Crown prince orders health center to be set up in honor of Farman Ali Khan

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan speak to the media at the Nur Khan Pakistan Air Force base in Islamabad. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2019

Crown prince orders health center to be set up in honor of Farman Ali Khan

  • Khan’s sacrifice is a source of pride for the family, Swat residents and Pakistan, says father

ISLAMABAD, RIYADH: When Farman Ali Khan died after rescuing people from raging floods in Jeddah in 2009, his family in Pakistan could never have imagined how his heroism would bring fresh tributes almost a decade later.

Khan, who was working in the Saudi city at the time, tied a rope to his waist and jumped into the torrid waters to pluck 14 people to safety. He drowned in the flooding.

He was posthumously awarded the King Abdul Aziz Medal of the First Order by the Saudi government in 2011 for his courageous act, and his family was given a cash reward at the king’s palace in Riyadh.

On Monday Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman further honored his memory by ordering that a new health center be set up in his home province and named after the former grocery store worker, the Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

“We already owe much to the Saudi government. The announcement ... to establish a health facility in the name of my son has further indebted us,” Umar Rehman, Khan’s father, told Arab News by phone from his hometown of Swat, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Rehman said his son’s sacrifice was a source of pride for the family, Swat residents and Pakistan too. “I am impressed with the crown prince’s way of (paying) tribute. What can be best for a humanitarian person like my son than to establish a health facility in his name where poor people will be treated?” he said, adding that they were thankful to the crown prince “for this great gesture.”

The sense of pride and gratitude has also spread to local government. 

“The announcement of a health facility in the name of Farman is not only a tribute to his gallantry, altruism and sacrificing his own life for saving others, but it also reflects the kindness and spirit of the crown prince ... to take care of the needy ones,” Shaukat Yousafzai, the province’s information minister, told Arab News. “Farman cared about others. This facility is about providing health care to many of his countrymen.”

He added that Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, which was built with funding from the late King Faisal, was evidence of the strong bond between the two countries. “It’s a huge symbol of friendship. Likewise, when the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa see the health care center, it will remind them of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his great gesture of friendship.”

Khan’s memory also lives on in the city, where a street was named after him.

“What this man displayed is a rare act of heroism,” Rania Khaled, an account executive in Jeddah, told Arab News. “He didn’t pause to think of where these people came from or their nationality — all he cared about was that everyone survived the terrible flood. As a result, he lost his life and that’s what makes his tale so heroic. He cared for humanity, not just his own well-being and safety.

“He set a very high example of what a human should aspire to be. Your background, race and nationality shouldn’t matter; what matters is that we all stand together and help each other. I think if people lived with a similar mindset to that of Khan, the world would be a better place.”

Commenting on the decision, Dr. Khalid Abbas Alasadi, an author, said: “This is a beautiful tribute to his services. I do appreciate and pay my respects to the crown prince for the greatness he has shown to the people of Pakistan. The Pakistani nation stands with the crown prince. I would like to extend thanks on behalf of every Pakistani to the royal family. They are great people and doing amazing things for the good of the Islamic nation.”

The 2009 Jeddah floods killed at least 120 people and made around 10,000 people homeless. Those accused of being responsible for causing it — including academics, engineers, businessmen and foreign workers — were convicted in 2014, sentenced to 118 years in prison and ordered to pay millions of riyals in fines.

Motherly advice from Dr. Thoraya Obaid

Updated 21 March 2019

Motherly advice from Dr. Thoraya Obaid

  • n an exclusive interview for Mother’s Day in the Arab world, the woman who paved the way for a new generation of Saudi women shares her life lessons
  • ‘Have faith in Allah, and believe in yourself and that you were created to bring good to the world,’ she advises

RIYADH: The first Saudi to head a UN agency, the first Saudi female to graduate from a US university on a government scholarship, one of 30 women to be appointed to the Shoura Council for the first time, one of 100 notable “Muslim Builders of World Civilization and Culture,” and editor of “The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.” These are just a few achievements on the remarkable CV of Dr. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. 

