Residents in the Kingdom have expressed concern over a rule that halts all activity during prayer times, and called for pharmacies and convenience stores to remain open to deal with emergency cases. In Saudi Arabia all businesses, including pharmacies, stores, gyms and shopping malls, halt operations during prayer time. “I don't understand why the pharmacy closes down during Salah (prayer) or even a 24-hour convenience store for that matter,” Farah Wahabi, a 33-year-old teacher in Jeddah, told Arab News. “In case of emergency you cannot even get hold of a bottle of water or medicine because both the corner store and pharmacy are closed. If I have an asthma attack, should I tell it to come back after Salah?” She recalls many incidents when elders and children with her have needed medical supplies but had to wait till after prayer when business resumes.
Locals claim it is not an Islamic law but a man-made one that has become fundamentally redundant. Samah Zahrani, a 24-year-old marketing sales assistant in Jeddah, said one of the managers at a medical store in Jeddah told her they could not sell during prayer because no transactions were allowed during that period. “We are not the only Muslim country. Everyone prays, so why don’t we have any consideration for others? One can pray and another can facilitate ongoing operations. It is not criminal.
Why can't they take turns, how else does the whole world operate?” she added. Another parent argued that it is the likelihood of emergency situations that is leading to questions over why all business halts during prayer time. “If I fall sick during Salah, or my child is hungry while we wait outside a shop, I have to wait for a while and that may just worsen my situation. Is the point of prayer and worship to be devoid of being reasonable, persistent and considerate of others needs?” asked Firdous Saleh, a 29-year-old HR official.
“It is imperative they at least open pharmacies so the old and young can be helped in what may be their hour of need.” Other GCC countries do not conform to this rule, which most locals find particularly bizarre. “Why everything comes to a halt midway is beyond my comprehension,” said Saad Amri, a 31-year-old business consultant living in Jeddah. “I lived in Dubai and in Bahrain. They are Muslim countries too and people pray but there are certain things you cannot shut down instantly,” he added. All restaurants and cafes also close down prior to prayer time and no one is allowed to enter once the call to prayer is made, leaving most families stranded outside waiting to enter. Amir Nadawi, a 26-year-old accountant, remembers being stranded without petrol and being delayed on several occasions because fuel stations refuse to do business during Salah. “Most workers stand outside malls smoking and talking while we have to wait for 30 to 40 minutes in the heat. If the purpose for stopping is Salah, they should all be praying not standing around indolently.”