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Shops, businesses to remain open during prayer times in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: A circular issued by the head of the Saudi Chambers on Friday confirmed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has decided to allow shops and businesses to remain open during prayer times.

For decades, commercial businesses in Saudi Arabia have shut their doors as soon as the first call of prayer is heard. Cars would queue up waiting for petrol stations to open, while patrons and customers at pharmacies, restaurants and supermarkets would have to wait outside.

“This is in an effort to improve the shopping experience and the level of services for shoppers and clients,” Ajlan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Ajlan, head of the Saudi Chambers, said in his circular to all members of the Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Commenting on the decision, Ali Sameer Shihabi, an author and commentator on Middle East politics and economics, with a focus on Saudi Arabia, tweeted that keeping shops open during prayer time is another “hugely symbolic and practical step to end the dominance of the religious class in daily life.”

The decision, taken by the Council of Saudi Chambers, will end decades where all shops had to shut for at least half an hour during daily Muslim prayers. These are held at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening.

“To prevent crowding, gatherings, long waiting under preventive measures to fight coronavirus and to maintain the health of shoppers, we urge shop owners and businesses to remain open through all working hours, including prayer times,” Okaz cited a circular by the official business federation.

Related story: Saudi minister defends volume limit on mosque loudspeakers

The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, has pledged to revive a more “moderate Islam”. He has loosened ultra-rigorous social restrictions by scaling back the role of religious morality police, permitting public concerts, lifting a ban on cinema and allowing women to drive.

Under efforts to achieve a pillar objective of Vision 2030 to create a vibrant society Saudi Arabia has introduced several steps by establishing and promoting world-class culture and entertainment venues.

In June Empire Cinemas, a Lebanese cinema chain, in partnership with Saudi conglomerate Abdul Rahman Saad Al Rashid & Sons Company, opened a multiplex in Al Rashid Mall, Khobar. This is Empire Cinemas’ fourth movie theatre complex to open in Saudi Arabia, bringing the chain’s entertainment experience to movie fans across Jeddah, Khobar, Jizan and Abha through 64 screens.

Read more: Saudi Arabia removes travel ban on women

Speaking about the launch, Gino Haddad, CEO of Empires Cinemas said: “We entered the Saudi market in 2020 confident of the uniqueness of our entertainment experience. Still, Saudi moviegoers have exceeded our expectations with their great love for cinema. We’re here to deliver exceptional entertainment and we intend on keeping this promise through our ongoing commitment to innovation and creativity.”

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