US Olympic medalist Ibtihajj Muhammad reflects on her Hajj journey

US Olympic medalist Ibtihajj Muhammad reflects on her Hajj journey
Muslim American Olympian Ibtihajj Muhammad. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 28 August 2018

US Olympic medalist Ibtihajj Muhammad reflects on her Hajj journey

US Olympic medalist Ibtihajj Muhammad reflects on her Hajj journey
  • Ibtihajj Muhammad: The best experiences was seeing people from different parts of the world unite in devotion to their faith
  • The American Olympian lauded the Kingdom's efforts for the organization of Hajj this year

MINA: Muslim American Olympian Ibtihajj Muhammad, who performed Hajj this year, told Arab News that during her pilmgrimage one of the best experiences was seeing people from different parts of the world unite in devotion to their faith. 

“It is something as a Muslim growing up and living in the US that you don’t get the opportunity to see. I feel I get that sense when I travel to the Middle East, particularly this trip to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj — it is something I will never forget,” she said. 

Ibtihajj did not know she was coming to Saudi Arabia for Hajj until about three weeks before it began. She was invited by Dar Al Islam travel agency. “I felt like it was something Allah called on me to perform Hajj and I was very excited. I was also very apprehensive and did not know what to expect; as you read and try to prepare for the journey it is more than anything you can anticipate. It feels like a blessing and I am really excited,” she said.

Ibtihajj said her visa process was easy and fast; it took one day to obtain. Her journey was long due to the fact that she traveled from Los Angeles, California and had a few flights before arriving to Saudi Arabia.

The American Olympian lauded the Kingdom's efforts for the organization of Hajj this year. “To the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia I thank you for having me; it has been a really transformative experience.” In her opinion Saudi Arabia had done a really good job to accommodate millions of people; she said that she can only imagine how difficult it is.

Ibtihajj felt that Madinah was one of the most peaceful places that she has been to during her trip to Saudi Arabia and said it was a great starting point to prepare and acclimatize to “Saudi Arabia and to prepare for Hajj itself.” 

“Once I had arrived to see the Kaaba for the first time — it is something that you read about it and hear about from your parents — but to see it for the first time for yourself and to see so many pilgrims walking around it was one of the greatest sights I have ever seen. It is something that you dream of and you pray that Allah invites you, so to have the opportunity to do that was very exciting,” she said.

Ibtihajj Muhammad is a member of the US fencing team. She is best known for being the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the US in the Olympics. She earned bronze at the Games, becoming the first female Muslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics.


Saudis return to work after Eid, recall rejuvenating experience

Saudis return to work after Eid, recall rejuvenating experience
Saudis prefer spending their Eid Al-Fitr holiday with family back in their hometowns. (SPA/File)
Updated 18 May 2021

Saudis return to work after Eid, recall rejuvenating experience

Saudis return to work after Eid, recall rejuvenating experience
  • Citizens say ongoing coronavirus disease pandemic has reinforced Saudi society’s connectedness

MAKKAH: After spending the Eid holiday with families in their hometowns, Saudis working in the private and public sectors returned to the cities and resumed their duties on Tuesday.

Every year, major Saudi cities wear a deserted look during Eid Al-Fitr due to the mass exodus of people who travel to every nook and corner of the Kingdom to spend their holiday with their loved ones.
Like elsewhere around the world, for the second year in a row Saudis had to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr amid strict health measures imposed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The first working day after the holiday season is usually tough, but Saudis who returned to their workplaces also reminisced about the good old days of celebrating Eid without any restrictions.

Eid in Saudi Arabia is unparalleled, and it is impossible to fully enjoy the holiday away from home.

Majid Al-Thaqafi

Mohammed Hassan Al-Fifi, an English teacher in Abha whose family lives in the Al-Suhaili neighborhood in Taif, said that most family reunions were virtual this year, as protocols had changed due to the pandemic. He was able to enjoy time with his family back home, however, while following precautionary measures.
“The celebrations are indeed different now, but this is still an annual tradition we all seek to maintain by exchanging gifts, visiting relatives and neighbors, bringing happiness to the elderly while checking on their health, enjoying traditional meals, and reviving the popular games Saudi Arabia is known for,” he said.
Anwar Moulaybar, a health administration specialist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Madinah, said he felt an “indescribable happiness” while visiting his parents in Makkah for Eid.

