Jeddah residents relishing the return of Eid Al Fitr fishing in the Red Sea

People in the Saudi port city will celebrate the holiday in style after two years of Covid restrictions

A man fishes along a beach overlooking the Red Sea by Jeddah on June 10, 2011. Reuters
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For the residents of the Saudi port city of Jeddah, Eid Al Fitr is all about two traditional staples that most of them have known and practised since early childhood: family breakfast and fishing trips.

"One of the most important traditions of Eid for Muslims is performing Eid prayers in the early morning together and then the family gathering over breakfast," says Abu Omar, a local vendor at the Central Fish Market on Jeddah's corniche.

"Children want to see dolphins and the adults are always eager to fish. People also come and buy from the local bazaar here. Come in on the mornings and you can see a huge variety in the market here of mackerel, lobster, barracudas, shrimp, and a lot more."

For the past two years, Eid was restricted to small gatherings — and celebrations in private and public spaces were banned due to Covid-19 restrictions.

This year, Saudi Arabia has eased these restrictions and people are looking forward to celebrating their favourite traditions — one being fishing in the Red Sea.

"So what's important is 'what do we have for breakfast?'. This is where the tradition of fishing is very important to all of us who live near the sea. We were raised near the sea so fishing comes naturally to us; no matter how close or far you live from it, you always have families coming together for Eid," he adds.

"Fathers and sons have been doing this since Jeddah was the old port of trade and a destination for tourists and pilgrims. Our fresh seafood is famous with locals and even restaurants, who buy fresh fish from us to sell on Eid mornings."

In 647 AD, Islam's third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, established Jeddah as a port to help Muslim pilgrims for Umrah and Hajj due to its proximity to both holy cities. Early studies and research suggest that a tribe named Qudaah first settled in Jeddah around 2,500 years ago, before the land was found and inhabited by fishermen.

Jeddah remains the main passage for pilgrims to gain access to the holy sites in the shortest time.

Over the years, the city has become a melting pot of diverse cultures, trade and traditions to grow into the metropolitan city that it is today.

Many cosmopolitan families uphold traditions by heading to the Red Sea for fishing and an adventure cruise on the morning of Eid.

"I have been doing this for five years ever since I moved from Riyadh, where we had no sea, to Jeddah, after I got married. Every Eid morning, the kids know we are heading to the sea. My husband and his brothers love fishing in the morning, so they do that while the kids enjoy watching them and have their own activities," says Sadeem Khaled, a Saudi mother living in Jeddah.

"It is so refreshing and a wonderful way to spend quality time by the sea with the family," she adds.

As family fishing trips have become less frequent with the global pandemic, Jeddah residents reminisce about their childhood trips when family members shared remarkable underwater experiences.

"I remember [when] I was young my brother and dad would go fishing in the Red Sea. When I grew up, I found myself interested in underwater life and started deep-sea diving. Now even I go with my father. He's older and weaker now, but he loves to be there," says Noor Al Sharif, a Saudi graphic designer living in Jeddah.

After a fishing trip, the families will set up small spots on the beach with cushions, mattresses and a food spread with Arabic coffee. They will then spend the morning of Eid on the corniche along with many other celebrating families, says Ms Al Sharif.

With the rise of social media, locals have formed groups online inviting foreigners and locals to join them on various fishing trips.

"We have a group on Facebook with fellow deep-sea divers and we decided to go fishing one day, opening it up to friends and the public. It was interesting to see many foreign men and women who signed up and we got a chance to teach them our traditions and culture," Ms Al Sharif says.

"Fishing is probably the first activity Jeddah is known for as it was when it was founded," she adds.

Updated: April 29, 2022, 6:00 PM