For years she politely declined media requests for interviews, saying it was time for the next generation to take the spotlight. But after a year of attempts by Arab News, she finally granted the newspaper an interview. 


As the Arab world marks Mother’s Day on March 21, Arab News decided it was a good occasion to sit down with Obaid, a mother of two girls, because she has been a role model to so many young Saudi women.


She has been an advocate for women’s rights worldwide, most notably as under-secretary-general and executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) from 2001 to 2010. 

But what most people do not know is how humble she is. “Please don’t call me Dr. Thoraya, call me auntie,” she said in a soft voice.

Early beginnings 

“I was 7 when I left for Cairo (to study at a boarding school). There were no girls’ schools in Saudi Arabia at the time, in September 1951, and my father had the same principles for his sons and daughter. He followed our Islamic teaching that advocated education for all,” she said.

“I started crying when he took me to the school in Cairo and told the teacher to take me away.”

Years later, she asked her father how he felt at that time. He told her: “I felt that if I let my fatherly emotions take over, I’d have bundled you up and taken you away.” 

But he decided against it, realizing that this moment would make or break her future, and he wanted to empower her through education.  

That moment, Obaid said, helped her cope anywhere in the world. 

She learned to make a new family through bonds with other students and teachers at the boarding school. 

She went on to get a PhD in English literature, with a minor in cultural anthropology, from Wayne State University in Detroit.

“My generation was focused on education,” she said. “You learn that education isn’t only for you, but also for you to serve others.” 

Working life

Obaid has lived and worked most of her life outside her country, in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and the US. 

During her time with the UN, she travelled the world. After her meetings in various countries, she would insist on going to villages and poor urban areas where the UNFPA supported government projects, so she could meet the people there. 

“These are the real people that must be empowered to change their own lives, not the ones we meet in the ministries,” she said. “Unless you go and see the poor, the sick and the very basic human rights violations, you won’t know what the country is about, especially if you’re stuck in nice hotels.” 

Even though she sought to visit these impoverished areas, heart-wrenching scenes would always get to her. At the UN they called her the “crying executive director,” but she was not ashamed of her tears. 

In one African country, while checking maternal programs in the village, she encountered a sickly woman who was thrown out of her home by her husband. She told her story to Obaid, both of them with tears streaming down their cheeks. 

In South Africa, she visited the cell in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 17 years. The guides were all former political prisoners, who said they kept the prison open in order to demonstrate that apartheid should not exist anymore. As she cried silently, she told them: “You know, there’s another apartheid happening again, in Palestine.” 

Life lessons

Obaid’s experiences taught her much about life. When it comes to family, she had this advice: “For young girls in families, don’t ask for everything and at the same time. Be selective, and have a strategic goal that you want to achieve in your life; focus on that.”

She said: “My most important request was going to university, a goal that’s now taken for granted by the young generation. So I tell girls to have a strategic objective in life. If you work toward it and achieve it, it will change your life.”

She advises daughters not to be inflexible with parents regarding their demands. “When you grow up, you’ll realize the issues weren’t worth it,” she said. “It’s even more obvious when you become a parent yourself.” 

Obaid, who worked hard to realize her dreams, added: “We, as human beings, don’t have unlimited energy, so direct your energy to what will make a difference in your life.” 

As for being Saudi, she said there is no place like home, adding: “I’ve lived 58 years out of my country and returned voluntarily. I’ve never really felt home except in my home, Saudi Arabia, with all its frustrations and complications.” 

It never crossed her mind to get another passport or residency permit, she said. “I learned that one’s dignity lies in their homeland. Wherever you go and however long you stay, you’ll always feel like an outsider. Even if you integrate in the community, you’re still an outsider,” she added. 

When asked what advice she would give youths, she said: “Have faith in Allah, and believe in yourself and that you were created to bring good to the world.”