TheFace: Munirah Alsanani — from reluctant gift recipient to ardent collector of Arabian artefacts 

Munirah Alsanani, her husband Saud Al-Ashgar, and their grandchildren. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 12 July 2019

TheFace: Munirah Alsanani — from reluctant gift recipient to ardent collector of Arabian artefacts 

I was born in Najd in the small town of Onaizah, north of Riyadh, before electricity had come to the province. As an infant, I moved with my mother and her family to the small port town of Jubail in the Eastern Province. I was an only child. My father’s job required him to travel frequently around the Kingdom. He died in Onaizah when I was 3 years old, leaving my mother Fatmah and me in the care of my uncle, Ibrahim Suhaimi.  

The people of Jubail neither had, nor wanted to have, schools for girls. But my maternal grandmother, Haya Al-Wazzan, encouraged me to study at home. When I was 6 years old, Al-Wazzan paid neighborhood boys, who were themselves only a year older than me, to teach me all the lessons that the boys were learning from their Egyptian teachers in the boys’ school in Jubail.

It was Al-Wazzan who became the principal encourager and enabler of me to learn to read and write not only Arabic, but eventually English as well. At age 13, I decided to open my own, private school in Jubail, and my family supported and funded my decision. 

A few years later my family moved to Dammam, where I continued to teach in a government school until I got married in 1967 to Saud Al-Ashgar, a chemical engineer working in Ras Tanura Refinery. Then I stopped teaching and moved to Ras Tanura.

Even though I stopped teaching, the impulse to do so was probably the reason I have been collecting Saudi artefacts to educate foreign visitors and young Saudis about the way of life of our ancestors.

I began collecting items not long after marrying Al-Ashgar, at first without a plan on how I would gather and manage the large holdings I now conserve and exhibit. 

The first item in my collection was a wooden plate given to me by the wife of my uncle to let me see how Saudis had prepared and served their food long before my birth. I was pleased with the plate, but merely wrapped it up safely and put it away in a closet. 

About a year later, my mother Fatmah gave me a wooden measuring cup. I decided to display the plate and cup together on a shelf in our house. With these two items, my collection had its birth. 

The next item to join the collection was an old iron that I bought to begin a substantial collection of Arabian artefacts.  From these three small items, a collection now filling rooms in our home has evolved over a period of almost four decades. 

We have now built a specially dedicated room at the rear of our property in which to house my collection. Visitors can see the items categorized according to the provinces of Saudi Arabia. Each section in the display room reveals one province’s traditional clothing, bridal wear, jewelry, workers’ tools, cooking equipment, baskets, weaponry, and all manner of evidence of daily life on the Arabian Peninsula before oil was discovered, some even before King Abdul Aziz had conquered and unified the tribes of the peninsula. I invite school groups, university faculties, business groups, charity organizations to my home for a glimpse into our history. 

This collection has led to me being called to exhibit part of my collection in foreign countries. I have displayed my collection in the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Azerbaijan, Austria and Norway.

In addition to exhibiting part of my collection, I have trained locals in Singapore, Austria and Norway to perform shows to the tunes of Saudi music wearing traditional costumes.

For many years, I have used my collection for the benefit of major charitable initiatives in the Eastern Province. Fashion shows displaying the traditional costumes have raised substantial sums for causes such as housing for the poor, orphanages and care for the handicapped.

Currently, I am a member of six charitable and social societies in the Eastern Province, including the Dhahran Women’s Group for Aramco wives. I have organized several shows, both in the Kingdom and abroad, depicting Saudi customs and traditions. The purpose of the shows at home was to earn money for the charitable missions of the local societies. Shows abroad are done to familiarize other nations with Saudi culture.

Al-Ashgar and I lived in Ras Tanura for 12 years, where three of our four children were born. We then moved to Dhahran and have been living there since, except for a year and a half in the Netherlands. Our fourth child was born in Dhahran. We are the proud parents of two sons and two daughters, and seven grandchildren.



Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.