More precious than gold is the sandalwood oud (incense) that Saudis burn in hand-crafted mabakhir (incense burners) as a gesture of hospitality and respect for guests in their home. Like the cardamom-flavored coffee served in small cups or the sweet dates offered to guests, incense has long been part of the art of hospitality practiced in Saudi homes.

For centuries, incense derived from sandalwood, musk, jasmine, amber, frankincense and myrrh has been a precious commodity in many parts of the world. Ancient merchants transported their valuable cargo in caravans along the spice routes from the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula and from southeast Asia to be sold in the souqs (markets) of Arabia and beyond. Today, little has changed. Incense produced in Oman, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and other countries is still to be found in Saudi souqs.

Oud is also used as part of the celebrations following Ramadan and the Hajj. During Ramadan (the Muslim holy month of fasting), some Saudi families burn oud each night after breaking their fast and washing, and before going to the mosque to perform the evening prayer.

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