Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality

Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality
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Saudi vlogger Ragdah Al-Howaish, who traveled to Pakistan by herself in November last year, had to confront questions of safety from friends and family back home. (Screenshot)
Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality
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When Jordanian travel vlogger Joe Hattab visited Pakistan for the first time two years ago, he experienced something he never expected to: Unparalleled hospitality that has kept him coming back. (Screenshot)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality

Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality
  • Arab News interviews popular vloggers Joe Hattab, Kasem Hato and Ragdah Al-Howaish, who recently visited Pakistan
  • Al-Howaish describes Pakistan trip as ‘life-changing,’ Hattab says coming back was an ‘easy decision’

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: When Jordanian travel vlogger Joe Hattab visited Pakistan for the first time two years ago, he experienced something he never expected to: Unparalleled hospitality that has kept him coming back.

The 30-year-old filmmaker runs his own YouTube travel channel, which has over 5.7 million subscribers, mainly from Arabic-speaking countries. He has been to Pakistan thrice since 2018, each time visiting a different part of the country and making videos about the country’s heritage, landscapes and people.

“My friend in Pakistan, Ali, hosted me and told me, ‘I will show you something you have never seen before.’ And it was the hospitality,” Hattab told Arab News in a recent interview from Dubai, where he is currently based.

“As we traveled between cities, the people’s hospitality was striking,” he said.

“They wanted to be on camera, they wanted to share their stories with me and the channel.

“Coming back was an easy decision. There are still so many places to discover and to film, and I love sharing that with my audience, with the Arab people and with those who speak Arabic. Every time I visit Pakistan, it surprises me more and more,” Hattab said.

Pakistani hospitality also overwhelmed Kasem Hato, another Jordanian travel vlogger whom Arab News interviewed in Islamabad last Saturday.

“I had heard about the hospitality in Pakistan. It really is the best hospitality in the world,” said the 26-year-old, who calls himself Ibn Hattuta after the famed 14th-century Muslim explorer and storyteller from Morocco, Ibn Battuta.

“People here not only want you to see the best of their country, but they want you to feel like the country is yours too.”

 

Hato began documenting his travels in 2015 and has since visited more than 50 countries. His YouTube channel, Ibn Hattuta Travels, has over 760,000 followers.

“The beauty in the north of Pakistan was so unexpected,” Hato said, referring to his trip to the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“It is my hope that when people — including Pakistanis — watch my videos, they will realize just how much is out there to discover.”

But did he feel safe in Pakistan?

“It’s sad that people think Pakistan is a dangerous country, a country that is off limits to them,” Hato said.

“It’s very safe. You have so many people visiting neighboring India, and Pakistan can provide similar experiences, as well as additional ones that you can’t have in India.”

Saudi vlogger Ragdah Al-Howaish, who traveled to Pakistan by herself in November last year, also had to confront questions of safety from friends and family back home.

 

“A lot of people asked me, ‘Ragdah, you went to Pakistan, are you crazy? How did you do that? Why did you do that?’” she told Arab News, adding that many had even urged her not to go at all.

Their perceptions changed, she said, when she began sharing her videos from Pakistan.

“After I sent them videos, they understood that Pakistan was really like any other country and certainly not something to be afraid of.”

Al-Howaish, who studied film and media, estimates she has been to some 90 countries, but it was only in Pakistan that she became serious about vlogging. Watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers, her videos showcase her daily adventures and street food reviews.

“People would help guide me, give me advice on what to do. It was amazing,” she said. “People there do not ignore you; they want to help you,” she added, describing her Pakistan trip as “life-changing.”

“I love Pakistan. I have traveled all around the world, but I have not been to a place that stole my heart the way Pakistan did,” Al-Howaish said.

“Even now, no matter where I go, I think about Pakistan. Pakistan left something in my heart, and I didn’t want to let it go.”

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UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
Updated 08 March 2021

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
  • $20m replica of UAE’s largest mosque was gifted by Abu Dhabi crown prince

JAKARTA: Top Emirati officials have broken ground for a replica of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Indonesia.

The mosque will be constructed in Solo in Central Java province, the hometown of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The replica of the UAE’s largest mosque was gifted to Widodo during the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to Jakarta in July 2019. 

The crown prince’s visit to Indonesia was the first by a UAE leader since that of his father Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan in 1990.

On the Emirati side, the ground-breaking ceremony was attended by Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui, and General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments Chairman Dr. Mohammed Al-Kaabi. 

On the Indonesian side, it was attended by Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is Widodo’s eldest son.

“The mosque will be almost 100 percent similar to the one in Abu Dhabi, but it will also incorporate some Indonesian ornaments and will maximize the use of local materials,” Husin Bagis, Indonesia’s ambassador to the UAE, told Arab News on Sunday.

The mosque, which will be built on a 3-hectare plot, will feature four minarets, with the main dome surrounded by smaller domes. It will be able to accommodate about 10,000 worshippers.

The ambassador said it could become a major religious tourism destination in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country. “Now worshippers can go to Solo to marvel at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s splendor,” he added.

The $20 million mosque project is expected to be ready to welcome worshippers in September 2022. 

Construction is being fully financed by the UAE, Qoumas said during the ground-breaking ceremony.

“The mosque, which has a contemporary historical value, will be dedicated to all Muslims and will be managed by the Indonesian government,” he added.

