Saudi novelist puts new twist on history of modern sciences

Saudi novelist puts new twist on history of modern sciences
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Ashraf Fagih, the sci-fi and historical fiction author, has introduced a distinctive style of creative writing to Saudi readers. (Photos/Supplied)
Saudi novelist puts new twist on history of modern sciences
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Photo/Supplied
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Updated 26 January 2021

Saudi novelist puts new twist on history of modern sciences

Saudi novelist puts new twist on history of modern sciences
  • New chapter in Arabic literature introduces a fusion of science and history to readers

JEDDAH: A new chapter in Arabic literature is opening up as more writers give a modern twist to old science.
Time-honored styles and subject matters are steadily being replaced and expanded upon as Arab wordsmiths and readers explore creative new dimensions to storytelling.
Authors are boldly publishing books in genres once undermined and, in the process, are unwittingly encouraging others to follow suit.
The creation of numerals to represent the abstract entities known as numbers has been hailed as one of the most significant intellectual achievements in human history.
And Saudi author and computer science professor, Ashraf Fagih, claims that the discovery of zero, the acknowledgement of the abstract idea of counting nothing into our lives, and the mental image of the universe, opened the gateway to modern sciences.
The sci-fi and historical fiction author has introduced a distinctive style of creative writing to Saudi readers and in his latest novel has merged two genres into a story where zero is the hero.
“Rasm Al-Adam” or “Portrait of the Void” delves into an eventful period in history through the tale of 13th-century Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci and the emergence of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system, the most common system for the symbolic representation of numbers in the world.
Fagih looks at Arab and Islamic history from a new angle, focusing on a non-Muslim and non-Arab figure who was deeply influenced by the culture and inviting Arab readers to rediscover themselves and their heritage.

Science fiction is getting bigger here in Arabia thanks to Netflix and dramas.

Ashraf Fagih

The invention of zero represented a tremendous conceptual leap in the history of mathematics. “‘Portrait of the Void’ is my elaborative way to say zero,” Fagih told Arab News.
“In order to understand the beauty and strength of our civilization we need to study the characters of Richard the Lionheart, Genghis Khan, Timur, Charlemagne, and others who are not necessarily Arabs or Muslims, but their lives were either based in our lands or on our values, and Fibonacci is a perfect example.”
He also aimed to emphasize that identities were multifaceted and dimensioned.
“I wanted to deliver an unconventional image of a real history, a true history, and a society that did exist and wasn’t as flat as one would think,” he said.

FASTFACT

Ashraf Fagih was one of the first writers to introduce the genre of science fiction to the Saudi reader through his short story collection, ‘The Ghost Hunter.’

Fagih was one of the first writers to introduce the genre of science fiction to the Arabic reader through his short story collection, “The Ghost Hunter.” However, since 2012, his works have been more influenced by history and geared to market demands.
“Our culture is not futuristic. When we plan for our futures we don’t look ahead; instead, we look back and mimic those who came before us,” he added.
“Society is growing, a big group of readers, academicians, and educated people who speak physics and math, and other fields are there, but they still represent a minority.”
He pointed out that in the US, for example, the genre of art was well-established because it was not just limited to entertainment but was part of the nation’s culture and was related to the economy, education, and jobs market.
“Science fiction is getting bigger here in Arabia thanks to Netflix and dramas but as a literature branch, although there are some works written, they are still not written in the most beautiful language, and beauty is part of literature,” Fagih said.
He noted Arabic readers were “fascinated in their past” and could relate to the historical genre, and that allowed him to promote science in literature to a wider readership with a more traditional taste.
“Science fiction is still my passion, and I believe that I do have a vision that I can play a bigger role in the Arabic science fiction genre,” he added.




“Rasm Al-Adam” or “Portrait of the Void” delves into an eventful period in history through the tale of 13th-century Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci.

Although unable to be at home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, the sense of solitude it brought about provided him with the focus to convert his ideas into the novel, which he completed in three months.
In “Portrait of the Void” he attempts to reflect the spiritual and intellectual beginnings of human realization of the notion of zero and summarizes the paradox it created which had its impact on the evolution of knowledge, philosophy, and modern science.
“The famous mathematician (Gottfried Wilhelm) Leibniz, a contemporary to Isaac Newton, said there were two simple absolutes: God and nothingness,” said Fagih.
Although he had been researching the topic since 2015, Fagih did not begin writing until last year.
Coming from South Asia, zero crossed into the Middle East, where it was championed by Islamic scholars, and created part of the Arabic number system used today. However, it found resistance in Europe and was not fully accepted as a proper number until 400 years after Fibonacci.
Fagih said the Hindu-Arabic system was opposed by the Church because it contained zero and was different to the Roman Empire’s established numeral system, making the conflict over the acknowledgement of zero both philosophical and religious.
While having scientific subject matter, “Portrait of the Void” is not short on drama, human suffering, and tragedy.
“It’s about someone living in the 13th century trying to solve formulas and explain them with very primitive mathematical language. From this part, this novel is more appealing to the nerds, geeks, and science gurus. However, it is not just limited to this audience,” he added.
The story’s main character, Fibonacci, lived in a time when Andalusia was falling, and Arabs were being forced to leave the island of Sicily after centuries living there due to the Crusades launched against Muslim-ruled lands.
Fagih hopes that by giving a scientific twist to rich historical context he can introduce readers to a new literature experience while helping them better understand Arabic scientific heritage.

