Saudi Arabia's African roots traced to annual Hajj pilgrimage and British colonization

In this file photo, African pilgrims are seen in Mina, in the holy city of Makkah. Through the centuries, many African Muslims who have come to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj have opted to remain in the Makkah or Madinah. (AN file photo)
Updated 01 March 2018
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Saudi Arabia's African roots traced to annual Hajj pilgrimage and British colonization

JEDDAH: An estimated 10 percent of the Saudi population is of African descent, living mainly in the Western Region, and particularly in Makkah. Their roots lie in the annual Hajj pilgrimage and the British colonization of Africa in the 19th century.
For hundreds of years, pilgrims and oppressed Muslims from that continent traveled to Makkah and Madinah, and chose to make those cities their home. They came mainly from Chad, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Senegal and especially Nigeria.
“My family arrived in Hijaz in 1903, from Nigeria. The main reason for their emigration was British colonization,” Dr. Mohammed Faheem, 70, professor of comparative education at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, told Arab News.
The British colonized Africa to exploit its natural resources, bringing with them Western education, the English language and Christianity. There was resistance, particularly among Muslims in the north, but with no organized army or modern weapons they were no match for the might of the British Empire.
Many chose to journey east, where they knew they could feel safe in lands that would be forever Muslim. “They passed through Chad and Sudan, and then the final destination was the Hijazi lands of the Arabian peninsula,” Dr. Faheem said.
“Some of the immigrants already had knowledge of the Arabic languages, and Islamic studies, and they worked as judges, scholars and teachers in the holy mosque. My grandfather was one of those. Others were laborers.
“Western education, or modern education, arrived in Nigeria with British colonization. For that reason, Nigerians believed that modern education should be forbidden from a religious perspective. That idea remained with many of them, even when they came to Hijaz. Very few people would accept sending their children to modern schools, even in Saudi Arabia. They would only send their children to traditional Islamic schools.”
There is a legacy of that mistrust in Nigeria to this day. The literal meaning of Boko Haram, the Nigerian extremist militia, is “Western education is forbidden.”
The best known Saudi families of African descent are Fallatah, Hausawi and Barnawi. They all used to live in one area near to each other in Makkah.
“Each tribe has its own language named after them,” Dr. Faheem said. “There are the Hausa, Fallata, and Borno languages, and they were spoken in that area of Makkah.
“I myself speak the Fallatah language, and when I traveled to the US to study, I was keen to improve my African language and I chose it as the second mandatory language to maintain my higher education.
“When I was younger, we used to speak our own language at home and switch to Arabic when we went outside, but younger generations no longer have that bond with their origins.
“They did not have the life we had, we lived closer to our roots because we lived among those who moved from West Africa to live here.”
Not all black Saudis, however, trace their origins to West Africa. While there has been no official survey of the country’s ethnic diversity, many Saudis are Afro-Arabs who came from places such as Sudan and Djibouti.
But whatever your origins, Dr. Faheem said, respect for your roots does not conflict with your loyalty to your country and your people.


Disappointed fans hail improved performance by Saudi Green Falcons but defeat ends World Cup dream

Updated 21 June 2018
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Disappointed fans hail improved performance by Saudi Green Falcons but defeat ends World Cup dream

  • A fan named Yousif, who watched the match at the General Sports Authority viewing tent, was happy that the game at least was close this time.
  • Saudi Arabia will face off against Egypt, who also lost their opening two group A games against Uruguay and Russia, on June 25.

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s World Cup dreams were shattered after Uruguay beat the Green Falcons 1-0 in the second of the three group-stage matches. Most Saudi fans in Jeddah were much happier with the team’s performance in game two, following the resounding 5-0 defeat by host nation Russia in the opening match on June 14, but still bitterly disappointed by the loss, which means they cannot qualify for the knockout stages.

Yousif, who watched the match at the General Sports Authority viewing tent, was happy that the game at least was close this time. “Although we lost, the performance was much better than the first game with Russia. I hope we win our next match,” he said.

Nasrah, who watched the game with her two sons, said: “I was really disappointed because we played good today and nothing less than a win should have been acceptable. I am also disappointed to see the looks on my boys faces when the game ended as they were hoping for a win.”

Khalid Al-Raghbi said at least it had been a good match to watch. “We played a bit better today,” he added. “I wish we would have won but at least we performed better than our last match against Russia.”

Before the game, Ibrahim Al-Turki had been optimistic about Saudi Arabia’s chances. “We didn’t expect today’s result. I was thinking that Saudi would win by two goals, and Uruguay would score one,” he said.

The result was especially disappointing given the close result and the number of chances the Saudis had to score, said Badr, who added: “I don’t know what to tell you because we are deeply disappointed. At least if we lost with a big defeat I would say we deserved it. We had the potential but we could not score.”

Shadi Al-Ghamdi said he wished the national team’s much improved performance in their second game had been more evident in their first. “I am very proud of the players, I thought they played very well. I just wish they had played like this against Russia," he said.

Safah was less complimentary and said that the Saudi players had let their fans down, adding: “They seemed scared whenever they attempted to score any goals.”

Saudi Arabia will face off against Egypt, who also lost their opening two group A games against Uruguay and Russia, on June 25. It will be the final game in the competition for both sides, with only pride to play for, as they battle it out to see who will finish third in the group and who will be left in bottom spot.