A young Saudi boy celebrates Eid in traditional attire. (SPA/File)

“Seeing friends, relatives, and neighbors I couldn’t previously see due to the pandemic restrictions was so refreshing,” he told Arab News.
After a year filled with pain, challenges, and sacrifices for health professionals, Moulaybar noted, all the sectors ultimately proved their competence, excellence, and readiness.
“Saudi Arabia has become an iconic example for the whole world,” he said, adding that he was proud to belong to the cadre of health personnel whose lives were at risk daily due to the pandemic.

Seeing friends, relatives, and neighbors I couldn’t previously see due to the pandemic restrictions was so refreshing.

Anwar Moulaybar

Despite the struggles that persist, he said, Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in its vaccination campaign. He also remarked on how the pandemic reinforced Saudi society’s connectedness and demonstrated the power of international effort to confront crises collectively.   
Student Majid Al-Thaqafi, who recently received his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from a university in Dublin, returned to the Kingdom a few months ago.
He told Arab News that Eid in Saudi Arabia is “unparalleled,” and it is impossible to fully enjoy the holiday away from home.
“This level of warmth and happiness is only found in the Kingdom,” he said, adding that one of the most important aspects of Eid is its power to solidify social bonds.
The occasion also presents an opportunity for forgiveness and a chance to reinforce the values and traditions that Saudis are historically known for, Al-Thaqafi said.


South Asian expats in Saudi Arabia cancel home trips over virus concerns

South Asian expats in Saudi Arabia cancel home trips over virus concerns
Entrance and departure from the Kingdom’s land, sea and air ports was resumed on Monday for vaccinated Saudis. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 18 May 2021

South Asian expats in Saudi Arabia cancel home trips over virus concerns

South Asian expats in Saudi Arabia cancel home trips over virus concerns
  • “Home trip cancellation will make my family depressed because most of my family members, relatives, and friends are in India and we are missing them"

RIYADH: Dismayed by the surge in coronavirus cases, South Asian expatriates working in Saudi Arabia are canceling plans to visit their home countries.
Since some countries are not on the fly list, there is fear that a second or third wave could hit their countries with the risk of closures and flight bans.
Last April, India crossed a grim milestone with more than 400,000 infected in one day and more than 270,000 people lost to the deadly coronavirus so far, with a devastating surge of new infections tearing through cities and rural areas alike, overwhelming healthcare systems that are already on the brink of collapse.
India has had more than 24.6 million cases so far and broke a global record with more than 412,262 new cases on May 6.
With fears mounting amid a surge in COVID cases, Dr. Manzer H. Siddiqui, an Indian working as an associate professor at King Saud University, told Arab News: “As we know, India is badly affected by a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, I, therefore, have canceled the return flight to home for summer vacation and prefer to stay in the Kingdom.”
“Home trip cancellation will make my family depressed because most of my family members, relatives, and friends are in India and we are missing them. During this pandemic, some have lost their loved ones; I also lost my aunt. My heartfelt condolences to my extended family in India and I hope one day the whole world will come out of this pandemic, fear, and anxiety,” he said.
Dr. Kifaya Ifthikar, a Sri Lankan doctor in Riyadh, told Arab News: “Recently in Sri Lanka, there have been strict restrictions being reinstated due to rising cases. Schools have been closed after a brief opening, certain areas are under lockdown and fear has started to brew once again.”
“Not having been on Lankan soil for two consecutive years, now it is mentally taxing for me especially because of being so far away from loved ones and missing out on important life events,” she said.
“Apart from this our neighboring country India is also facing a grave dilemma, and our solidarity and heart goes out to them,” she said.

FASTFACT

Since some countries are not on the fly list, there is fear that a second or third wave could hit their countries with the risk of closures and flight bans.

