Monday, 31 May 2010

Sound of Prayer Time in Saudi Arabia

Prayer Time in Saudi Arabia is also know as Salah.  Glenn was in Riyadh 18 months before he learnt the Arabic word for Prayer Time.  He learnt it a few days after I arrived because I asked the taxi driver 'What's the Arabic word for Prayer Time?'  Actually I asked Glenn first because I was fairly certain the locals had a term they used.

He didn't know, hence my directing the question to Mr Noor. Then I berated Glenn for living here so long and not bothering to learn some of the basic terminology.  He argued back...of course.

Glenn: I know 'arsalama lickem'
Me: Is that how they pronounce it? I don't think so.

(Ask the ever helpful taxi driver)

Me: Is he pronouncing that properly Mr Noor?
Noor: No mam'

(He calls me mam' and Glenn sir or Mr Glenn)

Me: How do you pronounce it Noor?

Noor: Salem alaykum, mam'.

Glenn: I was close.

Me: sounded like you're trying to say something rude.

Glenn: (grumble rumble not worth mentioning).

Me: You don't like it when people pronounce Maori words wrong.

Glenn: That's true.

Me: So why don't you pronounce the Arabic greeting properly? I'm sure Mr Noor will help you, won't you Mr Noor?

Noor: Yes mam'

Then follows a small lesson on greetings, how are you's, farewells and prayer time a.k.a Salah.

Salah occurs five or six times a day - the exact times change slightly each day with the movement of the sun - but generally prayer times are early pre-dawn, sunrise, mid-day'ish, mid-afternoon, evening and night.  Prayer times are preceded a few minutes before they start with the call to prayer.  Both the call and Salah are sent forth from Mosques which can be found every few hundred meters or so and each one has a minaret with loud speakers.

I'm glad we've both been blessed with the ability for sound sleep, but I feel sorry for light sleepers! 3am and 5am calls can severly disturb your dreamtime.  The minaret by our compound has 2 of its speakers pointed this way.....obviously lots of infidels dwelling here who need prayer.

Close up view - Note the two speakers pointed our way.

In Saudi Arabia everything closes down for Prayer Time.  Many is the time I have headed out the door only to hear the buzzing of a mosquito ambling up the valley.  Each mosque seems to follow the other for the call to prayer, so you can hear it coming.  I sigh, and go home.  Waiting for the end of Salah is much more comfortable in air conditioning at home than outside in the street.

If you're in some of the larger shops when Salah arrives, you're often allowed to stay.  We've found this is mostly the case with supermarkets.  You can't use the checkout, nobody is manning the tills and the place is a little dim cos they've turned the lights down, but at least you can walk the aisles and fill your trolley.  How do they stop people from coming in?  They lock the doors. How do you get out?  You don't. No-one comes in during Prayer Time and no-one goes out.  And security is on hand to make sure of it.  I'm presuming they would let you out in the case of an emergency - like Fire!

In restaurants and the larger coffee shops you can stay at your table but you can't order anything else until the staff get back, and even if you can order it, the chef is off duty.  We've often looked out the restaurant window to see the cooks sitting outside because they have to close the kitchen. It's always helpful to have your order filled just before Salah.  Are these doors locked too? Yes.

If you're in a mall, you can stay in the mall itself, but the shops close. Find a seat and wait it's only half an hour.  Most of the large malls have Prayer Rooms inside which means you can get into those malls during Salah, I'm guessing they presume you're going to pray.  Getting out is more of an issue because, you guessed it, they lock and man the doors.

I figured out early on that using the mall Food Hall as your salah waiting spot requires getting there early enough to 1.) get your coffee and cake before the shops shut and 2.) get a seat - because everybody else seems to be waiting there too.  Which begs the question (that Glenn got sick of hearing when I first arrived) "Why aren't they praying? Aren't they supposed to be praying?"
"I don't know Gae"
"Why don't you know Glenn. You've been here longer than me, you should've found these things out by now".....yadda, yadda, yadda....

To guarantee Salah free shopping it's best to hit the malls after the last Prayer Time of the day, that's what the locals do - they tend to keep very late hours.  More than once Glenn and I have been heading home to bed after a late night snack just as young families are arriving for dinner. (Is 10pm late? Maybe I'm just getting old.)  The problem with shopping at this time is that it's quite busy and parking can be at a premium (which is only a problem if you're stepping out with a husband who is taking his own car).  Without the husband you can get dropped at the mall door which can be a bit of a time consuming activity because you are queuing up behind every other husband-less woman who is getting dropped there too.  (Lots of Saudi husbands prefer to drop their ladies off than to actually go shopping with them - much like any other male I know really).

To live here happily it pays toaccept Salah as the way of life.  I've met people whose mental health and happiness seems unduly affected by the prayer times.  They view them as extremely irritating interruptions to the flow of their day and spend a lot of yadda yadda effort ranting about it....I smile and walk away.

It is possible to download computer and mobile applications that have Salah times for each day so no matter where we are you can be prepared.  The site I've found most accurate for prayer times while in Saudi Arabia is Islamic Finder.  The app is free to download and it gets used often because the first thing one gets used to checking before heading out to do anything in Saudi Arabia is 'What time is salah?'


Click on the's what Prayer Time in Saudi Arabia sounds like.

1 comment:

  1. happy to see the Saudi culture from outside..

    many people go to pray after others finish praying because the prayer room is full. women don't pray during period days. and travelers can make two prayers together , so they don't have to go the prayer room.

    I can't go to the prayers room until my husband or my friend finish first so they can baby set for me.

    see ,, it's not as it seems


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