Tips for visiting Saudi Arabia
I have compiled a list of tips (Dos/Don’ts) to ensure the time spent in the blessed lands is time well spent.
- One of the most important of all advices: Safeguard your eyesight. When traveling and especially in Makkah when men and women tend to mix more.
- Protect your women; each woman travelling will have a maHram whose responsibility it is to ensure that no harm comes her way. The worst men are the dayyooth (those who lack ghayrah, i.e. do not care if (non-maHram) men approach their wives, mothers, sisters or daughters) and the worst women are those that flirt.
- Don’t intermingle with the opposite sex (non-maHram), particular those in your group/hotel; this is impermissible under all circumstances… Tour leaders/representatives take note: beware of being over-friendly with the females!
- Seek some necessary ‘ilm (knowledge) from trustworthy sources before going so you can perform your acts of worship independently and with confidence.
- Spread Salâm wherever you go; remember: everyone’s a Muslim in the Haramayn, alHamdulillâh! The lack of greetings is a sign of Qiyâmah.
- Always give precedence to the elderly and help them whenever you can.
- Agree the price before making any transaction to avoid unnecessary disagreement later; situations where this will apply include shopping, having your luggage trolley pushed by persistent airport workers and getting the laundry done via one of the hotel workers.
- Musical ringtones are a no-no; it’s beyond me why so many Muslims cannot comprehend this simple fact. This includes the Nokia tune as well. Change your mobile phone ring tone to the basic “ring ring” tone right now. And, whatever you do, do not answer your phone/talk while doing Tawâf; those who do this are showing scant regard for the sanctity of the blessed place they’re in.
- Don’t take photos; unfortunately, that’s all you see nowadays: Muslims taking pictures/videos of anything or anyone in sight as if they need to prove to the world they were there. My advice: have some sincerity; you are there for Allâh and He doesn’t need you to record anything for He is All-Knowing of everything you do.
- Be patient; you will meet all sorts of characters! You’re bound to come across situations where your patience will be tested; remain calm and don’t lose your temper. That way you won’t regret it later.
- Be friendly; you will meet the most pleasant and interesting of Muslims. Don’t shy away from striking up a conversation. At the very least smile, for that in itself is a virtue.
- Learning a bit of basic Arabic beforehand will prove very handy.
- If you’re a smoker, please try to quit. If you can’t, please limit it to your hotel (room).
- If you get into a taxi, don’t be surprised if one of the side mirrors is missing or the windscreen is cracked; just don’t forget to fasten your seatbelts!
- Some Muslims (more likely in Makkah) might offer you some Naseehah, especially if you make a mistake. Be humble and accept it. If it is within your ability and the situation demands, do not shy away from giving Naseehah but be courteous and respectful.
- Don’t miss your Salâh on the plane; it doesn’t become forgiven suddenly just because you’re no longer on land! More often than not on long-haul flights, when a Salâh has to be performed during the flight, there is ample space in the cabin area (where the food is prepared/food tray is kept). Outside of the serving times, most cabin crew will be more than happy to let you perform your prayers there. With minimal inconveniencing and just limiting it to the farâ’idh, perform your Salâh standing up and facing the Qiblah. If this is not possible, you may find space near the emergency doors although this may involve inconveniencing some passengers. If there is absolutely no space whatsoever, in the worst-case scenario, you may end up having to perform your Salâh at your seat. Ensure you are facing the Qiblah. Begin your Salâh standing up and only sit down for the sujood and jalsahs; prostrate on the food tray provided the Qiblah is towards the front of the plane. If you performed your Salâh in this manner, repeat your Salâh once you land to be on the safe side.
- One issue that can cause a lot of confusion is Salâh time, especially Fajr. Unfortunately, airlines don’t provide Salâh timetables for the countries you are flying over. Use the time and the state of the sky as an indication of what prayer time it is; with a bit of common sense you won’t be far out, Inshâ-Allâh. It’s the effort and desire that counts.
- Only watch the in-flight movies if you want to ruin the spirit and vigour of Imân you are going with or the state of Imân you are returning with. Recite the Qur-ân, do some Thikr, read Islamic literature or go to sleep instead.
- Make sure you clean up the toilet (floor) after use; it really gives a bad impression of Muslims to other passengers and the air hostesses if they have to unblock the sink or mop the flooded floor.
- Ensure you only eat vegetarian/Halâl on the plane; avoid meat.
- Perform Tawâf on your own (or, at most, with your wife). You don’t need to go around in a group and chant in unison for your Tawâf to be accepted. Doing so is a sign of ignorance.
- Do not attempt to kiss the Hajar al-Aswad at peak times (you’ll know when these are) – you’ll simply harm yourself or someone else in the process. It is painful hearing screaming and the sound of scuffles each time one goes past this blessed corner of the Ka’bah. There are certain times (e.g. just before ‘Asr salaah) when one can quite easily line up in an orderly fashion around the Ka’bah and get to kiss the stone.
- Try to perform your Salâh wherever the Imâm performs his Salâh. You will find that, apart from Zuhr, the Imâm will perform every Salâh in the MaTâf.
- Getting into the MaTâf for Jumu’ah Salâh is easy because most people want to avoid the sun. If you can hack the heat, you should be able to get pretty close to the (white) Minbar. One trick I’ve seen being used by people coming in late and wanting a ‘good’ position is to bring two cups filled with Zam Zam and to offer it to two Musallees between whom the latecomer sees a potential spot. I’m not recommending it but it does appear to work!
