‘Just a face in the crowd’: Pakistani film icon Fawad Khan escapes the spotlight as a Saudi guest at Hajj

Award-winning Pakistani actor, model and singer Fawad Khan speaks at the Media Ministry's reception for foreign delegates at Hajj 2018. (SPA)
Updated 28 August 2018

‘Just a face in the crowd’: Pakistani film icon Fawad Khan escapes the spotlight as a Saudi guest at Hajj

  • ‘Being one among 2.4 million people is the easiest thing on earth,’ Bollywood star tells Arab News
  • Fawad Khan congratulates King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Hajj success

JEDDAH: Hajj means many things to many people — a show of devotion, a demonstration of solidarity with Muslims worldwide, and an opportunity to take part in rituals stretching back centuries.

But for award-winning Pakistani actor, model and singer Fawad Khan, the pilgrimage also offered a rare chance to escape the spotlight.

The 36-year-old Bollywood and soap opera star, an entertainment icon to millions in Pakistan and India, was among the celebrities hosted by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Media to perform Hajj this year. And the one thing that Khan enjoyed most about being at the Hajj was the anonymity that the pilgrimage promised.

“Being one among 2.4 million people is the easiest thing on earth,” he told Arab News during an exclusive interview at the Ritz-Carlton in Jeddah. “You feel comfortable because you are in the same space with other people who bare their hearts to God. You feel just like any other person among them. And you are not under media scrutiny as you are on normal days.

“It feels nice to be a face in the crowd.”

With his film-star looks, charismatic personality and high-profile acting background in Pakistani soap operas — including “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” — and Indian films, Khan is used to being mobbed by fans wherever he goes.

“But I enjoy the anonymity now and then,” he said. “In a way, it is very refreshing. People during Hajj are so busy and caught up in what they are doing that they don’t have time for these things. They are very considerate. They are very careful about what they are doing.”

Saudi Arabia's Minister of Media Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad with Fawad Khan during a reception. (Via Social Media)

Khan said he is often frightened by the adulation he receives.

“When I wake up, I feel just as human as all people do,” he said. “When I see such a massive outpouring of affection and adulation, I feel frightened since being elevated to such a position is something to be feared. It is an honor, yes, but I also feel afraid because the responsibilities are greater.”

Few of his admirers are aware that Khan spent part of his childhood in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where his father was employed.

“I was in Riyadh from 1986 to 1992 as a child,” he said. “My mother is a very pious woman and when my father was posted to Riyadh, she would say, ‘I will never miss an opportunity to perform Umrah,’ so we used to perform Umrah every year.”

So how does Makkah compare now? “The number of pilgrims has increased many times over,” Khan said. “It was a very different time back then, but things have always been comfortable in Saudi Arabia. I remember seeing snow in Riyadh because of the extreme weather deserts sometimes have.”

What was his first impression when he saw the Holy Kaaba in Makkah’s Grand Mosque?

“It reminded me of my childhood,” he said. “I really enjoyed the time when I was growing up. When I left Riyadh, I was sad because those were my formative years. I had a feeling of nostalgia. I remember as a child when performing Umrah, there wasn’t much rush or traffic. The running between Safa and Marwa as part of the ritual was more like a game because I would race with my sister at that time and being there again brought all those memories back.

“I cherished my childhood, so I think I got my childhood back this time.”

Khan was full of praise for the Media Ministry's arrangements for its guests.

“The Hajj was made very easy by the ministry. The facilities made everything comfortable despite the blistering heat,” he said.

“The arrangements were seamless. At Jamrat, where the stoning ritual takes place, there is a sea of people coming down and you feel like it is going to be impossible. Then you get into the crowd and you start moving slowly but comfortably. There is still space to move even though it looks like it is impossible. And then, suddenly, you are done. All this is possible only because there is an efficient security force and a government that is paying close attention to how everything is happening. And they are trying to make it flow as easily as possible. Kudos to them,” he said.

“And people are very helpful. There is obviously a language barrier, but you overcome that somehow.”

Khan praised his Saudi hosts, saying: “The banquet arranged for guests is a reflection of the host. A lot of love and affection goes into it. It is not about the quantity that you are given but the quality. And our experience was of the highest quality because there was a lot of care, love and affection in it. The pilgrimage was made very pleasurable.”