Ambreen Faiz, a Pakistani writer living in Yanbu, said: “It’s very scary and heartbreaking to notice that this third wave of the coronavirus is affecting my country very badly. Lots of my relatives and friends back home have been affected by it. My husband and I had plans to visit our family in Pakistan but we were advised by our relatives back home to cancel our travel plan.”
“I have not seen my daughter and her little child for years now. Every day I speak with her and her little princess. My daughter wanted me to travel and meet her during this Eid holiday. But the recent wave of the virus scared me a lot. I don’t want to travel for fear of falling victim to this deadly pandemic,” she said.
Another reason is the flight ban by the Saudi government for 20 countries, Pakistan is one of them, she said.
Saudi Arabia suspended entry from 20 countries effective Feb. 3 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“I know many families who are stranded in Pakistan due to this travel ban. And, I am also afraid of getting stranded. Because of these reasons me and my husband have decided with a heavy heart to postpone our travel until the situation normalizes,” Ambreen said.
Abdus Sattar from Jessore, Bangladesh, said that it was not advisable to go home amid rising coronavirus cases.
“The recent wave of coronavirus appears to be even more deadly and I have decided to cancel my plans to visit the home country,” he said.


Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Co. rescues, rehabilitates 2 endangered turtles

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Co. rescues, rehabilitates 2 endangered turtles
The Red Sea Development Co., as part of its initiative to protect rare turtle species, released two endangered Hawksbill sea turtles into their natural habitat near Al-Waqadi Island. (SPA)
Updated 19 May 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Co. rescues, rehabilitates 2 endangered turtles

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Co. rescues, rehabilitates 2 endangered turtles
  • Hawksbill turtles named Amal and Hayaat — meaning “hope” and “life” — were discovered in two separate incidents by TRSDC contractors
  • TRSDC, in cooperation with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, spent weeks rehabilitating the reptiles at a specialized center in Jeddah

RIYADH: Two of the world’s rarest turtles were returned to a natural habitat in Saudi Arabia after being rescued and nursed back to health.

The hawksbill turtles named Amal and Hayaat — meaning “hope” and “life” — were discovered in two separate incidents by contractors for the Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC).

TRSDC, in cooperation with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), spent weeks rehabilitating the reptiles at a specialized center in Jeddah as a part of its initiative to protect endangered sea turtles.

Both turtles were unable to dive when they were discovered so the National Center for Wildlife Development delivered the turtles to Fakieh Aquarium in Jeddah for treatment.

Hawksbill turtles have a beak-like mouth, span 65-90 centimeters and weigh between 45-70 kilograms. They can be found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, along with the Red Sea.

TRSDC put out a video titled “Journey of Hope” documenting the turtles’ release. The Red Sea environmental sustainability team chose to release the rare turtles at Waqadi Island, as it served as a primary nesting ground for them. The island provided the necessary environment to grow their species and live peacefully without any threats of overfishing, pollution, boat traffic or industrial development.

Waqadi Island will remain untouched and undeveloped as one of the protected areas by the TRSDC, which has developed 22 islands for tourism. It will ensure that 75 percent of the area will remain untouched to ensure the purest levels of environmental sustainability for species like the hawksbill turtles.

The TRSDC aims to enact special laws for the development and preservation of the environment and targets an increase of biodiversity in the area by 30 percent over the next 20 years.

The TRSDC and KAUST will continue to grow the turtle tracking program to support the enactment of new standards for sustainable development in an initiative that includes 10 other hawksbill turtles. The studies will lay the foundation for sustainability in future development plans.


Crown prince: Saudi Arabia investing 1bn this year to help African countries recover from COVID-19

Crown prince: Saudi Arabia investing 1bn this year to help African countries recover from COVID-19
Updated 18 May 2021

Crown prince: Saudi Arabia investing 1bn this year to help African countries recover from COVID-19

Crown prince: Saudi Arabia investing 1bn this year to help African countries recover from COVID-19
  • Mohammed Prince Mohammed said projects will be carried out by the Saudi Fund for Development
  • Prince Mohammed said his country has paid $122 million to combat terror along the African coast

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will support African countries with investments and loans worth about $1 billion this year to help their economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said on Tuesday.

The projects will be carried out by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), Prince Mohammed said in a six-minute televised speech to a debt relief conference in Paris.

 “Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that supports COVAX and the Kingdom is one of the countries that supports exporting vaccines to developing countries,” he said, in reference to a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 jabs.

