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Understanding the Kingdom

This latest book by Sultan Ghalib Al-Qu’aiti is in fact one of his early works published in 1998. “Arabian and Other Essays” which the author refers to as his “ruminations” are actually a series of articles published in the Arab News and the Saudi Gazette. The author wrote them in order to make the non-Arab readership aware of some of the aspects of Islamic and indigenous history and culture.
Sultan Ghalib Al-Qu’aiti makes the case for rooting any understanding of Saudi Arabia in the history of its past. In this book, he concentrates on pre-Islamic poetry as well as Arab literature and also on the Kingdom’s relationship with the rest of the world, particularly India and Hadhramaut.
All nations’ foreign policies are embedded in their own particular historical experiences. Saudi Arabia’s modern history is shaped primarily by its beliefs in Islam and also by its geography, and its Bedouin traditions.
Al-Qu’aiti regales us with his reflections on the story of pre-Islamic poetry and the golden odes. Quoting Muhammad ibn Salam Al-Jumahi who asserts that “verse in the Days of Ignorance (the Jahiliyya) was to the Arabs, the register of all they knew and the utmost compass of their wisdom”, the author highlights the desert Arabs exceptional gift for poetry.
“Any form of art or culture needs the appropriate background to thrive and the genius of a people always succeeds in finding an accessible means to express itself. Hence in the poor, barren mass of tribal Arabia, where there was no room for the growth of art in the material sense and also of sophisticated architecture as this would have been hampered, not just by material want, but also by the need for mobility, it was not unnatural that the genius of the Arabian people found its expression in eloquence and the composition of verse, which was no burden to carry and helped the Bedouin while away his time on journeys.”
Interestingly enough, literary scholars assert that the 16 meters of Arabic prosody was influenced by the rhythmic movements of the camel’s movements. Moreover, the tribal poet spoke for the members of his tribe, playing with their emotions, and taking advantage of the Arab’s nature, easily prone to excitement. The poet had the power to summon the members of his tribe to wage a war and to slander their enemies.
It is interesting to know that classical Arabic stems from the Quraish dialect that was chosen as a standard form of the language. “However” adds Al-Qu’aiti, “It may be claimed that the poets did as a whole, through their circulation and contacts, help the growth, not of an artificial poetic dialect, but of a language which had absorbed dialectic differences, the usages of which they had gone to help fix”.
In the preface written in 1994, the well-known Saudi poet Abdullah Ba’lkhair mentions that “Arabian and Other Essays” cover a part of the big void in peoples’ knowledge that exists, as far as most things to do with this region are concerned.
“I also hope that more people will be encouraged to lift the veil on the aspects of our immense historical, literary and cultural heritage and help us add to our own knowledge, as well as to make the world better aware of it. For only through increased knowledge and awareness of each other can the world’s different peoples find or make it a better place to live in together harmoniously,” says Ba’lkhair.
Two decades later this lack of knowledge still exists and Abdullah Ba’lkhair’s foreword could very well have been written today. Sultan Ghalib Al-Qu’aiti believes that the answers to the big questions about a country’s future lie in the study of its past. This is especially true for Saudi Arabia.
“Arabian and Other Essays” is a rare but interesting book to read and it provides a framework, albeit incomplete, for understanding the behavior of Saudi Arabia.

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