 


Saudi police catch seven quarantine violators in Eastern Province

Saudi police catch seven quarantine violators in Eastern Province
Saudi police arrested seven people for violating isolation and quarantine instructions. (SPA)
Updated 18 April 2021

Saudi police catch seven quarantine violators in Eastern Province

Saudi police catch seven quarantine violators in Eastern Province
  • Health Ministry reports 948 new cases, 775 recoveries, 9 deaths

JEDDAH: Eastern Province police on Saturday arrested seven people for violating isolation and quarantine instructions, after they were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.

Regional police spokesman Lt. Col. Mohammed bin Shar Al-Shehri said they had been caught in Dammam, Abqaiq, Al-Ahsa and Alkhobar and that all preliminary legal procedures had been taken against them for their cases to be referred to Public Prosecution.
People who violate quarantine procedures in Saudi Arabia are fined up to SR200,000 ($53,333), jailed for up to two years or both.
If the violation is repeated, the penalty imposed from the previous incident is doubled.
COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise in Saudi Arabia, with 948 new infections reported on Saturday to bring the total to 404,054.
The country has 9,449 active cases and 1,018 of them are in critical condition.

FASTFACT

People who violate quarantine procedures in Saudi Arabia are fined up to SR200,000 ($53,333), jailed for up to two years or both. If the violation is repeated, the penalty imposed from the previous incident is doubled.

Riyadh reported the highest number of cases with 419, followed by Makkah with 210 and the Eastern Province with 133. Three regions reported cases in the single digits: Najran with nine, Baha with eight and Jouf with seven cases.
There were 775 new recoveries, taking this total to 387,795, and a further nine deaths due to COVID-19 complications. The death toll is 6,810.
Saudi Arabia has administered more than 6.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses so far. Approximately 20 percent of the Kingdom’s population has now received at least one jab.
There were 51,126 PCR tests carried out in the past 24 hours, raising the total number conducted in the Kingdom to more than 16.12 million.


Dozens of world’s finest carpets cover floor of Prophet’s Chamber in Madinah

Dozens of world’s finest carpets cover floor of Prophet’s Chamber in Madinah
Visitors were allowed to enter the chamber in groups. All carpets were disinfected after every group. (SPA)
Updated 18 April 2021

Dozens of world’s finest carpets cover floor of Prophet’s Chamber in Madinah

Dozens of world’s finest carpets cover floor of Prophet’s Chamber in Madinah
  • More than 23,000 liters of eco-friendly disinfectants have been used for sanitizing carpets at the Prophet’s Mosque and the Bab Al-Salam corridor over the past few months
  • The channel reported that every carpet was fitted with an electronic chip containing data

JEDDAH: Dozens of the world’s finest carpets cover the floor of Rawdah Al-Sharifah (the Prophet’s Chamber) at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, as part of the Saudi government’s care for the Two Holy Mosques.
There are 50 carpets in the chamber and all are crafted from top-quality materials and woven to the highest standards.
Bandar Al-Husseini is head of the carpet department at the Services Affairs Administration of the General Presidency of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. He said that the carpets had scheduled sweeping and cleaning programs that were carried out on a daily basis.
“In case a carpet is damaged it is immediately removed and replaced with another carpet,” he said. “The carpets are also subject to disinfection and sanitization processes around the clock.”
He told the Al-Ekhbariya channel that visitors were allowed to enter the chamber in groups, adding that all carpets were disinfected and sanitized after every group.
The channel reported that every carpet was fitted with an electronic chip containing data.

HIGHLIGHT

There are 50 carpets in the chamber and all are crafted from top-quality materials and woven to the highest standards.

“These chips can give information about a certain carpet since it was made and information about the cleansing history of the carpet and its future cleaning schedule,” Al-Ekhbariya reported.
More than 23,000 liters of eco-friendly disinfectants have been used for sanitizing carpets at the Prophet’s Mosque and the Bab Al-Salam corridor over the past few months.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, this step is part of precautionary measures taken to ensure the safety of worshippers and visitors during the coronavirus pandemic.
It also said that fragrances were used more than 7,743 times to perfume the mosque during the same period.