Last year’s Saudi-hosted G20 Summit launched initiatives to support the African economy while the SFD offered loans to African countries.

He also said the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), had invested around $4 billion in the energy, mining, telecoms, food and other sectors in Africa and that it would continue to look for opportunities in other sectors in the continent.

Prince Mohammed said his country has paid $122 million to combat terror along the African coast.

“We are aiming that this summit concludes with solutions to the debts of African countries,” the crown prince said.

Saudi, he added, has offered loans and grants to more than 45 African countries.
Saudi Arabia was among lender counties which met in Paris on Tuesday to find ways of financing African economies hurt by the pandemic and to discuss handling the continent’s billions of dollars in debt.

The summit brought together some 30 African and European heads of state, as well as the heads of global financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.

‘Saudi Arabia has announced a Euro 200 million worth initiative to redevelop the African coast’ Prince Mohammed told the attendees.

“The impact of the pandemic on low-income African countries was severe, as it widened the financing gap needed to achieve development goals. It is important to continue joint international efforts to overcome this crisis,” the crown prince said.

He said the Kingdom is currently working closely with its partners at Southern African Development Community and mainly with South Africa to strengthen the capabilities of Mozambique’s security forces to fight extremists and reinforce stability.

Prince Salman said many African countires would be involved in the Kindom’s Green Middle East Initiative, which aims to remove 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions

Earlier during the conference, IMF member countries agreed to clear Sudan’s arrears to the institution, removing a final hurdle to it obtaining wider relief on external debt of at least $50 billion.

 Saudi Arabia, Sudan’s third-largest creditor with about $4.6 billion in debt, has said it will press strongly for a broad agreement on debt, to help a country emerging from decades of sanctions and isolation under ousted former President Omar Al-Bashir.

 

*With wires


Saudi cultural, heritage centers showcase ancient treasures

Saudi cultural, heritage centers showcase ancient treasures
Ancient clay and stone architectural decorative elements on display at the National Museum in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Updated 19 May 2021

Saudi cultural, heritage centers showcase ancient treasures

Saudi cultural, heritage centers showcase ancient treasures
  • One of the oldest exhibits is “Kalial Wa Demnah,” a book of fables believed to be Indian in origin that was translated into Arabic in the 8th century by Abdullah Ibn Al-Muqaffa

JEDDAH: Saudi museums and cultural organizations celebrated International Museum Day on Tuesday by showcasing the Kingdom’s heritage and treasures to the world.
As many institutions around the world prepare to reopen after being closed for the past year because of the pandemic, the theme of the global event is “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine.”
In keeping with this, the Saudi Ministry of Culture (MoC) marked Museum Day with a virtual concert at the National Museum in Riyadh, which was live-streamed on the ministry’s YouTube channel. The list of performers included Saudi Opera singer Sawsan Al-Bahiti, oud player and singer Abdullah Saad, cellist Mohammed Alguthmi, pianist Daniele Ciminiello and musicians Elvin and Joe Hodson.
Anyone interested in discovering some of the treasures from the National Museum’s collection can visit nationalmuseum.moc.gov.sa/virtualtour/ to take a virtual tour.
Meanwhile, the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) launched an online exhibition titled Wahj: Adornment of the Page. This showcase of the art of illumination and gilding includes 60 examples of various types of Islamic manuscripts that offer insight into this amazing craft.
Rasha Al-Fawaz, head of the Museum Collections Department at the center, told Arab News that what makes the exhibition so special is that it not only displays these precious Islamic manuscripts for the world to see, it also informs and educates visitors about the important features of illumination, and introduces them to some of the most famous calligraphers in Islamic history.
Visit my.matterport.com/show/?m=daj7MSiD3tu to browse the exhibition and view high-resolution images of each manuscript.
One of the oldest exhibits is “Kalial Wa Demnah,” a book of fables believed to be Indian in origin that was translated into Arabic in the 8th century by Abdullah Ibn Al-Muqaffa. Believed to be oldest illuminated copy of the book, the displayed manuscript, once owned by King Faisal, includes 65 colorful and decorative Baghdadi-style images.