During a speech at a reception for the foreign delegates at Hajj, Khan congratulated King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“I’d like to congratulate them for a successful Hajj, which was accomplished because of their sincere efforts,” he said in the presence of Media Minister Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad.

“I’m also happy to see that the message of peace and tolerance has been a continuous agenda, even with the slogan for the Hajj this year. The Kingdom has embraced the world with open arms.”

He said Saudi Arabia through its Vision 2030 is leading the Muslim world while projecting the Islamic values of moderation, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

“The world today has huge respect and appreciation for the young crown prince, who has become an example for the younger Muslim generation,” he said.

What was the highlight of Khan’s pilgrimage? “The whole experience was very spiritual,” he said. “I remember on the night before the trek to Arafat, there was a wind blowing and it suddenly started raining, and lightning was streaking the sky. It was humbling and it felt like someone from on high was talking to us.”

Fawad Khan during the interview with Arab News at the Ritz Carlton in Jeddah. (AN photo)

The respect accorded to women was another Hajj highlight for him.

“The thing that I liked most was that women were respected in such a positive way. People gave way to women and were careful to help them, and that was something to acknowledge and admire,” he said.

The decision to perform Hajj came easily to Khan. “A close associate said to me, ‘When the call comes from Allah, you must go.’ So when we got the invitation from the Ministry of Media, we happily accepted it. This was the start and it was more like a guided tour. If I get the chance again, I’ll be quiet about it.”

As to what was in his mind when he was praying at Arafat, at the peak of the pilgrimage, he said: “First and foremost, my feelings were for all humanity. We consider this world to be a global village. We act upon it for very little time. We have boundaries and borders, which are things to be respected, but humanity is one group and, above all, everyone wants to pray for peace, love, kindness and bonds between everyone in this world, Muslim or not.

“Overall you pray for humanity, for the betterment of our children and for the entire world.”

People should undertake the pilgrimage when they are young, Khan said.

“My reason for saying that is not just because of the energy of the young and able,” he said, adding: “When you are younger, your mind is like a sponge and it absorbs more. I feel Hajj and Makkah is not only for the pilgrimage. When people from all over the world meet in groups in congregations, it is actually a means of cultural exchange.

“Imagine meeting 3 million Muslims coming from different backgrounds and all walks of life from many different countries and spending 10 days with them. It is the best form of communication. Being exposed to these things teaches you tolerance and gives you an invaluable form of education.”

Khan’s wife, Sadaf, who accompanied him, was happy with the pilgrimage, too. “She was very moved and she is going home carrying a lot of love,” Khan said.

With Saudi Arabia opening up to creative arts and cinema, what advice would Khan offer young Saudi filmmakers?

“Art is an expression and the less advice you give, the better,” he said. “Obviously, there are censorship policies, but then there are bodies in place to perform that duty. As an artist, I don’t have any advice when it comes to expression as far as art is concerned, but I do say this with words of encouragement for the youth out there: If I can do it, then anyone can do it.

“It will be an honor for me to have my movie screened in Riyadh, the place where I grew up. I wish the entertainment industry the very best and I hope to see Saudi collaborations with other filmmakers all over the world.”