- You can fill your own Zam Zam water by buying your drum(s) locally (from a shop selling them near your hotel) and going to where the special taps are located near the library/birthplace of Rasoolullâh Sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam; you can get there by going anti-clockwise in the courtyard (left) from the big Zam Zam towers. You will find all the Zam Zam sellers lining up their drums so you may have to wait a while for your turn but apparently they are only allowed to fill 5 drums at a time before being forced to step behind and give others a chance.
- You will be staying here for at least 1 week; try to complete one Qur-ân.
- When coming to perform Salâh, don’t be misled by the number of people lined up towards the entrance of the Masjid at the back. Just move forwards; you’d be surprised how much free space there is towards the front of the Masjid.
- When offering salaam to the best of all creations, Sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam, you will find that at peak times (usually after each Salâh) the policemen will cordon off the immediate lane every so often so people are forced to take the ‘outer lane’. You can loiter around the Imâm’s position until the coast is clear (policemen move away) and get in the ‘inner lane’. When you get close to the Qabr ash-Shareef, you will notice many people peering into the holes that appear before the actual resting position of Rasoolullâh Sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam. This will allow you to skip past them and get right next to the proper position. But don’t all try at once…!
- The best time to get a spot in the Rawdhah (green carpet area aka Riyâdh al-Jannah) is just before Tahajjud time and around 10am in the morning. It’s fairly easy to get a spot there after ‘Asr too but remember: you can’t perform Nafl prayer until Maghrib time (although you will see many Muslims performing Salâh even at Makrooh times).
- Jannah al-Baqee’ (graveyard) is only open (to the public) after Fajr (till about midday) and after ‘Asr (till 6pm) these days. Apart from going there generally, try to go there immediately after one of these two Salâhs if there is a Janâzah and you should be able to join the burial(s) thus doubling the reward.
- You will be staying here for at least 1 week; try to complete another Qur-ân.
- Get used to using the Miswâk when you’re there; there’s plenty available and a bargain really for so much reward and upholding a great Sunnah.
- Take a shoe bag to avoid having your slippers/shoes taken by someone else. I’ve seen some splitting their pair of slippers and placing their right one in a separate location to their left one but I’m not sure if this method proves successful.
- Women must make sure they do not apply any perfume when going to the Masjid; this is strictly forbidden in the Hadeeth.
- Try to learn the various ad’iyah (du’as) reported in the Hadeeth, especially for the Qawmah and Jalsah postures; you will get ample time to pray these.
- Make sure you learn how to perform the Janâzah Salaah and the various du’âs (male = ar-rajul; female = al-mar-ah [plural = amwât]; child = Tifl [plural = aTfâl]).
- Try to avoid walking in front of Musallees performing Salâh, unless it is to fill a gap in front in which case there is no harm even to move slightly while in prayer.
- Don’t get into a situation where you are alone with a woman in the lift; if you are alone in the lift and a woman gets in, you must get out!
- Don’t ever watch (the wide-screen, spanky-looking) TV in your room; if you know you’ll be tempted, take the plug out as soon as you step in to your room!
- Don’t touch meat/chicken with a barge pole; most of it comes from non-Muslim countries and is, at the very least, doubtful (see How genuine is Halâl stamp?, for example). Better safe than sorry. This applies to Asian restaurants as well as Saudi fast-food chains. Tâzaj, however, is said to be an exception (their chickens are slaughtered locally, though I cannot confirm this).
- Don’t ever waste food. If for whatever reason there is some left over, offer it to the needy, e.g. the women selling stuff on the streets, Haram/hotel workers.
- Avoid shopping if you can help it; this may be difficult if you’ve got your Mrs with you (no offence intended) or you’ve got loads of requests from back home. On a more serious note, you will notice the difference in environment and its negative effects when you leave the Haram and enter the shopping malls… the less the better.
- Don’t let women shop alone; I wouldn’t trust the shopkeepers. At times, there are as many as 5 workers in one tiny shop and if a woman walks in they almost huddle around her. Insist the men talk to you and not your womenfolk. This is what ghayrah demands. If they fail to comply, rebuke them and walk out (along with your women of course) in protest.
- If you decide to exchange some gold/silver at a jewellery shop, remember that you cannot sell gold for gold or silver for silver except when it is like for like, otherwise it is classed as interest. The solution is to first sell your gold/silver to the shopkeeper in exchange for riyals and then buy the gold/silver you want with riyals.
- Always leave (each shop) on a happy note; if you are simply browsing let the shopkeeper(s) know first so that if you leave without having bought anything they will not get offended. If you don’t decide to buy anything and the shopkeeper has made an effort to sell you something, apologise to him before leaving. Basic social etiquettes really.
- Ladies, don’t buy colourful, tight and shiny/flashy jubbahs. Doing so defeats the purpose of wearing jubbahs.
- Make sure you check with your airline beforehand so you know how much luggage you can take back. Most allow 30kg per passenger but some, like Swiss Air, only allow 20kg (excluding hand luggage). Check you’re covered before buying those dates from the market.
- Never refuse a beggar; only Allâh knows the true state of each person. If what s/he is saying is true and you refuse to give, you could be taken to task in the Hereafter. Refusal can be interpreted as pride or stinginess. If at all possible, try to give them food so you know where your money goes and also because genuine destitutes don’t refuse food. At the very least, give 1 riyâl; on average, that’s only 15-20p! You will be rewarded according to your intentions, Inshâ-Allâh.
That concludes my list. I’m sure I’ve missed out a few; anyone got any more beneficial tips to add or think any from the above need amending?