Saudi mosque restoration project’s success highlighted during Ramadan

Saudi mosque restoration project’s success highlighted during Ramadan
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Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi mosque restoration project’s success highlighted during Ramadan

Saudi mosque restoration project’s success highlighted during Ramadan
  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s project aims to preserve the element of ancient construction and its components

JEDDAH: The Arabian Peninsula is home to rich architecture and religious history that includes a great number of ancient mosques from the beginning of the Islamic era.
Saudi Arabia has the privilege of taking care of the Two Holy Mosques, an honor that has been carried and inherited for decades starting with the founding king, the late King Abdul Aziz.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a project in 2018 that aims to revive more than 130 historic mosques around the Kingdom as mosques are being renovated in several regions.
The project aims to restore and rehabilitate these mosques, taking into consideration preserving the element of ancient construction and its components.
These mosques have formed different historic architectural patterns that vary according to cultural, geographical, and topographical conditions. This includes the Jomaa’ and the Qiblatain mosques, built by the Prophet Muhammad, and others that were built by his companions and followers such as the Salman Al-Farsi Mosque and the Mosque of Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq.
The then-Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) counted nearly 1,300 historic mosques in various regions of the Kingdom.
“Historical mosques of Saudi Arabia date back to different periods of time, including the early period of Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago, the early Islamic era, and the various Islamic states, including the Umayyad, Abbasid and Mamluk states, until the era of the Saudi state,” Sultan Al-Saleh, cultural heritage consultant and director of the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society, told Arab News.
“In the Hijaz region, historical mosques are distinguished with their white limestone construction, especially in Jeddah city. On the other hand, the rest of western region cities’ historic mosques are built from stone and mud.”
Mosques on the western coast are characterized by the Roshan pattern as a coastal architectural style, which features elaborate wooden bay windows that front many of the surviving houses. Mosques in the Tihama area, from Taif down to Jizan city, are influenced by the Tuhami style that features stone, straw, and tree branches. In the Sarawat Mountains, building materials were based on stones due to their mountainous nature, he noted.
In Asir, mosques were made of mud protected by stones of horizontal cut. Riyadh, Qassim, and Hail regions focused on clay as a basic building material, while the coastal area of the Eastern Province relied on mud and limestone.
The Jawatha Mosque in Al-Hofuf is 1,435 years old and was established during the 7th Hijri year by the Abd Qais tribe. That is where the second Friday prayer in Islam was performed after it was first performed at Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Madinah.

HIGHLIGHT

In Asir, mosques were made of mud protected by stones of horizontal cut. Riyadh, Qassim, and Hail regions focused on clay as a basic building material, while the coastal area of the Eastern Province relied on mud and limestone.

It is also known that a number of prophet companions have been buried in the same area.
Nahid Al-Surani, former maintenance director-general of King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals, said that what is known to be the “Old mosque” or “Saudi camp mosque” dates back to the year 1939 and is located at the university’s campus long before the university was established.
“The mosque was built when the late King of Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz visited Dhahran to inaugurate the first oil shipment,” he said. “The old mosque was built by Yemeni labor who brought shale stones from the Alkhobar sea to use in constructing the walls and the two minarets.”
The original building is still in the same form it was built, but the expansion was done using today’s building materials, he added.
“The mosque is well taken care of and was renovated many times, and has lost some part of its original design in the first renovation,” Al-Surani noted. “Its tall wooden windows were replaced with smaller ones to be air-conditioned, and are still used today for Taraweeh prayer, Fridays, and also for Eid.” Some of the old mosques accommodate 5,000 worshippers, such as King Saud Mosque in Jeddah, while others are smaller such as the Al-Mald Mosque in Al-Baha that accommodates nearly 30 worshippers.
According to Al-Saleh, restoration of some historic mosques included expansion to increase capacity. Such was the case for the Mansaf Mosque in the Zulfi governorate, which used to be limited to only 87 worshippers but now accommodates more than 150 people.
“The Crown Prince Project to Develop Historical Mosques was based on restoring historical mosques and reviving all forms of life, including practicing prayers, as well as the social roles that used to take part in the building,” Al-Saleh said. 
“It is important to mention that the restoration process differs from one mosque to another according to its geographical location and the building materials used in its construction.”
When carrying out the restoration process, the materials of the mosque must be taken into consideration, he said. The authenticity of the mosque and its historical style must be preserved accordingly while adding new materials that do not correspond to the nature of the mosque should not be used.
According to the developments of the project, the restoration process of 30 historical mosques in various regions of the Kingdom has been completed. The Al-Duwaihra Mosque in Diriyah and the historic Al-Hanafi Mosque in Al-Balad, Jeddah are among some of the completed mosques.
Although mosques are the meeting point for worshippers throughout the year, many feel a greater sense of care during Ramadan due to the sanctity and spirituality of the holy month. Ramadan is a time when mosques host extra social functions, such as holding iftar tables, memorizing the Qur’an, attending Islamic lectures, and so on.
“All the newly opened and revived historic mosques were significantly highlighted in the updated report of the crown prince project to spread the news about its availability to receive worshippers during the month of Ramadan,” Al-Saleh said.
“These mosques embody the attention and care paid by the Saudi government in preserving such national cultural heritage and monuments, especially the historic mosques, which are a fundamental pillar of our Islamic cultural heritage.”
Abdul Aziz Hanash, a researcher architect and urban designer, who is enthusiastic about historic buildings, told Arab News about the most ancient mosque in Riyadh city at Qasr Al-Hukm Palace.
The Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the city and has undergone many expansions, he said. The mosque is directly connected from the first floor to Qasr Al-Hukm Palace via two bridges across Assafah Square.
“The importance of this mosque comes from its rich history and role within the surrounding environment,” Hanash said. “It was the venue where scholars and teachers meet for religious activities. It was rebuilt as part of the Qasr Al-Hukm Development Program, where the Royal Commission for Riyadh City rebuilt the mosque to accommodate around 17,000 worshippers.”
Other restored mosques that have been recently rehabilitated as part of crown prince’s project include the Al-Twaim Mosque in Al-Twaim city, Riyadh, the Jarir Al-Bajali Mosque in Taif governorate, the Abu Bakr Mosque in Al-Hofuf, Al-Ahsa governorate, and the Al-Atawlah Heritage Mosque, which is nearly 40 kilometers from Al-Baha governorate and one of the oldest mosques in the area.