Shoura Council: We are the ears of Saudi society

Updated 5 min 18 sec ago

Shoura Council: We are the ears of Saudi society

  • The Shoura Council that the King is addressing today has a vital role to play in government
  • Female Shoura Council members have played a major role in raising their voices over many issues concerning social development in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: When King Salman gives his annual speech that will open the third year of the Shoura Council’s seventh session today, it will set the tone for what lies ahead for the Kingdom, laying the groundwork for the consultative assembly to help to move the country forward.
“The King’s speech in the Shoura Council lays the road map to achieving Vision 2030,” said Lina Almaeena, one of its 30 female members. Women make up of 20 percent of the council, the same percentage of women who now hold seats in the US Congress.
While only midway through its seventh session, the roots of the Shoura Council date back to before Saudi Arabia’s founding. After entering the city of Makkah in 1924, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud entrusted the council with drafting the basic laws for the administration of what was to become the future unified Kingdom.
In 1928, amendments were made as public interest grew. A new law consisting of 24 articles, which included the permanent appointment of a vice-president by the King, was issued to facilitate the council’s work.
In 1953, the council’s jurisdictions were distributed between the Council of Ministers and other government entities, reducing the Shoura Council’s power, although it continued to hold sessions until its mandate was once again broadened this century.
Its current format consists of a Speaker and 150 council members, among them scholars, educators, specialists and prominent members of society with expertise in their respective fields, chosen by the King and serving a four-year term.
The council convenes its sessions in the capital of Riyadh, as well as in other locations in the Kingdom as the King deems appropriate. Known as Majlis Al-Shoura inside the Kingdom, its basic function is to draft and issue laws approved by the King, as the cabinet cannot pass or enforce laws, a power reserved for the King to this day.
The Shoura can be defined as an exchange of opinions, and so another of its functions is to express views on matters of public interest and investigate these issues with people of authority and expertise, hence the 14 specialized committees that cover several aspects of social and governmental entities. From education, to foreign affairs, members assigned to committees review proposed draft laws prior to submitting them to the King, as they are able to exercise power within its jurisdiction and seek expertise from non-Majlis members. All requested documents and data in possession of government ministries and agencies must go through a request process from the Speaker to facilitate the Shoura Council committees’ work.
Female members are a fairly recent phenomenon. In September 2011, the late King Abdullah stated that women would become members of the council. In 2013, two royal decrees reconstituted the council, mandating that women should always hold at least a fifth of its 150 seats and appointed the first group of 30 female Shoura members.
Five years on, female Shoura Council members have played a major role in raising their voices over many issues concerning social development in Saudi Arabia. “It’s a golden age for Saudis and, as women, we’ve come a long way,” said Almaeena. “We’re living an era of historical change, and we’re making up for lost time.”
As part of their roles, members of the council have the right to discuss general plans for economic and social development, particularly now with the Vision 2030 blueprint. Annual reports forwarded by ministries and governmental institutes, international treaties and concessions are also within the council members’ remit, to discuss and make suggestions that are deemed appropriate.
“Many positive changes have taken place in the past few years, and the Shoura Council’s role has always put social developments first and foremost,” said Dr. Sami Zaidan, a council member of two terms. “The appointment of women diversified and expanded the discussions and has added value.”
Major achievements were chalked up in this term’s second year. Many of the draft proposals discussed received approval votes. On Nov. 8, a proposal with 39 articles to protect informants from attacks, threats and material harm was approved by the majority of the council. The draft law, suggested by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Economy and Planning, would provide whistle-blowers with protection.
In May, the Shoura Council also approved legislation criminalizing sexual harassment in the Kingdom. The Cabinet, chaired by King Salman, backed the legislation, which required a royal decree to become law. Under it, perpetrators may face a jail sentence of up to five years and a SR 300,000 fine.
Draft regulations must go through a two-step process. The first, a chairman of a committee reads a draft of a proposal on the floor, and council members vote on referring the proposal to the designated committee. If members agree to the referral, each article is discussed thoroughly, studies are conducted on the aspects of the proposal, and after completing all the necessary checks, it reaches the second stage. The council then discusses the committee’s recommendations and a vote is set for each article proposed in an earlier session by the committee’s chairman.
Other proposals on the discussion table for this session include one that recognizes the importance of voluntary work in the community, in compliance with Vision 2030, which talks about one million volunteers in the Kingdom by 2030. The council has also asked the General Sports Authority to speed up the development of sports cities and to diversify its functions in different parts of the Kingdom to help the organizational level of women’s sports become an independent agency affiliated to the GSA chairman.
The council has also discussed a recommendation for women to hold leadership positions in Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions abroad, from a report by the council’s Foreign Affairs Committee. With approximately 130 women working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the report recommended the necessity of an appointment as an affirmation that Saudi women are able to take over leadership positions as ministers, ambassadors and Saudi representatives in international forums.
Almaeena pointed out that Shoura Council members are the ears of society, playing an important role in relaying the public’s message to the designated committees. “The Shoura Council’s doors are always open, although not many know this,” she said. “The public is always welcome and can attend sessions, scheduling ahead of time. The doors to the council have always been and will always be open to all.”