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Najran province a hidden treasure

JUST few weeks ago, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) announced the number of Saudis who left the Kingdom for tourism in the last nine months. The number was 2.8 million people. There are many historical and archeological places that can be a very lucrative tourist spots if more attentions are paid to upgrading the tourism industry within the Kingdom. And one of these places is the Desert Garden or Land of the Wadi called Najran province.
Governor of Najran is Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah. He is very young and dynamic. His university degree was in political science. He worked as a consultant at the Saudi Royal Court. One of his earlier assignments was at Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
About two years ago, I took a train from Dammam to Al-Ahsa. The man sitting next to me was a Canadian English teacher who teaches at King Faisal University in Al-Ahsa (Hofuf). His name is Jonah McCavour. Before coming to King Faisal University he taught English in Najran. He loved the people and Najran. He talked to me about the history of Najran as if he his name was Jonah Alyami. What I have heard from him is something I have heard from many Western expatriates in the Kingdom. Najran province is ready to be a major hub for tourists in the Kingdom.
Najran province is one of the 13 provinces in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It has more than a million people with an area equal to that of the state of Pennsylvania, which is 46,000 sq. miles. It covers big part of the Saudi south. Najran province shares its southern border with Yemen. It is said that Najran is the place of one of the oldest civilizations. It was inhibited about 4,000 years ago. Most historians including Yaqut Al-Hamawi (1178-1229 A.D.) said in one of his books that the name Najran was in honor of the first man to settle in the area, Najran Ibn Zaydan Ibn Saba Ibn Yashjub Ibn Yarub Ibn Qahtan.
I have visited Najran only once and it was long time ago. I have decided to see it and study the history of a very important part of my country. The visit was for a two days. And I found out that there is more than meets the eye. The archeological sites were far more than what I have imagined. And I remembered what I have seen in many other places around the world. And I think Najran can be an international archeological tourist attraction.
By looking at the way the archeological sites are lined up, it is easy to think that Najran has more hidden treasures than the visible. Najran is bordered by the high mountains of Asir province to the west and the flat desert of Rub Al-Khali to the east. This location made it the intersection of the Wadis and with this intersection Najran became a fertile oasis in the middle of a harsh desert.
The interest of people in the Kingdom and people from outside about the rich history of Najran is very old. There were many expeditions that took place in trying to find the origin of many writings and carving in the mountains of Najran. In the 1880s, an Austrian with the name Edward Glisser, discovered numerous forms of scripts carved on the stones of Najran, mainly in the villages of Al-Qabil, Alsouda, Al-Hamra and Alaraq. These scripts were Himyarite and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Najran, according to Greek historian Strabon formed part of Himyar between 115 B.C. and 140 A.D. One of the most interesting historical area, is the Al-Okhdood (trench), which many people believe it was the ancient capital of Najran. Al-Okhdood was mentioned in one of the Surahs (chapters) of the Holy Qur’an. The area was a battleground for the clash of civilizations and religious conflicts. The area saw faraway civilizations unite to conquer this land. Greeks allied themselves with Ethiopians to conquer the Arabian Peninsula and even the Romans wanted to overtake Najran to control the trade routes. Najran was a crossroad of many faiths, Judaism, Christianity and later on Islam. And one of these conflicts was described in detail in the Surah (The Constellations)… it said:
(“By the heaven with its constellations! By the Promised Day. By the witness, and that which is witnessed! Cursed be the diggers of the trench, who lighted the consuming fire and sat around it to watch the faithful being put to the torture…”). Islam arrived in Najran in 590 AD. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent Khaled bin Waleed to ask them to convert to Islam.
When you arrive Najran, it very hard not to notice the kind and peaceful people of Najran. They are very friendly and very protective of the visitors and guests. The artifacts of Najran reflect very rich traditions. The traditional clay houses in Najran are considered by many as one of the most beautiful in the world.
The SCTA has to make many efforts to make Najran province a tourist attraction. The historical and archeological area should have hotels and stages for the art of Najran folk music and dance. Restaurants which would be a gathering for tourists would make the area more attractive. And it is very important to educate many of the young men and women in Najran the science of tourism. This way, Najran can bring back many of the customs of the people of Najran and to give the young educated many employment opportunities. Also, many of the families in Najran can concentrate on the making of artifacts and sell them to the visitors of Najran. The introduction of tourism to Najran would bring with it cultural exchanges and will at the end of the day help Najran improve its roads and other facilities. Najran province has many hidden treasures, it is time for people to see them.

This article is exclusive to Arab News.