AlUla can become important aspect of local life, source of pride for Saudis, experts say

AlUla can become important aspect of local life, source of pride for Saudis, experts say
Updated 15 June 2021

AlUla can become important aspect of local life, source of pride for Saudis, experts say

AlUla can become important aspect of local life, source of pride for Saudis, experts say
  • AlUla is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy, increase tourism and raise its international profile

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s AlUla has the opportunity to become a crucial aspect of local and regional life and an area for all Saudis to take pride in, a panel discussing how the ancient valley can foster change heard.

“AlUla, in my opinion, has the opportunity to become one of the most important aspects of local and regional life, and also an area for all Saudis to feel so proud of,” President Emeritus of the Guggenheim Foundation Jennifer Stockman told the panel discussion, “At the crossroads: The living museum as a barometer of social change.”

“The change will dramatically happen when the world realizes that this is a brand-new discovery and fills in that white spot on the map. An interest in tourism will absolutely follow,” Stockman said.

AlUla is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy, increase tourism and raise its international profile.   

The city, in the Kingdom’s Madinah region, is home to 200,000 years of still largely unexplored human history, and plays a central role in its tourism strategy.

The panel discussed ways to ensure that the living museum fosters the changes that the Kingdom desires.

Director of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery Eike Schmidt agreed that there was an opportunity to discover the ancient city and its wonders that many people did not yet know about.

“If we look at AlUla, I think we have a huge opportunity here because it is still for many people . . . a relatively white spot on the map that needs to be filled,” Schmidt said.

The director praised the Kingdom’s dedicated efforts to make the cultural site a center of scholarship and to place the people of AlUla at the core of the city.

“I already know about this wonderful project to make it a center of scholarship and of the communication of arts, and not just of the time period but far beyond that. So I think I can only congratulate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to have undertaken this wonderful project and to bring it along,” Schmidt said. 

Scientific Director at the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula) Jean Francois Charnier was also keen for the world to learn about the “regional and international hub of influence” and place it back on the world’s map.

“This small city of AlUla was a door, a crossroad of cultural civilization around the world. We have to talk about that, we have to replace AlUla on the map of the world’s history,” Charnier said.

“The living museum is a wonderful gathering of exceptional assets. AlUla is already a living museum, an open-air living museum,” the scientific director said. “Currently more than 100 archaeologists are working on the site and it’s now the biggest archaeological cluster of the Middle East.”

Charnier detailed the scale of expertise involved in bringing alive the history of the cultural city. “There are not only archaeologists, there are anthropologists, biologists, archaeozoologists, archaeobotanists. We are here writing the narratives, writing the history of the place, and this narrative will also be the roots and the narrative of the assets and the museum.”

Director of EPFL Pavilions Professor Sarah Kenderdine highlighted the significance of the archaeological programs at AlUla and the Kingdoms Institute.

