‘Alithnainia’ forum: A literary evening and sumptuous dinner
Abdul Maqsood Khoja is one of the most hospitable hosts in the country. In fact he has since 1982 been holding an open house function for men and women of literary excellence and talent who wish to attend the event in his house in Jeddah. Since it is called — Alithnainia — or Monday in Arabic — it has been known by that name. He does not send invitation cards since he welcomes anybody who wishes to attend and benefit from the occasion. Thus scores of people have done so; listened to prominent speakers, taken part in discussions and, on top of that, sit down at dinner of the finest cuisine in town.
Khoja, now in his late seventies has had a checkered career ranging from government service — Information Ministry — to business of all kinds, reaping a fortune particularly from the real estate business.
At a meeting held in his magnificent house in Jeddah, one of the most beautiful residences in the country, he sat next to me during dinner and told me all about his life, from his college days in Lebanon to his “first million riyals.” It was a story that enthralled me as I kept egging him on and even suggested to him that he write it, or better still, dictate it since his written Arabic is one of the best I have known during the last few years. He nodded and said he would think about it.
In fact everything that goes on during the functions is videotaped and recorded then printed at his expense and distributed free of charge in expensively bound books, which are available from his office that has a permanent secretariat next to his palace.
Already scores of volumes have been printed and distributed, incurring huge costs, but he does not mind since his aim is to encourage the spread of literature and knowledge by making it easier for those interested in reading to obtain such books free of cost. In fact he is so fond of the printed word that he begins each speech of each meeting with due respect to the printed word. The man is himself a literary figure of a tall order. About “Alithnainia,” he says, “Its meaning and content is a way of appreciation to some creators. We have to continue our relations with them and to express our deep sentiments toward their contribution to all nations and societies. We value their enrichment of our lives through their various endowments.” Thus his guests of honor hail from different countries and societies, scientists and writers, poets of repute, journalists and leaders in many fields. “In my endeavors to reflect the high value attributed by our society to those pioneers, I launched Alithnainia in l982 as a weekly forum that brings about together intellectuals every Monday at my house in Jeddah to express our appreciation.”
The result of such meetings has piled up and with those yet to come will represent a virtual encyclopedia as all the cassettes have been and are being transcribed into written words, which mean books of a high caliber in shape and content. Future students and scholars will find in this endeavor a virtual treasure house of knowledge from the geography of Saudi Arabia to the experiences of Arab astronauts and top-notch poets and pressmen.
Very few people if any have tried anything of the sort or will do so at least in the near future. It needs not only money but dedication to an idea that nurtures in a man of Khojas’ stature to achieve, week in and week out for 30 years.
Khoja is enthused with passion being a man of literary talents. He writes well and speaks well as he introduces his guests from various fields and reads about them as much as he can in order to be able to speak about them to a large audience of Saudi and Arab guests then edits the outcome carefully without affecting whatever is said in his functions. It is a true mission of devotion that is destined to last for generations to come.
Before the function starts Khoja welcomes every guest personally and escorts them to their seats, which are arranged in a semi circular arrangements to be able to see each one of them and urges them to speak up and contribute to the conversation, if they want, after introducing each one to the audience thus breaking down barriers if any and making all feel at home. And they do since many of them continue to attend the functions for months or years. Then at about 10 p.m. they all move out to the garden to attend the function for another 90 minutes of intellectual discourse. When this is over, Khoja invites all those present and their guests who might have joined the party to dinner, which is no less if not better than the best five-star buffet in the country which may have cost tens of thousands of riyals. By midnight the guests bid goodbye thanking the host for a unique and very satisfying evening.
n Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.