Shrouded in mystery — the history of Jeddah’s non-Muslim cemetery

Shrouded in mystery — the history of Jeddah’s non-Muslim cemetery
The graveyard is located close to one of the city’s busiest streets, yet most people passing by are unaware that behind the high walls lie the final resting places of many people of other faiths. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 November 2020

Shrouded in mystery — the history of Jeddah’s non-Muslim cemetery

Shrouded in mystery — the history of Jeddah’s non-Muslim cemetery
  • Some believe the graveyard, which was attacked this week, dates back to the 16th century and is the final resting place of thousands of foreigners

JEDDAH: The peace and serenity of Jeddah’s non-Muslim cemetery was shattered on Wednesday by the sound of an explosion, as it came under attack for what is thought to be the first time in its history.

The graveyard is located close to one of the city’s busiest streets, just south of its downtown area, yet most people passing by are unaware that behind the high walls lie the final resting places of many Christians and people of other faiths. There are about 300 marked graves in the cemetery but some historians believe thousands of people have been buried there over the years.

Hushed secrets and rumors have circulated for years about the cemetery and its origins but no one really knows for sure when burials began there. At some point the location became known locally as “Khawajat,” an Arab term for foreigners.

Some researchers and historians suggest the cemetery dates back to about 200 years ago. Jeddah was under Ottoman rule at the time and many foreign merchants passed through the city, which was a thriving trade center and a gateway to the Arabian Peninsula.

Others believe its origin lies even further back, in the 16th century, and specifically a battle for control of the city in 1517 between the Portuguese Empire, led by Lopo Soares de Albergaria, and the Mamluk governor of the city, Amir Husain Al-Kurdi.
 

Some historians believe the Portuguese surrounded the city for three months, others say the siege continued for as many as 13. There were casualties on both sides and it is thought that fallen Portuguese soldiers were buried outside of the city limits. Residents of the area later took it upon themselves to preserve the area as a burial ground for non-Muslims.

Jeddah has for centuries welcomed visitors of many nationalities and faiths, some of whom were just passing through while others decided to settle in the city. Historically, it would have been difficult and expensive to transport the bodies of foreigners who died there back to their home countries, so for many it became their final resting place.

For years, the consulates of nations such as the UK, the US, France, Germany and Ethiopia have maintained the cemetery and its graves, and provided the funds to pay for a groundskeeper.

For more than 18 years that has been Younis, an African Muslim who, among other things, polishes the graves, removes decaying floral displays and prunes the trees that provide shade for visitors.

“Many find the cemetery to be a strange place for reasons only known to them,” he said. “It’s just like every cemetery. There are people buried here that go back 50 to 60 years and more.

“Many people pass through and pay their respects to the buried, and pray according to their cultures and traditions. Some light candles, while others cover the grave with rice — but it’s a place for non-Muslims here to pay their respects.”

An official at the Ethiopian consulate told MBC that it costs SR 2,500 ($600) to bury an adult in the cemetery and SR 1,500 for a plot for a child. Historians say it contains are graves of Second World War soldiers in the cemetery, along with those of captains, consul generals and children. There are people of many faiths, including Hindus, Buddhists and Christians.

The attack on Wednesday, described as “cowardly and failed,” is thought to be the first targeting the cemetery. Residents who live close to it and know what it is understand it is a sacred site and respect its sanctity and the dead buried there, as if they were their own.

“The cemetery was once located outside the city of Jeddah — urbanization did not reach it until a few decades ago,” said 80-year-old Ameen Al-Sabein, who lives in the Ash Shati district. “Those who know historic Jeddah know that the cemetery was originally located outside its walls.”

He added that the burial ground was also known as “the Christian Cemetery” and until now has been undisturbed and respected.

“It has a fence surrounding it and no one from outside the countries that run it is allowed to enter,” he said. “Urbanization extended to it and placed it in the heart of the city of Jeddah but it has always been left alone.”

An investigation is under way into the attack, which happened while foreign residents and dignitaries, including the French consul general, were holding a Remembrance Day ceremony to mark the 102nd anniversary of the end of the First World War. An employee of the Greek consulate and a Saudi security guard were injured in the blast.
 


Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court
If a contract obliges one of the parties to carry out a task, which cannot be completed on time due to the pandemic, the court can temporarily suspend the implementation of the obligation. (SPA)
Updated 19 January 2021

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court
  • The new regulations cover construction contracts, supply contracts, and the like, which have been affected by the pandemic

RIYADH: The General Assembly of the Saudi Supreme Court has ordered the waiving of overdue rents on businesses hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and called for a review of such contracts between tenants and owners.

