Authorities in Saudi Arabia have sent a strong message to foreigners - both Muslim and non-Muslim - residing in or visiting the kingdom over the next month of Ramadan: Don’t eat, drink or smoke in public or face being fired from your job and expelled from the country.
Saudi citizens violating the holiday are being threatened with corporal punishment in keeping with Sharia law followed in the oil-rich kingdom.
The Muslim holiday begins Wednesday and requires devout Muslims to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking during daylight hours.
“Non-Muslim residents in the kingdom must not eat or drink in public during Ramadan, in respect to the holiness of Ramadan and the feelings of Muslims,” AFP quoted a Saudi Interior Ministry statement published Tuesday by the official SPA news agency.
Those caught eating or drinking in public “will be subject to deterrent measures that include terminating their employment contracts and expelling them from the kingdom,” the ministry said.
Officials are also threatening stiff punishment for Saudi citizens caught publicly violating the fast, including threats of lashes.
"Those who are caught will be examined and will face legal action commensurate with their violation," interior ministry officials said according to UPI.
"Punishment could be a prison term or lashes or both while foreigners could, in addition, be deported from the kingdom," the warning said.
Gulf News reports that the interior ministry has asked the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice to increase its street patrols to catch any violators.
"This decision applies to all people, regardless of whether they are Muslims or not, and are in line with the regulations of Saudi Arabia that strictly ban public violations of Ramadan ethics and encourage genuine considerations for the feelings of Muslims during this auspicious month," officials added.
There are some eight million foreigners living and working in Saudi Arabia.
Religious Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed by Allah to the prophet Mohammad during the month of Ramadan. Observing the sunrise to sunset fast is considered to be one of the five pillars of Islam.