Mosque committees have been changing 450 carpets, and replacing the ones used in the Prophet’s Chamber every 10 days.

The mosque has also been applying preventive measures by distancing people, using marks on the carpets to avoid congestion.


Saudi charity platform receives SR260 million in donations in 24 hours

Saudi charity platform receives SR260 million in donations in 24 hours
Ehsan is designed to be easily accessible to all of Saudi Arabia’s residents, allowing them to donate to causes such as renovating and furnishing the homes of the needy, giving food baskets to families, providing care for the elderly. (SPA)
Updated 18 April 2021

Saudi charity platform receives SR260 million in donations in 24 hours

Saudi charity platform receives SR260 million in donations in 24 hours
  • Ehsan acts as a safe and legal way of donating money to worthy causes, with people putting their money into trusted hands

JEDDAH: Charity platform Ehsan has received SR260 million (($69.3 million) in donations in the first 24 hours of its launch.

King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, philanthropists and companies are among those supporting Saudi Arabia’s latest national charity campaign.
Among the largest donations received are: SR40 million from Waqf Sulaiman Al-Rajhi; SR25 million from the late Sheikh Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Rajhi’s charities Nama and Ataa; SR15 million from Saudi Aramco; SR10 million from Saudi Telecom Co.; SR7 million from Al-Rajhi Bank, and SR5 million each from Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and Saudi National Bank.
The donations, which continue to be made, will benefit hundreds of thousands of people.
Ehsan is designed to be easily accessible to all of the Kingdom’s residents, allowing them to donate to causes such as renovating and furnishing the homes of the needy, giving food baskets to families, providing care for the elderly, helping dialysis patients, and housing orphans.
Each cause has a set limit and users can select which area to donate to and follow the progress of their contributions.
Ehsan has also integrated other charities’ services into its systems: Furijat, an Interior Ministry platform to help prisoners convicted of financial crimes, and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.
It also allows users to pay Zakat, a form of almsgiving treated as a religious obligation or tax that covers immediate needs such as food, water, shelter and medicine for those in need.

FASTFACTS

Among the largest donations received are:

SR40m Waqf Sulaiman Al-Rajhi

SR25m Nama and Ataa charities

SR15m Saudi Aramco

SR10m Saudi Telecom Co.

Ehsan CEO Abdulaziz Al-Hammadi told the Al-Ekhbariya news channel that the campaign’s initial results had been exceptional, demonstrating the extent of giving from members of the community as well as their social solidarity.
“More than 2 million visited the site in the first four hours of the launch of the website, with more than SR70 million donated by private citizens alone so far,” said Al-Hammadi. “Through the platform, more than 500,000 people have promptly benefitted from the donations and more than 300 causes have reached their goals.”
Ehsan acts as a safe and legal way of donating money to worthy causes, with people putting their money into trusted hands.
Jameel G., a 67-year-old retired businessman, has traveled to a number of East Asian countries during the past four decades and made strong bonds and connections in a number of Muslim provinces and regions.
He said that, through this network, acquaintances would ask for help to build water wells or mosques in poor communities.
Over time, and amid less frequent traveling, he observed that construction prices were increasing and so were the funding demands. Also, the final results of the projects were not what were initially agreed on.
“Though most of my contacts are good and trustworthy people, it’s the third parties that I found to be making these demands and something was off,” he told Arab News. “The moment I found (out) that the money I was sending was swindled was when two mosques were being built at the same time and the pictures that I received were one of the same, same surroundings, same white-washed exterior and details. This incident happened 10 years ago and that was the last time I did any kind of philanthropic work.
“As I’m not very tech-savvy, I’ve requested the help of my daughter to show me how I can use the Ehsan platform to donate and I’ve also encouraged many of those I know who would like to donate money to go through the system. Too many Saudis have lost money with the aim for it to go to a good cause. It isn’t right. It’s not the Muslim way. Ehsan relieves us from that burden.”
Ehsan was launched on Friday by the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA).
The platform aims to promote the values of charitable work in Saudi society by encouraging donations and developing the nonprofit sector, increasing its efficiency and reliability, and contributing to enhancing the reliability and transparency of charitable and development activities.


Saudi expats’ Ramadan agony as loved ones pray for end to flight curbs

Saudi expats’ Ramadan agony as loved ones pray for end to flight curbs
International flights suspended due to coronavirus travel restrictions will resume on May 17, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority GACA said in a circular. (AFP/File)
Updated 18 April 2021

Saudi expats’ Ramadan agony as loved ones pray for end to flight curbs

Saudi expats’ Ramadan agony as loved ones pray for end to flight curbs
  • International flights suspended due to coronavirus travel restrictions will resume on May 17, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority GACA said in a circular

RIYADH: While most families look forward to gatherings around the iftar table during the holy month of Ramadan, many expatriates in the Kingdom face an agonizing wait on relatives stranded in their homelands by flight suspensions.
Every Ramadan, with sunset nearing, families sit together during iftar to break their dawn-to-dusk fast, giving everyone a chance to catch up during the month-long festivity culminating in Eid Al-Fitr.
However, many expats are anxiously watching airline schedules as countries ease travel curbs, opening the way for family reunions.
International flights suspended due to coronavirus travel restrictions will resume on May 17, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority GACA said in a circular.
Anwar Pasha Ansari, an Indian expatriate working in Jeddah, told Arab News that his daughter Heba Anwar is stranded in India.
“No father and mother should go through this agony,” he said.
Ansari said that his daughter left Jeddah to appear for her bachelor’s final exam in New Delhi, hoping to rejoin her family to celebrate Eid last year.
“But perhaps destiny was preparing another fate,” he said.
Ansari said that travel bans “brought the curtain down for all parents like us whose children were held up in India.”
He added: “To add insult to injury, all students were asked to vacate their hostel and make their own living arrangements, which was a nightmare for parents working overseas.”

HIGHLIGHT

Every Ramadan, with sunset nearing, families sit together during iftar to break their dawn-to-dusk fast, giving everyone a chance to catch up during the month-long festivity culminating in Eid Al-Fitr.

With no end to travel restrictions in sight, Ansari’s daughter planned to travel to Saudi Arabia via the UAE after spending 14 days in Dubai.
Ansari said that when his daughter arrived in Dubai in January, they were elated at the prospect of reuniting with her.
But with only three days left of her quarantine, a temporary traveling restriction from Dubai to Saudi Arabia came into force and all hope was gone.
“Heba spent a substantial time hoping against hope that flights would be resumed and checking any news pertaining to flight resumption to Saudi Arabia,” said Anwar.
“She was only a couple of hours away from us.”
Finally, after all options were exhausted, Heba was forced to return to India, bravely telling her parents: “Papa and mummy, stay well, this phase will pass, too.”
Ansari’s story will be familiar to thousands separated from their children as the coronavirus pandemic challenges everyone’s patience, endurance and capacity to endure the hardships of separation.
Technology and video apps help, but are not enough to bridge the gap as families face even more time apart.
Raafat Aoun, a Lebanese expat working in the Kingdom, told Arab News: “The closure of flights has affected many expat families. My brother-in-law had to travel to Beirut to attend to an emergency. Now he finds himself in a very difficult situation as he is stuck there, and his wife and four young children are all alone in Jeddah.”
Aoun said that his brother-in-law had been stranded for more than three months.
“I am supporting them and extending them all the help I can. But this festive season is becoming very difficult for me, too. I hope and pray flights resume soon so that my brother-in-law can return to his family.”
Pakistani expatriate Syed Faiz Ahmad said that two of his relatives were stranded after traveling
to Pakistan.
“One went to help his ailing father, leaving his family behind in Riyadh. But he got stuck. His wife and two children are all alone here and are desperately waiting for him to return, especially during this month of Ramadan.”


Saudi Housing Ministry signs agreements making it easier for families to own first house

Saudi Housing Ministry signs agreements making it easier for families to own first house
Updated 23 min 20 sec ago

Saudi Housing Ministry signs agreements making it easier for families to own first house

Saudi Housing Ministry signs agreements making it easier for families to own first house

RIYADH: The Housing Ministry’s Sakani program signed four agreements with a number of agencies during the Sakani Forum for the first quarter of 2021, held in Riyadh.

The agreements aim to make it easier for Saudi families to own their first house, thus achieving the goals of Vision 2030 by increasing the percentage of home ownership to 70 percent by 2030.

Sakani also honored a number of partners, including financiers, developers and contractors, for their efforts during the last period and their contributions to achieving the program’s goals.

The event was attended by the Housing Minister Majid Al-Hogail.

The agreements, which will be implemented in partnership with the private sector, included providing model engineering designs for the beneficiaries of the self-construction option through the Sakani platform, in partnership with the National Housing Company.

The first agreement was with the Technical Axis Foundation for Architectural Contracting, while the second was with Ahmed bin Abdullah Al-Tuwaijri Architectural Consulting Office, the third with the Asayel Engineering Consulting Office, and the fourth with Ebdaa Group Engineering Consultants.

During the forum, the National Housing Co. and the Saudi Contractors Authority signed an agreement to prepare and license contractors to carry out building and construction works for the beneficiaries of Sakani’s self-construction option.