque in the hope that The Pilot will be the imam again.

Our previous landlord, a Saudi, never went to Eid prayers and neither did any of his three sons, although we did see his wife and her driver going to the prayer. In general, though, there are a lot more men at Eid prayers than there are women, with women making up less than a quarter of the congregation. Going to the prayers, one can see thousands and thousands of men walking toward different mosques. These are mostly foreign workers without cars and without their families here. If their residence permits list them as “workers,” they are not allowed to have their wives and children here, so they are alone on Eids, too, except for their friends here.

Bin Hamd Mosque has a large outside courtyard and a very large empty lot next to it. The empty lot is carpeted for Eid prayers, and that’s where the men pray. The mosque itself and its courtyard are for women. Especially for Eid prayers, the courtyard has a cloth wall, about eight feet high, around its entire perimeter. This is so that the women can remove their face veils in privacy from the men.

There are carpets spread over the courtyard, too, at least most of it. The latecomers pray on bare cement unless they’ve brought their own prayer rugs. We always arrive plenty early, so I sit there and watch the children running around and playing, all dressed in their best clothes. The women sit and talk and talk until the prayer begins. Then, as soon as the prayer ends and the khutbah begins, many women leave, and the ones who stay resume talking. The talking goes on and on and on. I’ve often thought of getting up and going out into the street so that I could listen to the imam in peace, but I haven’t done that yet for fear that the men will compel me to go back inside, and so I sit and try to tune out the commotion.

While we’re sitting and waiting for the prayer to begin, after the sun has risen a bit on the horizon (we have to wait so that it won’t appear that we’re praying to the sun), many women bring around dishes and baskets of candies. The children usually behave quite well and are not afraid to stray far from their mothers. I once saw a mother tell her three children to hold hands, and I was really amused when they formed, not a line of three, but a circle, with each child holding the hands of the other two! They had quite a time trying to walk anywhere.

When the second khutbah, the short one, ends and the remaining people get up to leave, I always wait for a smile or greeting from those near me, but I’m sorry to say that this has happened only one time in all the years we’ve been here. I don’t understand why. Are they too occupied with themselves and their friends? I feel sad now just thinking of it. And now I understand very well why a smile is an act of charity.

We return home by a different route than we had taken to get to the mosque, as this is a Sunnah. By the time we get home, we’re starving for our breakfast. We sit down and have our traditional, for us, Eid breakfast of beans and bread. Delicious! Then it’s time for a nap before guests might start arriving. And that’s a whole new story.

Susan Akyurt

Susan Akyurt is an American sister, mother, grandmother, and writer, from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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About Mahaez
  • Aishah

    Asalaamu Alaikum

    This is Saudi you are talking about so I was expecting that 100% of the women would come out for Eid because of the hadith where they are enjoined to. Wouldn’t it be nice if the pilot imam was hired fulltime eh? Praying in a courtyard sounds beautiful. Why won’t the women talk to you? Are they Saudi women? The wives of expats? Who are they? With this kind of lack of friendliness, how have you stayed there for 30 yrs?

    Wa Salaamu Alaikum

    Aishah

  • Um Lubayah

    I lived in Jeddah for 26 years, and for a few of them I went to the same masjid for eid prayers! I think the name of the good imam was Muhammad Ash-Shareef, and he has numerous books and lectures. Reading your blog was a joy and it brought back many memories. Jazaki Allahu khairan!

  • Susan

    Assalamu alaikum. The women at the mosque were of many nationalities: Saudi, Syrian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Arabs of all nationalities, you name it. There weren’t so many Indians or Pakistanis and others. I don’t think there were any other Americans besides myself. As for wives of expats, almost half the population are expats. I could tell the nationalities by the accents mostly. It’s possible that certain nationalities favor other mosques where they’re more likely to meet compatriots. I’ve been trying hard to think why the women don’t talk to me. I think it’s just that they’re caught up in their own circles, not that they’re unfriendly, but that they’re unaware. There isn’t a lack of friendliness at all, it just happens this way at Eid prayers. Our new landlord, a Saudi, gave us some of his sacrificial meat, jazahu Allah khairan. It made us feel very happy. Jazakuma Allah khairan for your comments. Khadeejah’s husband (my son-in-law) knows the pilot imam’s name. He told me that this imam is often invited to the U.S. for guest imam duty, especially during Ramadan.

  • Maha

    JAK sister Susan for the post! I loved your writing. And looking forward to hearing part II with the guests.


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