The steps have been taken in view of the circumstances caused by the pandemic, wherein an obligation or contract cannot be implemented without unusual losses.

The president of the Supreme Court, Khalid bin Abdullah bin Muhammad Al-Luhaidan, approved the decisions backed by 32 members of the assembly, Okaz newspaper reported.

Authorities have set conditions that have to be met before a case can be considered for review under the new regulations.

If a contract was concluded before the commencement of the preventive measures announced in the wake of the pandemic, then the impact was direct and unavoidable. If in such a case, an affected party was not compensated or did not reach a deal to mitigate the impact of the health crisis, then it qualifies for a review and the new regulations will then take effect, said legal sources.

The Supreme Court said a competent court will issue its verdict based on facts and circumstantial evidence, and may order amendments to a contract.

It also said the new provisions will be applicable to tenancy contracts and movable properties affected by the pandemic.

It clarified that if, due to the pandemic, a tenant was unable to use the leased property, in whole or in part, the court would reduce the rent as much as the usually intended benefit was reduced.

A lessor, meanwhile, does not have the right to terminate the contract if a tenant is late in paying rent for the period during which it was impossible to fully or partly use the property due to the pandemic.

HIGHLIGHT

The Supreme Court said a competent court will issue its verdict based on facts and circumstantial evidence, and may order amendments to a contract.

The new regulations also cover construction contracts, supply contracts, and the like, which have been affected by the pandemic.

If the pandemic causes an increase to the cost of materials and labor wages, etc., the court shall increase the value of the contract while ensuring the obligor can afford to bear the expense. The obligee, upon increasing the obligation, has the right to request the termination of the contract. If the increase in the cost of materials is temporary, the court reserves the right to temporarily suspend the contract.

If the pandemic causes a shortage of material in the market, the court can reduce the quantity to the extent it deems sufficient to protect the obligor from harm.

Moreover, if the shortage of materials is temporary, the court can temporarily suspend the contract if the person obligated to it is not severely affected by this suspension. If he is harmed, he may request termination of the contract. If the materials were not available at all, leading to the impossibility of implementing the contractual obligations or some of them, the court will terminate the clauses that are impossible to implement upon the request of one of the parties to the contract.

If a contract obliges one of the parties to carry out a task, which cannot be completed on time due to the pandemic, the court can temporarily suspend the implementation of the obligation. If the other party fears unusual damage due to the suspension, he may request termination of the contract.

In addition, the court also stressed the need to carefully assess the damages on a case-to-case basis, and that one or more experts should do the assessment. While assessing damages, it should be made clear what losses were incurred directly due to the pandemic and had nothing do to with seasonal upswing in certain activities.

The Supreme Court explained that a court is bound, when considering cases arising from contracts and obligations affected by the pandemic, not to apply penalty clause or fines in whole or in part — depending on the case.

In the event that a contract includes a clause of exemption from liability for one of the contracting parties when an emergency or force majeure occurs, the condition has no effect, and the party that breaches the obligation must provide evidence that the pandemic was the reason for the breach.

The affected contracts that are not covered by the provisions of this principle shall be subject to the legal and statutory litigation principles, said the court.

Commenting on the decision, Talal Albotty, the regional director of the Central Region, Salama Insurance Co., said there is a type of insurance called “suspension of operations” because of continuous epidemics, and falls under property insurance.

“This type of insurance can be found in European countries and some Asian countries but it is not applicable in Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News. “The insurance against projects does not exist because when the project stops, insurance stops.”

Regarding the rise in prices of commodities, or the increase in prices because of pandemics and suspension of imports, a condition must be added stating that the value of property or project must increase by 10-25 percent, he added.

“Now most reinsurance companies around the world stopped offering insurance related to pandemics and contagious diseases in most countries, including COVID-19, because their impact was huge and the companies sustained huge losses,” he said.

Saudi lawyer Reem Alajmi said the resolution aims to treat and remedy the losses incurred by parties to the contract in terms of obligations.

“The parties could not fulfil their obligations because of a lack of sufficient resources or suspension of working hours during the pandemic. Fulfilling the obligation fully or partially was difficult because COVID-19 pandemic was a force majeure,” she told Arab News.

According to Alajmi, the effects or damage caused by the pandemic must not be covered by other laws. “Proving the occurrence of damage is the responsibility of the plaintiff and the defendant based on evidence submitted to the court,” she added. “The contracts and obligations are amended accordingly.”