Saudi Arabia is our sweet home and source of pride
Others joined the conversation. “We had undergone poverty and hunger and suffered from sickness and lack of security. We used to travel to the north in camel caravans for trading. There were rivers and plenty of food that sometimes was wasted and we wished those could be used by our people,” one of the elders said.
Another referred to a severe famine in Arabia. “We decided to take a trip to the north despite the fact that we were sometimes mistreated. We believed we could fetch some food and everyone in the town knew about our plan. While we were loading our camels, an old woman came to us with a young boy. She pleaded with us to take the child, who was an orphan, so he could learn the trading craft. We hesitantly accepted that.
“We ran out of food during the journey and our camels began to die. We continued walking and were on the verge of starvation. We discussed among ourselves and decided that the boy could be our dinner if we fail to find anything to eat. Next day, we saw a moving creature at a distance. It was a frail dog and we had it.”
Another old man narrating his story said, “News came from Al-Ahsa that men from the northern hemisphere — who spoke a foreign language and dressed in bizarre outfits — came to Arabia to look for oil and were hiring locals. Some of us went there to work so they could support their families.” “Those people in Al-Ahsa discovered oil and its wealth began to trickle down to the entire population of Arabia. We didn’t starve anymore and as a result we stopped going to the north for trade. On the contrary, people from the north began to come to Arabia for work.” Another elder joined the conversation. “The surge in oil prices came a little late and was followed by a development boom that changed our way of life. This boom triggered an influx of people from the southern hemisphere who spoke foreign languages, were dressed differently but most of them were Muslims.”
Most Saudis were thrilled to see those Muslims for the first time in their lives. They called them "friends" and were excited to exchange greetings with them. They invited them to their homes and chatted with them about Islam in their countries. They were almost like us.”
Then, referring to the mud houses that the old men used to build with the help of neighbors before the oil boom, he said, “Those were demolished and replaced by three-story lifeless cement houses. But, this time, the houses were not built by neighbors but by the newcomers. Gradually, neighbors became acquisitive and indifferent toward others.
“All of a sudden, Arabia that was once one of the most isolated places on earth became the most attractive place for these new people to live in. They have strong supporting social networks within their communities that assist them to begin a new life by helping them find steady jobs. Ironically, while people of different ethnicities continue to arrive in our country, many Saudis speak of leaving their homes and work abroad.” Another elder commented, “Some Saudi teach the youth in schools that Muslims are brothers and the Ummah must supersede the national state, hence, the Saudi national anthem shouldn’t be played in official occasions, instead Islamic choral should be sung. A young man from the crowd retorted, ‘that means we should give up our country and homes to our Muslim brothers. But, would they view us in the same way and would they give up their country and homes for us?’”
There was a complete silence for seconds. Then a young man interjected: “A country is an identity and a permanent home for any person and no matter how long a person lives away from it, he will always yearn to go back. Look at those men who had discovered oil, we don’t see most of them anymore. They have left and the rest would go once their trip comes to an end.”
Indeed, we don’t have another home but Saudi Arabia and it will always be in our hearts. The unification of those fragmented parts of Arabia in one political unity and its proclamation as Saudi Arabia on Sept. 23, 1932 coincided miraculously with the beginning of oil exploration. As we celebrate our National Day, we must always remember that the unanticipated discovery of oil is a blessing.
We may ask ourselves, where we would fit in today’s world without this blessing? It is a divine blessing for us so that we can live in dignity. This is the only explanation for that prodigious occurrence. The reason, however, might have been that the spirit that woke up the neighbors in the early mornings to build a simple mud home for one of them is the same spirit that made many Saudis embrace foreigners from far away places in the name of Islam.
• Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh. This article is exclusive to Arab News.
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