Lankan MP wants Ceylon House in Makkah ‘returned to community’

Updated 31 December 2015
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Lankan MP wants Ceylon House in Makkah ‘returned to community’

MAKKAH: A visiting Sri Lankan legislator told Arab News here that “Ceylon House,” which is a property of the island’s Muslims, has to be redeemed from an individual who claims to be its owner and handed to a new group of trustees, who should be appointed by the Colombo government.
Mujibur Rahman, a young parliamentarian who was elected to Sri Lanka’s Parliament with a large number of votes from the Colombo Central Electorate, said that it is sad that the previous government has not taken any action on this matter leaving the public trust in the hands of an individual.
The parliamentarian was on a visit to Makkah to perform Umrah with his wife and two little sons.
“The trustees of the Ceylon House have passed away and the property is now with an individual. We have to take it back (with the help of the heirs of former trustees) and put it under the control of a new group of trustees who should be legally appointed by the Sri Lanka government,” he added.
The Ceylon House, which was given by the Saudi government in place of its old property which was demolished to make way for the new Makkah expansion project, was meant to serve the interests of Haj and Umrah pilgrims from Sri Lanka.
The island’s medical team also utilized it for serving the pilgrims in addition to the poor pilgrims who came from the island, he said.
The new building has 63 rooms on four levels and can accommodate 261 pilgrims. It is located near Hariri Mosque in the university area. The new headquarters was endowed to the Sri Lanka Haj Association by the Makkah governorate.
The individual, whose name is being withheld for obvious reasons, is alleged to have obtained a substantial compensation with the new endowment.
The Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh had earlier given the power of attorney to this individual to handle negotiations with the Saudi government on acquiring a new building in place of the old Ceylon House in central Makkah. Consequently, he retains ownership of the property.
“It has traditionally been serving pilgrims with facilities for the Haj medical team, and so we’re keen to see that it’s restored to the community to continue to serve the noble cause,” Mujibur Rahman said.
He added that the original building was purchased for SR115,000 by the Colombo-based Sri Lankan Haj Pilgrims Welfare Trust in 1963. “This came after King Saud in 1960 granted permission to construct housing in Makkah for poor pilgrims from Sri Lanka,” he noted.
Mujibur Rahman said that he will take up this matter with the Ministry of Muslim Afffairs in Colombo headed by Minister M. H. M. Haleem to initiate action in restoring the endowment to the Sri Lankan community.
Arab News has learned that the individual also rents out the building to Pakistani Hajis who come for their annual pilgrimage to the holy city. It is estimated that the seasonal rent would amount to more than SR2 million during the Haj period.
Answering another question on Sri Lankan Muslims, Mujibur Rahman said that the present government under President Maithripala Sirisena with Ranil Wickremesinghe as premier is dedicated to serve the Muslims in all parts of the island.
The period after President Sirisena came to power on Jan. 8 was a renaissance to the Muslim community in the island. “Earlier under Rajapaksa regime, Muslims were living in a reign of terror. They were not sure how many Muslim places of worship would be destroyed and how many Muslim properties would be damaged,” the parliamentarian said, adding that now there is an air of freedom in the community and they can move freely in all parts of the island without being harassed by racists simply because of their religion.


Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

Updated 1 min 56 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

  • They start their engines and hit the roads throughout the Kingdom
  • End of driving ban is crowning achievement so far of Saudi Vision 2030

Women throughout Saudi Arabia waited for the stroke of midnight, turned the keys in the ignition, fired up their engines — and hit the road to a bright new future.

It was the moment they had waited for since King Salman issued the royal decree on September 26, 2017, to lift the driving ban on women. 

Just after midnight on Saturday and in the first minutes of Sunday, Samah Algosaibi grabbed the keys to her family’s 1959 Corvette C1 and drove out of the driveway of her beach house in Khobar.
“We are witnessing history in the making as we look toward the dawn of a promising future,” said Algosaibi, the first female board member of Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Bros.

“As a businesswoman in Saudi Arabia, I am grateful for the women’s empowerment movement taking place. Today, I am honored to be sitting behind the wheel of change.”

Another woman to hit the road after midnight was Lina Almaeena, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council. “It feels very liberating,” she said about driving her mother’s Lexus.
Almaeena, also the co-founder and director of Jeddah United Sports Co, had exchanged her UAE license for a Saudi one. 

“I am thrilled!” Sarah Alwassia, 35, a nutritionist in Jeddah, told Arab News. “I learnt how to drive 18 years ago in the States where I got my driving license. I can’t believe that the day to drive in my own home town has come.”

Alwassia obtained her first American license when she was 18 years old in 2000, and had it exchanged for a Saudi license on June 6 in Jeddah. She explained that she is a mother, and this change provided comfort for her and her family. It also comes with various benefits, such as taking quick action in emergencies, and economic benefits such as saving money instead of paying for a driver when she needs to run errands. 

“I will be driving my kids to school and picking them up in comfort and privacy,” she said.

Women in the Kingdom commented on how this event is changing the course of their lives. “Independence is a huge thing for me,” Alwassia said. “Driving is one small part of it. I am very optimistic of the change that our loving country has made.”  

Alwassia applauds the efforts the country has made to support women. “I am confident that driving in the beginning will be pleasant, since our country has made all of the effort to support women and to protect them.
“I think our society was looking forward for this change, and I am sure the majority will adapt fast.

“I feel safe, our country did everything to make this transition pleasant and safe for every woman behind the wheel. I am really thankful to witness this historic moment and I am so happy for all the women in Saudi Arabia, especially my daughters.”
Sahar Nasief, 64, a retired lecturer from the European languages and Literature Department at King Abdulaziz University, said: “Nothing could describe my feelings. I can't wait to get on the road.”
Nasief received a very special gift from Ford for this occasion.

“They gave me a 2018 Expedition to drive for three days, a Mustang California Special,” she told Arab News.

Nasief obtained her Saudi license on June 7. She also holds a British license and two American licenses. “Now, I have my national license too,” she said. 

She also said the lifting of the ban provided a sense of relief. “I feel that I can practice one of my rights, and I don't have to live at the mercy of my driver any more.”
Society has been demanding such a change for years, “as it will take the physical and economic burden off most men.”
Pointing to the anti-harassment law, Nasief said: “I feel very confident especially after announcing the strict harassment law.”
Joumana Mattar, 36, a Jordanian interior designer, exchanged her Jordanian driver’s license and obtained a Saudi one on June 11. 

“I had my Jordanian license since I was 18 years old, and the moment I heard about the opening of exchanging foreign licenses, I immediately booked an appointment,” she said.
Mattar said she looks forward to the change in so many ways. “I'm finally in control of my time, schedule and privacy.” 

Mattar said she is both confident and anxious about the event. “I'm anxious only for feeling that I'm part of a huge first step for women driving in the Kingdom, but I'm confident also because of the support that I'm getting from my husband and family.
“Every first step is the hardest. Society is facing a huge change, but I'm positive because this change is done and supported by the government and Vision 2030.”

Mattar said she feels secure now. “I'm in control of any case I'm facing.”

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