The Kingdoms Institute is dedicated to the study of the history and prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula and is committed to becoming a world-class scientific center for archaeological and conservation research.

“The archaeological programs at AlUla and the Kingdoms Institute are so important; already the archaeological surveys are vast and complex and they cover 22,000 square kilometers of archaeological materials, including the oldest dog in the world. Researchers have found this dog’s bones in the burial site and that’s one of the earliest monumental tombs identified in Arabia,” Kenderdine said. 

“Therefore, AlUla plays this really pivotal role in the development of humankind across the Middle East and a global team is working at the Kingdoms Institute to give us the bridge that allows us to walk into deep time. The essence of historical consciousness is not just remembering what we see of their past, but also what we see in the present, and this link with the present is so vital at AlUla and it’s embodied in this rich vision for the living museum,” she said.


Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor

Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor
Updated 15 June 2021

Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor

Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor
  • As part of the Makkah Region Projects Digital Exhibition, students were tasked with developing ideas for projects to support digital transformation in Kingdom and beyond

JEDDAH: Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, the governor of Makkah region, on Monday presented awards to six winners of the Makkah Days for Programming and Artificial Intelligence contest.

The two-day event, which began on Sunday, is one of the leading initiatives of the Makkah Cultural Forum’s current season. It brought together more than 90 male and female students in 30 teams from 11 universities and colleges in the region.

Saad Al-Qarni, CEO of the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) Academy, said that in recognition of the winners’ abilities, and in an effort to encourage and promote young talent, the authority will offer them support, training and jobs.

He added that the SDAIA is proud to be a strategic partner of a competition that aims to motivate young people to enhance their knowledge and make the most of their studies by developing innovative ideas for projects that can serve their country.

Under the theme of how to set an example in the digital world, the students were tasked with developing ideas for applications and programs to support digital transformation in the Kingdom and beyond in the fields of Hajj and Umrah, tourism, entertainment and other services.

The contest was part of the week-long Makkah Region Projects Digital Exhibition which opened on June 9 at the Jeddah Super Dome. To help them develop their ideas, the teams of students took part in panel discussions and seminars with experts covering a variety of topics.

For example, the session E-commerce: From Idea to Implementation looked at ways to introduce and enhance e-commerce, and increase its use as part of the shift toward virtual shopping.

Another session offered an introduction to the use of the Python programming language, which has become a popular option because it is considered easier to learn and use than many other languages.


Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children
The game targets children aged between five and 11 and consists of four levels lasting 15 to 20 minutes each. Players can still play, interact with characters, and complete tasks after the game is over. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 15 June 2021

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children
  • Hakawati offers alternatives inspired by Arab culture, history, and language

JEDDAH: Many parents worry over their children’s screen time and gaming habits, and debates over the damaging effects of video and online games on mental health, behavior and cognitive functioning have become a staple of social conversations.

The Jeddah-based game development studio Hakawati was set up to offer alternative educational games for Arab children inspired by their culture, history, and language, while also encouraging them to raise their aspirations.
“We cannot prevent children from playing games. Parents can no longer do that,” Hakawati founder Abdullah Ba Mashmos told Arab News. “So, offering a good alternative is the best solution.”
Ba Mashmos said that keeping children busy with games also offers parents time to relax. Trying to wean off children from playing games on their devices is impossible and tiresome.
As children’s experience with the world becomes increasingly virtual, the potential harm posed by violence in online games is a major concern for Ba Mashmos and his team.
“We oppose any manifestations of violence in games,” he said. “Entertainment does not need to be violent.”
Hundreds of media reports, posts, and videos calling on parents to pay attention to their children’s online gaming activities are circulating almost daily among parents across the region.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Through stories narrated in Arabic within the game, Hakawati is bridging the scientific heritage of Arabic culture with the present.

• The interactive storytelling game takes players on a series of adventures in a safe environment.

• Hakawati is encouraging children to explore their identity and learn new things about themselves and their culture.

These warning messages invariably spike after a tragic story related to popular video games finds its way to the media.
One of the latest stories to go viral concerned a 12-year-old Egyptian boy who died from a heart attack while playing an online game known as PUBG for hours without rest.
However, many parents worry constantly about their children spending too much time playing games on screens.

We oppose any manifestations of violence in games.

