DiplomaticQuarter: Saudi-Italian ties celebrated through culture and science

Updated 17 May 2018

DiplomaticQuarter: Saudi-Italian ties celebrated through culture and science

JEDDAH: The Consulate General of Italy in Jeddah hosted a celebration of the country’s National Day with a two-day cultural event, part of which focused on music from the Middle Ages.

This an era from which it is easy to spot similarities and shared mutual influences between Western Christian and Arab Islamic music. To illustrate this, musician Stefano Albarello performed a concert during which he played both the Arab oud and the European lute.

“The similarities were evident during the performance by maestro Albarello,” said Elisabetta Martini, Italy’s consul general in Jeddah. “The first part was dedicated to Arab music and the second to Christian medieval music. It was very difficult to know which part belonged to which culture and country.

“It was beautiful to witness these similarities, and this also goes for the recent opening of the Saudi establishment and leadership to inter-religious dialogue. The visit of the cardinal here in Riyadh, and the visit of the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the Vatican, for us marked an important turning point in the inter-religious dialogue between the Muslim world and the Christian world in a time when it is much needed.”

The musical performance also helped to shed light on the cultural bonds between Italy and Saudi Arabia, and the mutual respect and tolerance. Through the event, part of a wide-ranging Italian initiative called “Italy, culture, the Mediterranean,” Martini said she wanted to offer her guests a unique and innovative experience, combining traditional music and the latest visual technology, presented by an Italian musician and a Saudi-Italian entertainment company called Top Hat.

“The first day included a 15-minute performance by maestro Albarello backed by 3D mapping in an immersive atmosphere,” she said. “The next day we had a 50-minute concert for those who are more interested in the music.”

In addition, Italian Research Day took place on May 14 at the Italian Cultural Center.

“We want to celebrate the scientific research of Italian universities and communities (and their contribution) to recent and past discoveries,” said Martini. “In particular, since I want to underline what unites Italy and Saudi Arabia, I want to celebrate it together with the Italian scientific community based here in Saudi Arabia, particularly at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).”

She explained that Italian Research Day included a conference titled “Future Environmental and Biological Scenarios Between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea,” featuring two Italian professors from the universities of Padua and Genoa in Italy, and one based at KAUST. 

“It is about the future of the environment of the Mediterranean on the basis of what is happening in the Red Sea,” said Martini, adding that it highlights the similarities between the seas and the environmental changes and issues they face as a result of climate change.

Hajj is a joyful and moving experience for Taiwanese pilgrims

Updated 25 sec ago

Hajj is a joyful and moving experience for Taiwanese pilgrims

  • ‘Seeing the Holy Kaaba for the first time is a profound and moving experience’

JEDDAH: The first time Asiya Yu saw the Holy Kaaba, the black, cube-like structure at the center of Makkah’s majestic Grand Mosque, she could barely hold back the tears. The 68-year-old, whose face radiates spiritualism, is one of 67 pilgrims from Taiwan performing Hajj this year.

“This is not my first time; I came here and performed Hajj 10 years ago,” she said. “I never thought I would come back to this holy land again. I consider myself lucky.

“As far as I recall it was very crowded then,” she said of her first Hajj. “The roads seemed very narrow to me; everything was congested. Now the mosque is spacious and the roads leading to it are wide and open. Everything is much more orderly and organized.”

A mother of five sons and one daughter, Asiya is from Taipei.

“My whole family was there at the airport to see me off. One of my sons lives in Myanmar; he came, too, to bid adieu to me,” she said, with pride in her sparkling eyes.

The most important day for pilgrims will be Aug. 20, the 9th day of Dul Hijjah on the Islamic calendar, when they will gather on the plains of Arafat, about 30 km from Makkah.

“On the day of Arafat, first I will seek Allah’s forgiveness,” said Asiya. “Second, I will pray for my family members and, third, I will pray for all Muslims to enjoy health and peace. I will beseech Allah to guide all believers to the right path — the path of peace.”

Hikmat Ma, another member of the Taiwanese group of pilgrims, is performing her first Hajj.

“Before I came here, I was very nervous,” she said. “I was worried about the rituals and I thought maybe I was not prepared for Hajj. I could not sleep at night, so I prayed TaHajjud (the midnight prayers) and asked for Allah’s help.

“As soon as I landed in this holy land, I felt totally relaxed and all my nervousness disappeared. I performed Umrah and it was very easy. I was worried about getting lost or forgetting how to make dua (prayers) or that maybe I would not be able to read the Qur’an properly. But everything turned out all right.”

Nevertheless, the trip to Saudi Arabia has been an emotional experience.

“When we were on the plane from Taipei, as part of the pilgrimage we were reciting the Talbiyah — Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik (O Allah, here we come at your call) — and I couldn’t control my tears,” said Hikmat.

Seeing the Holy Kaaba for the first time was also a profound and moving experience.

“I felt great,” she said. “I felt like crying but then paid attention to the circumambulation (tawaf). I felt so lucky.”

Hikmat was full praise for the efforts of Saudi authorities to prepare for pilgrims and make them feel welcome.

“I appreciate the Saudi government because they do so much and spend a lot to make everything easy and convenient for us,” she said. “Every step, from the airport to the hotel and everything, I feel I am completely taken care of. This is far beyond our expectations.”

As for her prayers at Arafat, she said: “I will ask for forgiveness and to have the best in this world and the Hereafter. I will pray for my country, my family and friends and for all believers, and also for the Saudi government. Everybody is very happy for us and my friends all requested me to pray for them in the holy places.”

An 18-day Hajj trip from Taiwan costs about 160,000 Taiwanese dollars ($6,000), which includes everything except food, said Hikmat, who retired as an immigration staffer.

Her father died 15 years ago but she still has her mother, who encouraged her to undertake the pilgrimage.

“I used to tell my mother how worried I was about the Hajj and leaving her there,” she said. “She told me not to worry, that Allah would take care of her and that performing Hajj was a blessing and I should be happy.”

Hikmat was particularly pleased to see so many women from all around the world at the Hajj.

“They have sincerity and piety,” she added. “They are very cooperative. I feel we are all one family in Allah’s house regardless of our differences. We are so touched to see all the believers come together to worship Allah.”

The 37 pilgrims from Taiwan, who are between the ages of 40 and 70, represent a big increase in numbers compared with last year, when there were only 24, said Sheng-ping Teng, a Taiwanese diplomat in Riyadh who has come to Jeddah to assist them. Teng is accompanied by his fellow diplomat Samee Chang.

The pilgrims are led by delegation chief Dawood Ma, who is no stranger to Saudi Arabia, having studied at Madinah Islamic University. He speaks Arabic and has performed Hajj several times, and so is familiar with the rituals and the challenges.

“Saudi Arabia has made a great deal of progress in terms of organization,” said Dawood. “Every year it used to take a lot of time at the airports but this year everything was done in just two hours. More than two million pilgrims are here and it is a very difficult task getting them to the right places, but we are very happy with the arrangements and the results.”