The mosque compound will include an Islamic center to provide UAE-sponsored training for clerics to promote religious moderation.

The ground-breaking ceremony capped a series of events as part of Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week in Jakarta, Solo, Bandung and Surabaya, which started on March 1 and witnessed the signing of a number of agreements.

The visit by Al-Mazroui and his delegation is a follow-up to $22.9 billion worth of UAE investment deals signed by Widodo during his visit to Abu Dhabi in January 2019.

The agreements, which cover energy, infrastructure, defense and mining, are seen as the biggest foreign investment in Indonesia’s history, and a major advancement of its ties with the Gulf state.

In October 2020, one of the roads in Abu Dhabi’s diplomatic quarters was renamed President Joko Widodo Street.

The Indonesian ambassador said: “Following the grand mosque construction in Solo, the UAE will also construct a mosque named after President Widodo on a location near President Joko Widodo Street.”


Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
Updated 07 March 2021

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
  • The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed
  • The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community

ZURICH: A far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in Switzerland won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday instigated by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets.
The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed.
The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks, yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the burqa ban.
"In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms," Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, had said before the vote.
He called facial covering "a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland".
The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community.
"Today's decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority," it said.
It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.
The proposal predated the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required adults to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection.
Two cantons already have local bans on face coverings.
France banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public.
Practically no one in Switzerland wears a burqa and only around 30 women wear the niqab, the University of Lucerne estimates. Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The government had urged people to vote against a ban.
"After the ban on minarets, a majority of Swiss voters has once again backed an initiative that discriminates against a single religious community and needlessly stirs up fears and division," Amnesty International said.
"The veiling ban is not a measure for women's liberation, but a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion."


Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
Updated 07 March 2021

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday reported 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,534 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,322,776 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 89,094.


Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan
Updated 07 March 2021

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan
  • It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment
  • Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts
MULTAN, Pakistan: Eight cars of a Lahore bound train derailed in southern Pakistan early Sunday, killing at least one passenger and injuring 40 others, officials said.
The accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province and caused a temporary suspension of railway traffic in both directions, said Kamran Lashari, a railway official.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment. Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and aging tracks.
Lashari said eight cars of the 18-car train that departed from Karachi for the eastern city of Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch.
Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts. He said the body of the woman who died and 40 injured passengers were taken to hospitals in nearby towns. It wasn’t immediately clear how many passengers were on the train.
Railway Minister Azam Sawati told a local television station that the accident was being investigated and the government would provide financial compensation to the heirs of deceased woman and all the injured.

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700
Updated 07 March 2021

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700

Myanmar junta forces make night raids after breaking up protests; number of detained people rise to 1,700
  • Protests erupted last month after the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Security forces have already killed more than 50 people protesting to restore democracy, United Nations says

YANGON: Myanmar security forces fired gunshots as they carried out overnight raids in the main city Yangon after breaking up the latest protests against last month’s coup with teargas and stun grenades.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1. Daily demonstrations and strikes have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More protests were planned on Sunday after local media reported that police fired tear gas shells and stun grenades to break up a protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, on Saturday. There were no reports of casualties.
The General Strike Committee of Nationalities protest group said protests would be held in Yangon, the second city of Mandalay and Monywa, also centers for protests in which the United Nations says security forces have killed more than 50 people.
Into the early hours of Sunday, residents said soldiers and police moved into several districts of Yangon, firing shots. They arrested at least three in Kyauktada Township, residents there said. They did not know the reason for the arrests.
“They are asking to take out my father and brother. Is no one going to help us? Don’t you even touch my father and brother. Take us too if you want to take them,” one woman screamed as two of them, an actor and his son, were led off.
Soldiers also came looking for a lawyer who worked for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy but were unable to find him, a member of the now dissolved parliament, Sithu Maung, said in a Facebook post.
Reuters was unable to reach police for comment. A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.

Punched and kicked"
Well over 1,700 people had been detained under the junta by Saturday, according to figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group. It did not give a figure for overnight detentions.
“Detainees were punched and kicked with military boots, beaten with police batons, and then dragged into police vehicles,” AAPP said in a statement. “Security forces entered residential areas and tried to arrest further protesters, and shot at the homes, destroying many.”
Myanmar authorities said on Saturday they had exhumed the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin, who has become an icon of the protest movement after she was shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK.”
State-run MRTV said a surgical investigation showed she could not have been killed by police because the wrong sort of projectile was found in her head and she had been shot from behind, whereas police were in front.
Photographs on the day showed her head turned away from security forces moments before she was killed. Opponents of the coup accused authorities of an attempted cover-up.
The killings have drawn anger in the West and have been condemned by most democracies in Asia. The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta. China, meanwhile, has said the priority should be stability and that other countries should not interfere.
Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election — which her party won in landslide but which the army rejected. The army has said it will hold democratic elections at an unspecified date.
Israeli-Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe, hired by Myanmar’s junta, told Reuters the generals are keen to leave politics and seek to improve relations with the United States and distance themselves from China.
He said Suu Kyi had grown too close to China for the generals’ liking.
Ben-Menashe said he also had been tasked with seeking Arab support for a plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom were driven from Myanmar in 2017 in an army crackdown after rebel attacks.
Junta leader and army chief Min Aung Hlaing had been under Western sanctions even before the coup for his role in the operation, which UN investigators said had been carried out with “genocidal intent.”