Fears Dakar Rally could overshadow Hail racing event

Hail, and its population of more than 1.2 million people, has played host to the Hail Nissan International Rally — the first of its kind to be staged in Saudi Arabia — since 2006. (Supplied)
Updated 10 January 2020

Fears Dakar Rally could overshadow Hail racing event

  • The international event, run in the Kingdom’s northern desert

HAIL: As the dust settled after Dakar Rally competitors on Thursday roared into Hail, there were fears that the world-famous race could overshadow the Saudi city’s own prestigious motoring event.

Hail, and its population of more than 1.2 million people, has played host to the Hail Nissan International Rally — the first of its kind to be staged in Saudi Arabia — since 2006.

The international event, run in the Kingdom’s northern desert, was approved by the Paris-based International Automobile Federation (FIA) in 2008 and over the years has been a major tourism money-spinner for the Hail region.

But there were mixed feelings among motor racing fans in the city over the future of the event in Hail when up against the competition of the Dakar Rally.

Private sector worker, Mansour Al-Khateeb, told Arab News that the Dakar Rally would add value to Hail’s international race.

“When the competitors come here and see the attractive landscape of the Nafud Desert, they won’t hesitate to take part in the Hail rally in its future editions, especially if they know that it has become an international racing event.”

Al-Khateeb added that Hail’s 1,300-km rally had gained global popularity through the participation of a large number of local and international contestants.

“In addition to the FIA, the Hail rally organizers have also succeeded in getting unlimited support from various local authorities including the General Sports Authority (GSA) and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.”

He pointed out that the Dakar Rally was an addition to the city and would serve as an important advertising campaign for Hail on different levels.

But Abdurrahman Al-Shammari, a retired Health Ministry employee, felt the Dakar event could represent a threat to the future of the Hail rally. “I fear Dakar occurring in Hail could negatively influence the popularity of the Hail rally on an international level.” He suggested the Hail rally should be part of the Dakar in one of its stages — a race within a longer rally, especially with the two competitions taking place in the same period of the year.

“Top local drivers are taking part in the Dakar, and this can affect their participation in the Hail rally. Unless the officials of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) discuss this idea or a similar one with the Dakar organizers, the Hail rally is feared to gradually lose its glow,” Al-Shammari added.


Uthman Taha: ‘I wish the verses about heaven would never end’

Taha is the official calligrapher of the Qur’an at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. The 86-year-old is still in the recovery phase, his wife said, and has been advised to rest and to avoid stress. (Supplied)
Updated 15 August 2020

Uthman Taha: ‘I wish the verses about heaven would never end’

  • The Syrian Qur’an writer, regarded as one of the world’s finest calligraphers, is on the road to recovery following his recent hospital admission

MAKKAH: Syrian calligrapher Uthman Taha is in good health and recovering at home after a 13-day stay in a hospital where he was treated for what he and his wife initially suspected to be the novel coronavirus COVID-19, although he ultimately tested negative for the virus.

Taha is the official calligrapher of the Qur’an at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. His wife, Fatimah Umm Al-Nour, said Taha had a chest infection during his stay at the hospital and stressed that he had been “careful and took all the precautionary measures” and that he had not left the house for five months before his hospital visit.
The 86-year-old calligrapher is still in the recovery phase, his wife said, and has been advised to rest and to avoid stress. She praised his doctors, who have consistently checked in with the couple since Taha returned home, and added that she has tested negative for COVID-19 too.
Taha is regarded as one of the most skilled calligraphers in the Arab world. Al-Nour told Arab News that he continues to practice calligraphy daily.
Taha, who has written the Qur’an 12 times at the King Fahd Complex, was born in 1934 and attended school in Aleppo. His father was also a skilled calligrapher, who used the Ruq’ah script, and Taha studied with several of Syria’s finest calligraphers including Mohammed Al-Mawlawi, Mohammed Al-Khatib, Hussein Al-Turki, and Ibrahim Al-Rifai.
When he moved to Damascus for university, Taha began to learn other scripts, including Thuluth, Naskh (in which he is now considered a master), and Farsi. He received his calligraphy certificate from master calligrapher Hamed Al-Amadi in 1973.
He arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1988, and began work as a calligrapher at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. He writes the Qur’an in the Ottoman script, and copies of his work have been distributed throughout the Islamic world.
What makes Taha’s work unique is that each page of the Qur’an that he writes concludes at the end of a verse. The secret, he explains, is to simplify the words — which is the origin of the Kufic script in which the Qur’an has been written since the days of Prophet Muhammad’s companions — keeping the letters close to one another.
Taha spent years perfecting his technique of evenly distributing the words in every line so that the space between the lettering is consistent throughout every page of every book, which means eliminating many of the script combinations that make such consistency difficult.
He explained to Arab News that when he is working on his Qur’an calligraphy he is transported: “When I begin writing the Holy Qur’an, I resort to solitude to allow myself to be invested in the verses and their interpretation, forgetting about the world around me,” he said. “I wish the verses about Jannah (heaven) would never end, and my hand trembles when I write the verses about Jahannam (hell).”