Abdullah Ba Mashmos, Hakawati founder

Screen time is often seen as harmfully addictive, triggering concerns about children’s physical and social health, as well as youth suicide, family violence, and bullying.
With experience in teaching game development and programming, Ba Mashmos said that he has seen how easily online games can normalize aggressive language among children.
Hakawati Game, the fledgling studio’s first offering, is expected to be released by the end of 2021. However, a demo version is available for free.
The interactive storytelling game takes players on a series of adventures in a safe and culturally inspired environment alongside original Arabic-speaking characters.
Ba Mashmos said that the studio aims to educate, strengthen values and spark curiosity in the young by helping them develop their creativity, strategic thinking, problem-solving, and research skills.
“In this game, we focus on values, Arabic language, and science,” he said, “We want to promote science among children.”

The talented team behind the idea, which aims to offer a safe alternative to violent online games.

Through stories narrated in Arabic within the game, Hakawati is bridging the scientific heritage of Arabic culture with the present by introducing influential Arab scientists from history, enhancing the player’s interaction with the Arabic language through the characters, their names, and their sophisticated backstories.
Ba Mashmos said that scientists used to be portrayed in films and cartoons as obsessive, introverted nerds who lacked social skills.
Hakawati wants to promote a more realistic and inspirational view of science among children. “We want them to understand that well-educated people are the ones who can do great things,” he said.
The game targets children aged between five and 11 and consists of four levels lasting 15 to 20 minutes each. Players can still play, interact with characters, and complete tasks after the game is over.
By creating an original game that matches children’s reality, Hakawati is encouraging children to explore their identity and learn new things about themselves and their culture.
“We are a community of scientists, ambitious and smart people, and we want to erase all kinds of negative stereotypes,” Ba Mashmos said.
The game also promotes diversity and inclusivity.
“Diversity was another major focus when developing our characters. We brought characters from different backgrounds and races with a special focus on the Arab region,” he said. “We also made sure to represent disabilities.”
Hakawati (@HakawatiAR) is believed to be the only studio in the Kingdom focused on developing games solely for children.  
Although game development is still in its infancy in Saudi Arabia, Ba Mashmos believes that his young and diverse team of different nationalities and backgrounds will help the studio prosper.
Hakawati’s developers, software engineers, designers, and artificial intelligence specialists are all based in Saudi Arabia, he said.
The studio relies mainly on and invests in Saudi-based talents, whether in building their team or allowing young members of the Saudi development, design, and animation community to take part in their work when needed.
Hakawati’s biggest goal is to be a Middle East pioneer in game development for children and also expand its audience around the world.
“Our biggest challenge is time — games and development take a lot of our time. At the same time challenges are also increasing quickly.”
Hakawati took part in MITEF Saudi Arabia this year, a program organized by MIT Enterprise Forum in collaboration with Bab Rizq Jameel, and was were among 15 semifinalists out of over 500 startup applicants.
The studio also among finalists competing at the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator staged by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.


Saudi Arabia launches health facility in Al-Mahra

Saudi Arabia launches health facility in Al-Mahra
SDRPY launches health facility in Al-Mahra. (SPA)
Updated 15 June 2021

Saudi Arabia launches health facility in Al-Mahra

Saudi Arabia launches health facility in Al-Mahra
  • SDRPY focuses on seven key sectors: Agriculture and fisheries, health, water, education, energy, transportation, and government and public sector infrastructure

AL-MAHRA: The Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY) on Monday officially opened the Operations and Intensive Care Center in Al-Mahra governorate in Yemen.
The health facility will cater to the healthcare needs of the governorate’s population and it is equipped with all facilities to attend to emergency cases and treat people with chronic disease.
At the opening ceremony, Yemeni Health Minister Dr. Qassem Buhaibah thanked Saudi Arabia for its support of Yemen through different initiatives.
“We in the health sector consider the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the first supporter of this sector,” he said. SDRPY focuses on seven key sectors: Agriculture and fisheries, health, water, education, energy, transportation, and government and public sector infrastructure.


Saudi Arabia elected as titular member of ILO body

Saudi Arabia elected as titular member of ILO body
Ahmed Al-Rajhi. (SPA)
Updated 15 June 2021

Saudi Arabia elected as titular member of ILO body

Saudi Arabia elected as titular member of ILO body
  • Saudi Arabia has served as a deputy member between 2017 and 2020

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been elected as a titular member of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) governing body until 2024.
Elections for the membership were held on Monday as part of the 109th session of the International Labour Conference.
Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmed Al-Rajhi said the Kingdom’s election to the ILO’s governing body is an outcome of the Saudi leadership’s continuous support to the labor market and workers in the Kingdom.
He said the election also reflects the growing international and regional confidence in the Kingdom’s measures aimed at streamlining the labor market.
Saudi Arabia has served as a deputy member between 2017 and 2020. Its tenure was exceptionally extended for an additional year due to the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).