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

‘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

‘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.”


Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 391,362
  • A total of 6,858 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 12 deaths from COVID-19 and 1028 new infections on Wednesday.
Of the new cases, 431 were recorded in Riyadh, 220 in Makkah, 157 in the the Eastern Province, 45 in Madinah, 45 in Asir, 30 in Jazan, 25 in Tabuk, 14 in the Northern Borders region, 13 in Najran, 11 in Hail and 10 in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 391,362 after 824 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 6,858 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 7.5 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Saudi Arabia to date.


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 21 April 2021

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”


Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
  • OPCW oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Kingdom has been a member of the council since 1997

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Asia section, until 2023.
It happened at The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Tuesday during the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Ziyad Al-Attiyah, the Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands and the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the OPCW, thanked the nations that supported the re-election of his country, and said that it is a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s status under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
The Kingdom looks forward to working with the rest of the council’s members to enhance the implementation of the CWC, he added.
Al-Attiyah affirmed his country’s desire to strengthen cooperation as part of the efforts to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation, and to ensure the Middle East becomes a region free of such weapons to enhance international peace and security.
He added that the Kingdom’s chemical industries sector is one of the largest in the region and growing steadily, which makes it one of the leading countries in this field among the membership of Executive Council.
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the council — the main body of the OPCW — since its inception in 1997. It’s membership is made up of 41 countries, representing five geographic areas, that are elected for terms of two years at a time.


Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia renewed its call for Iran to engage in ongoing negotiations in Vienna, avoid escalation and not expose the region to more tension.
This came following a council of ministers meeting, chaired by King Salman on Tuesday.

The Cabinet reiterated that it is closely following the current developments related to Iran's nuclear program, citing the emphasis of the Kingdom's call for Iran to get involved in the current negotiations, prevent escalation and desist from jeopardizing the regional security and stability to further tension. 
The Saudi government also urged the international community to reach an agreement with stronger and longer determinants that are implemented through monitoring and control measures to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons and developing the necessary capabilities.

The Cabinet also renewed condemnation of the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist militia's attempts to target civilians as well as civilian facilities in the Kingdom in a systematic and intentional manner, through using bomb laden drones and ballistic missiles.


Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects. (SPA)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
  • The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) on Tuesday confirmed 34 cases of blood clots or thrombosis and low platelet count among people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The authority suggests the existence of seven possible cases of thrombosis that are related to the vaccine, due to the absence of other reasons for the appearance of clots in them,” the SFDA said in a statement.
However, the authority also said that thrombocytopenia and blood-clotting immune response associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is yet to be confirmed in these cases.
It said based on the local reports received, the rate of occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Kingdom is “very rare.”
The SFDA said that all approved vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) being used in the Kingdom are safe. It stressed that the desired benefits of the vaccine in question outweigh the potential risks.
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects along with the local and international scientific evidence and data available.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom reports a 55 percent increase in the number of cases among women.

• 1,070 new infections were reported on Tuesday.

The SFDA advised recipients of the vaccine to consult a doctor or go to the nearest health center if any of the following symptoms appear or continue for more than three days after receiving a vaccine: Dizziness, severe and persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, issues with vision, shortness of breath, severe pain in the chest or abdomen or coldness in the extremities, swelling of the legs, small blood spots under the skin other than the injection site.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, an infectious diseases consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Health, allayed public fears following the reports.
“How can a wrong conclusion deduced from a generalization become the most circulated news?” he wrote on Twitter. “In short, not every blood clotting after vaccinations is due to vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, lives are saved every day. We have not yet had confirmed cases of platelet deficiency and blood clotting immune responses associated ‘hypothetically’ with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a Ministry of Health spokesman, said: “We are still monitoring an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, which is the highest since the beginning of this year. There has also been an increase in cases among females by 55 percent.”
The Ministry of Health reported 1,070 new confirmed cases in the Kingdom over the past 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the virus. Of the 9,626 active cases, 1,105 were in critical condition. There were 12 fatalities, which brought the national death toll to 6,846.
The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries.