Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia
From Al-Ahsa to Madinah, from Al-Kharj to Hawtat Bani Tamim, date festivals vary and the most famous is the Dates Festival in Buraidah with merchants coming from across the region to check the goods on display. (SPA)
Short Url
Updated 13 April 2021

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia
  • Expert believes that the future of dates as a trade in the Kingdom is very promising

RIYADH: Dates, a staple food item in every Saudi household, attracts special attention during the month of Ramadan with endless varieties to choose from.

As the Muslim world welcomes the holy month of Ramadan, households stock up on one of the most essential items to break their fast, dates, an important part of the diet of Muslims — and Saudis are ideally placed to source their favorite types.
Majid Al-Khamis, director of the Majid Al-Khamis Agricultural Consulting Office, said that the most popular dates generally are Sokkari and Khulais, while the most preferred types for consumers during Ramadan are Sukkari, Al-Falah, Al-Khalas, Al Maknooz, Al-Khodari and Al-Sagai.
He explained that the average price of good dates ranges from SR10-20 ($2.6-$5) per kilo but typically costs increase before Ramadan, and more so during the holy month. Lower-quality dates were cheaper while higher quality were more expensive.
Al-Khamis believes that the future of dates as a trade in the Kingdom is very promising as it has the capability to produce dates of various types for different segments of consumers. Saudi Arabia is the second largest producer of dates in the world, he said.

In his opinion, however, dates have not yet been properly marketed with some merchants cheating their way into the market, displaying good-quality dates and hiding inedible or year-old ones underneath them.
He said the Kingdom is working, through the National Center for Palms and Dates and the Export Authority, to support and facilitate export operations and logistical services, and to link marketers in the Kingdom with international buyers.
“During the Ramadan season, dates are consumed in copious quantities in some Islamic countries, but unfortunately, dates are exported to these countries from other date-producing countries with a much less quality than that of the Kingdom,” he said. He added that local festivals for dates could play an important role in marketing dates inside and outside of the Kingdom.
A number of festivals across various regions are observed every year. From Al-Ahsa to Madinah, from Al-Kharj to Hawtat Bani Tamim, date festivals vary and the most famous is the Dates Festival in Buraidah with merchants coming from across the region to check the goods on display.
“The dates exchanges in Buraidah and Unaizah can contribute to revitalizing the date-production sector through electronic marketing, a platform that gives information about the qualities and types of dates for sale to facilitate marketing inside and outside the Kingdom,” Al-Khamis said.
Dates are an excellent and healthy option and were the main food, together with milk, for most families in the Kingdom hundreds of years ago. As an agricultural consultant Al-Khamis knows that dates are no longer the only products prepared for sale. Other products are made such as molasses, which is used in various capacities in food preparation. For example, one can make an ice-cream product with a date flavor using molasses.
“We can benefit from large quantities of dates and make molasses, which has great nutritional value and is easily included in many products. Today, there are tortillas with dates and flavors. We can use dates to make sugar and sweeteners for tea,” he said.
With wider prospects for producing different products using dates and delivering them to consumers, he sees that the future of these derivatives can be used locally and internationally through investments and production.
“For example, Nestle has invested in dates and manufactured products with dates such as cornflakes. There is also a factory in Al-Ahsa that makes crunchy dates, which children love very much.”
Abdulghani Al-Ansari, CEO and member of the board of directors of Dokkan Alajwa Holding Company, said: “There are no fruits as strong as dates, which are rich in many beneficial minerals beyond one’s imagination.”
In his opinion, the big challenges facing dates are mainly export and transformative industries. “For the latter, we need to exert great efforts to change consumer behavior from eating sugars to consuming useful substances such as molasses, date honey, date sugar and date jam,” he told Arab News.
“People around the world want to get Saudi dates but cannot because we have not reached out to them. This has led to smaller countries and companies with less quality to get the larger share of such markets and control them,” he said.
The issue requires many initiatives to address it, the most important of which is developing a strategic plan, he said.
A former member of the board of directors of the Madinah Chamber stressed that Saudi dates companies today should reach out to the world and forge partnerships to export dates, and the Saudi missions abroad should help in this.
Establishing an integrated city of dates in Madinah with a date exchange and dates laboratories, which test the quality of dates, is also very important.
“We must take advantage of everything contained in the dates, even the seeds and kernels, in which we can invest because there is a big demand for them for skin care. This is an important industry in which the palm tree itself is originally a mine and we have not discovered anything about it until today,” he said, and called for studying the Tunisian, Algerian and UAE experiences.
Tami Hawas, a farm owner, said that he has a small farm near a village called Alkohaifiah, located between Hail and Buraidah, and all the palm trees in it bear the fruit of the Fankha date. However, many people prefer dates that are more ripe than the Fankha.
Tami sells the crop in the winter, either in the market or through the Al-Fankha Date Festival, which is frequented by merchants in the region and consumers who prefer the Fankha, but people often preferred the Sukkari date, he said.
Other consumers tend to buy the Al-Manasef date, a type of that is half ripe with a distinct yellow cap, while some prefer dry dates such as the Barhi, he said.


Looted Libyan statue returned from Britain

The 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 under suspicion that it was illicitly imported, before being returned this week. (AP)
The 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 under suspicion that it was illicitly imported, before being returned this week. (AP)
Updated 12 May 2021

Looted Libyan statue returned from Britain

The 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 under suspicion that it was illicitly imported, before being returned this week. (AP)
  • 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013
  • Libyan Embassy in London thanks UK authorities, British Museum

LONDON: An ancient Libyan statue, believed to be looted from the country during its civil war, has been returned from Britain. 

The 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 under suspicion that it was illicitly imported. Experts from the British Museum were called in to assist efforts to identify the statue.

“Only a handful of these sculptural types are found in museum or private collections outside of Libya,” said the museum.

In 2015, a judge ruled that the artifact was the property of Libya. The museum said the marble’s surface is fresh and preserved, suggesting that it had been recently recovered from the ground.

It assessed that the statue was illegally excavated from the archaeological site of Cyrene during the civil war.

British Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage thanked UK tax authorities and the museum, whose efforts ensured that the country is “able to return this important statue to Libya where it belongs.” 

British Museum experts said the statue was easy to identify as its style is limited to manufacture from workshops in Cyrenaica, ancient Libya. The area was settled by the Greeks in the seventh century BC.

Some 100 statues of the same style have been recovered in Cyrenaica, but the heads of the statues have survived in just over half of cases, said the museum.

Its experts said the statue that was returned to Libya is especially rare as it has both snake bracelets on its wrists and an offering in the shape of a small doll in its hand.

“An important part of the museum’s work on cultural heritage involves our close partnership with law enforcement agencies concerned with illicit trafficking,” said Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum.

“This case is another good example of the benefits of all parties working together to combat looting and protect cultural heritage.”

The Libyan Embassy in London thanked British authorities and the museum for working to recover the statue “to its original homeland.”


Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
Updated 11 May 2021

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
  • The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday
  • Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver

LONDON: A juvenile minke whale that became stranded in London’s River Thames has been put down after its condition deteriorated and vets decided it could not survive in the open water.
The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday and was washed ashore at a set of gates controlling water flow.
Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver, instead of toward the sea.
“The last 45 minutes we were with the whale its condition was deteriorating, its breathing wasn’t right and it wouldn’t have survived much longer,” BDMLR national coordinator Julia Cable said late Monday.
She said vets from London Zoo injected a “large” anaesthetic dose into the malnourished whale. It is thought the whale got separated from its mother and was unable to fend for itself.
“It’s always sad, but we now know that putting it back out into the open sea would have been sending it to starve out there,” Cable said.
Minke whales are the smallest of the world’s great whales and typically grow to a length of 10 meters in adulthood.
They can usually be found throughout the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans but have been spotted as far north as the Arctic and as far south as the Equator.
In January 2006, a northern bottlenose whale became stuck in the Thames, sparking huge media interest. It died as it was being ferried back out to sea.


Youngest Dubai DJ scratches her way to fame in world contest

Michelle Rasul flashes a rockstar sign in the lobby of her apartment building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP)
Michelle Rasul flashes a rockstar sign in the lobby of her apartment building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP)
Updated 11 May 2021

Youngest Dubai DJ scratches her way to fame in world contest

Michelle Rasul flashes a rockstar sign in the lobby of her apartment building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP)

DUBAI: Michelle Rasul had just learned to read and write and was already spinning turntables, scratching hip-hop records and making the beats drop. Four years later, at the age of 9, she’s one of the world’s top DJs and competed in this year’s global championship.

At her home in the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai, the turntable whiz from Azerbaijan nodded her baseball cap-adorned head to the beat and showed off her skills scratching, cutting and fading. Her tiny fingers flew across the turntable as she created a sizzling landscape of electric audio effects and recalled how she got her start as a child turntable celebrity — which, in fact, wasn’t all that long ago.

“I looked at my dad while he was practicing DJ-ing and I saw him and was like, ‘Wow, is he doing magic or something? He’s a real magician, bro!’” Michelle told The Associated Press earlier this week, bubbling with enthusiasm. “When I turned 5 on my birthday, I told him, ‘Dad, I want to be a world famous DJ. I’m going to start practicing.’”

As though recounting a decades-long career, she grinned and added: “And the rest is history.”

Michelle, the youngest-ever contestant in the DMC World DJ Championship, ranked 14th out of 85 DJ stars from around the world in the “Portablist” category this year, the global portable scratch competition. The 2021 competition was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although she didn’t advance to the next round this time, she’s determined to beat her father, Vagif “DJ Shock” Rasulov, a professional who taught her the tricks of the trade and made 9th this year, in next year’s competition.

“I love competing in battles, I just love DJ-ing,” she said. “It’s my passion.”

Turntabling, which burst onto the music scene from hip-hop artists in the late 1970s, can look like a basic act — taking a record, putting the needle down and sliding it back and forth with one’s fingertips. But for the wizards, it’s an art form, involving spontaneous sound mixing and advanced techniques like quick, rhythmic scratches and “crabs,” rubbing the record under the needle.

From the moment her parents gave her a mini DJ starter kit, they recognized her extraordinary abilities. Even as a baby, she was fascinated and would punch all the buttons on her father’s equipment.

“She just catches things so fast,” said her mother Sadia Rasulova, a former violinist who also encouraged Michelle’s love of music. “I realized that she’s a star, that she’s really talented.”

When her peers were listening to nursery rhymes, or as she put it, “’Baby Shark’ stuff or ABC songs,” Michelle said she was hooked on rap legends like Tupac Shakur, Chuck D, Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G. and Michael Jackson, who remains her favorite.

Her parents started posting footage of her scratching online, and Michelle’s popularity exploded. Her Instagram account and persona as the self-described ” youngest DJ in the world,” has racked up 110,000 followers. Online messages from aspiring DJs ages 6 to 65 poured in from around the globe, she said.

Michelle’s feed is populated with posts of her break dancing and scratching furiously alongside her sunglasses-sporting father, spinning hip-hop and techno tunes live for her listeners, strumming the bass in her free time and playing at events such as Dubai’s recent food festival. Before the pandemic put big gatherings on hold, Michelle performed regularly at weddings, parties and music festivals across the city.

While the rest of the world is focused on her accomplishments as a DJ star, Michelle is busy bouncing through life as a third-grader, attending online school, skateboarding, reading and hanging out with friends and dogs at her neighborhood park. But her heart is always in her turntabling.

“I can’t imagine my life without music,” she said. “Like from the start, from the very beginning, when I was really little.”


Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer
Updated 09 May 2021

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer
  • News of Bo's passing was shared by Obama and his wife Michelle on Instagram
  • Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was a gift to the Obamas from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

WASHINGTON: Former President Barack Obama’s dog Bo died Saturday after a battle with cancer, the Obamas said on social media.
News of Bo’s passing was shared by Obama and his wife Michelle on Instagram, where both expressed sorrow at the passing of a dog the former president described as a “true friend and loyal companion.”
“He tolerated all the fuss that came with being in the White House, had a big bark but no bite, loved to jump in the pool in the summer, was unflappable with children, lived for scraps around the dinner table, and had great hair,” Barack Obama wrote.
Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was a gift to the Obamas from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a key supporter of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign who became close to the family. Bo helped Obama keep a promise to daughters Malia and Sasha that they could get a dog after the election.
A companion dog, Sunny, joined the family in August 2013.
Both were constant presences around the White House and popular among visitors there, often joining the Obamas for public events. The dogs entertained crowds at the annual Easter Egg Roll and Bo occasionally joined first lady Obama to welcome tourists. The dogs also cheered wounded service members, as well as hospitalized children the first lady would visit each year just before Christmas.
In a post featuring a slideshow of images of Bo — including one of him sitting behind the president’s Resolute Desk in the Oval Office — first lady Obama recounted his years bringing some levity to the White House.
“He was there when Barack and I needed a break, sauntering into one of our offices like he owned the place, a ball clamped firmly in his teeth. He was there when we flew on Air Force One, when tens of thousands flocked to the South Lawn for the Easter Egg Roll, and when the Pope came to visit,” she wrote.
First lady Obama wrote that she was grateful for the time the family got to spend with him due to the pandemic, and said that over the past year, “no one was happier than Bo.”
“All his people were under one roof again,” she wrote.

 


Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway
Al-Qassar village consists of old buildings and is located in the south of Farasan Island. (Supplied)
Updated 08 May 2021

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway
  • Al-Qassar village becomes a top destination for those seeking moderate climates and potable water

MAKKAH: The village of Al-Qassar — located 5 kilometers away from the Farasan governorate — has long been a hub for the people of the Farasan Islands who are always in connection with the place.

This is especially noticeable during summer, when people migrate to the village to escape from the heat.
For more than 50 years, Al-Qassar’s historic homes have witnessed vibrant ceremonies, as their walls were built with stones, roofed from palm tree fronds, and adorned with seashells and beautiful Arabic inscriptions.
Saudi historian and poet Ibrahim Moftah said that Al-Qassar is one of the first villages that was inhabited in the Arabian Peninsula hundreds of years ago. The village enjoys moderate weather, is covered with palm trees, and is full of fresh wells and rich in history and events, he added.
“Farasan was a deserted island on all levels and the love of change is in the nature of Jizani people, so they used to go to Al-Qassar for change,” he told Arab News.
He said that at the beginning of the month of April, the village becomes a top destination for those seeking moderate climates and potable water. “Water in Al-Qassar can be found at a depth of six meters, whereas it can only be found in Farasan at a depth of 23 meters.”
Previously, most travel and trips to Al-Qassar village were during what Farasani people call the “Shaddah” season, where families ride camels to travel.
People of Farasan would postpone their wedding ceremonies in order to travel to Al-Qassar in summer, where the weather is cool during the Shaddah season.
Those trips to the village were done in two phases: One morning trip for a bride, who rides a camel carrying water and boxes with accompanying music, and another second trip during the afternoon for families.
“The Farasan people used to celebrate new brides in Al-Qassar in a unique way, especially if the bride was in the first year of her marriage, amid the chants and songs of joy,” said Moftah. “A calm and trained camel is chosen, then they decorate the camels with beads, pearls and silk, and copper bells that are fixed to its ankles to make sounds as it walks.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• For more than 50 years, Al-Qassar’s historic homes have witnessed vibrant ceremonies, as their walls were built with stones, roofed from palm tree fronds, and adorned with seashells and beautiful Arabic inscriptions.

• Previously, most travel and trips to Al-Qassar village were during what Farasani people call the ‘Shaddah’ season, where families ride camels to travel.

• People of Farasan would postpone their wedding ceremonies in order to travel to Al-Qassar in summer, where the weather is cool during the Shaddah season.

Moftah said that before a bride’s trip to Al-Qassar, “young women gather at the bride’s house and start singing, then they start their trip with the bride in the forefront. The camels would also be carrying wooden boxes that used to arrive from Aden and are made in India, loaded with expensive clothes and perfumes. The bridesmaid accompanies the bride, and she is usually of a similar weight. Men and women would stand on the sides to wave goodbye to the bride’s procession.”
The bride is then received in Al-Qassar with jugs of water and chants.
However, Moftah said that “nowadays, there are no more camels in Farasan” and that “life has changed and these traditions ended 50 years ago,” as cars, modern homes and air-conditioners have become common and Al-Qassar is no longer an escape or a shelter for anyone, now only home to “deserted houses and souvenirs.”
According to the Saudi historian, official festivals and a surge in tourism “was not fair” to the history of Al-Qassar village, as older traditions were not properly represented. “The region has lost one of the most beautiful cultural traditions.”
Saudi tourist guide Yahya Abbas said that Al-Qassar village consists of old buildings and is located in the south of Farasan Island, and includes almost 400 houses fixed with tree fronds, small stones and sand “to prevent water leaks.”
He added: “The history of this village dates back to the Roman era, and there are writings and drawings dating back to the Himyarite era.
“The village is considered the largest palm oasis in the region, with plenty of fresh wells.”
Abbas said that Al-Qassar has now become an area for tourists and visitors who want to discover its history and that of the Farasan Islands, as well as view the ancient houses in the village.