Arafat Day and the women of Makkah

Until the closure of the Grand Mosque due to the pandemic, women often would pack their food and head to the mosque to spend the day praying while they wait for sundown to break their fast. (MiSK)
Until the closure of the Grand Mosque due to the pandemic, women often would pack their food and head to the mosque to spend the day praying while they wait for sundown to break their fast. (MiSK)
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Updated 18 July 2021

Arafat Day and the women of Makkah

Until the closure of the Grand Mosque due to the pandemic, women often would pack their food and head to the mosque to spend the day praying while they wait for sundown to break their fast. (MiSK)
  • As pilgrims head to Mount Arafat, the women of the holy city head to the Grand Mosque to honor a pastime tradition

JEDDAH/MAKKAH: At a time when millions of Muslims travel to the valley of Mina on the first day of Hajj, the women of Makkah head to the Grand Mosque to honor a pastime tradition only recently broken due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Day of Arafat, the holiest day in the Islamic lunar calendar, is dedicated to prayer and unity, and is a significant event for Muslims.
It is also a day that bears witness to a local phenomenon that has been practiced for ages. As millions of pilgrims head to Mount Arafat on the ninth day of Dul Hijjah, the official first day of Hajj, silence sweeps over Makkah, especially the Grand Mosque.
In mere hours, the floors of the Mataf around the Kaaba — once filled with people circumambulating in the white Ihram — is replaced with a mere handful of people, who are mostly women.
The phenomenon has been witnessed for as long as many can remember and is locally known as “Yawm Al-Kholeef,” derived from the Arabic word for “void” or “empty.”
When women and children head to the Grand Mosque, the men head five miles due east to Mina valley with the pilgrims.
Every year, Makkawis, known as “mutawefeen” across the city, prepare themselves for the Hajj season as soon as Eid Al-Fitr ends as they await pilgrims arriving from Jeddah through their ‘wukalaa’ or agents.
Women prepare their homes for welcoming and lodging their guests, who will stay for either a few days or up to four months, depending on the agreement between the mutawef, the wakeel, and the pilgrim.
“The relationship between pilgrims and mutawef is solid and is not controlled by economic interest,” Faten Hussein, a matawefa and journalist specializing in Hajj and Umrah, told Arab News.




This rare photo is from Bilder aus Mecca, an album by the Dutch orientalist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857–1936). Hurgronje lived in Makkah for six months, where he converted to Islam and became Abdul Ghaffar. (Supplied)

“The relationship is rather governed by human, spiritual, and religious ties. The profession, for the first generation of mutawefeen, was handed down for generations and considered an honor for those who serve and assist the pilgrims, looking after their comfort.”
On the eighth day of Dul Hijjah, men across the city — old and young — gather the necessary food, tents and gear, before guiding the pilgrims from the Grand Mosque to Mina, where they will stay for the duration of Hajj before they move to Mount Arafat after dawn on the ninth, marking the day of Arafat.
“The mutawefeen would then take the pilgrims to the Grand Mosque while praying along the way.
“The mutawef’s sons and at times even his daughters would be walking in the back with the female pilgrims. This is to ensure that pilgrims stay with the group and do not get lost nor left behind,” said Hussein.
Until the recent closure of the Grand Mosque due to the pandemic, women often would gather their friends, family members, and neighbors, pack their food and gear and head to the mosque to spend the day praying while they wait for sundown to break their fast.
In Islamic tradition, abled Muslims who are not performing Hajj are recommended to fast on the day as “it expiates the sins of the preceding year and the coming year.”




An 1895 illustration, from the ‘Classical Portfolio of Primitive Carriers,’ by Marshall M. Kirman, World Railway Publication Co., shows a group of pilgrims en route to Makkah. (GettyImages)

After spending the whole day at the mosque dedicated to their prayers and supplications, preparations for Eid begin, with women heading to nearby souks to buy toys for the children of the family and sweets for visiting guests.
Today, women still take advantage of the empty mosque and head out to perform Umrah rituals or spend a day praying at the mosque, something that became an annual habit for many in Makkah and nearby cities.
Jeddah-based graphic designer Nedaa Zuhair told Arab News that in her childhood, she noticed her grandmother and aunts going to Makkah every year on Arafat Day as she spent the day at the house of an aunt who decided to stay back.
“Up until recently, I’ve noticed that more and more women would head to Makkah for the day.

FASTFACT

On the eighth day of Dul Hijjah, men across the city — old and young — gather the necessary food, tents and gear, before guiding the pilgrims from the Grand Mosque to Mina, where they will stay for the duration of Hajj before they move to Mount Arafat after dawn on the ninth, marking the day of Arafat.

“Though at times I prefer staying at home and spending a relaxing day in peace, I did happen to go a few times in the past years and even though it would be eerily quiet, especially knowing that millions of pilgrims from around the world are gathered just a mere few miles away, it was a special feeling,” she told Arab News.
“In 2011, I had an experience of a lifetime when I was walking around the Kaaba and when I looked to my left, I found that barely anyone was touching the kiswa.
“I was so focused on completing my rounds that I didn’t realize I had a chance and took it. I touched and leaned on the Kaaba for what seemed to be ages, I can’t describe the sense of calm I got and the spiritual connection I felt. I never got the chance to touch the kiswa again but it is a memory I cherish,” she said.
“I found that simple traditions such as Yawm Al-Kholeef are closer to the heart than ever before since we can’t go to the mosque without prior permission due to the pandemic.
“I think one day we’ll be able to go back and do it again and I’ll  bring my young daughter along with me to get a sense of the day’s significance just like I had once with my grandmother,” added Zuhair.
After sundown, preparations for Eid commence. Trays of chocolates and sweets are readied, new clean clothes are hung, toys are stacked in a corner and decorations are on display as women return from the souks and market to add the final touches.
For three days, celebrations with close family and friends have been underway, but the work for the women is not done just yet.
Hussein explained that after the pilgrimage, the mutawefeen and pilgrims return home to a feast from the pilgrims’ land in their honor.
“In the late 19th century, a princess from Bhopal (an erstwhile princely state in India) told of her visit to Makkah and how she found the company of the guide’s women to be very enjoyable and important because it is founded on good treatment and great companionship,” said Hussein.
“The better the treatment the pilgrims receive from the mutawef’s family, the more famous the family becomes among the pilgrims, and the more pilgrims will come to visit them. It is a good means of advertisement for them among the people.”


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in UAE on next stop of GCC tour

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in UAE on next stop of GCC tour
Updated 59 min 14 sec ago

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in UAE on next stop of GCC tour

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in UAE on next stop of GCC tour
  • Saudi crown prince’s official tour of the GCC states comes from an earlier royal directive by King Salman

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, on Tuesday, on the second leg of his tour of Gulf states aimed at boosting relations.
Earlier on Tuesday, Prince Mohammed left Oman, the first stop of his tour of neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council states, where he met with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq.
The crown prince sent a cable to Sultan Haitham following the visit, thanking him for the warm reception and hospitality he and his accompanying delegation received, Saudi Press Agency reported.
“The discussions we had with Your Majesty confirmed the strength of the brotherly relations between our two countries, and the common desire to deepen cooperation between them in all fields,” he said, “which aims to achieve the interests of the two countries and enhance regional security and stability.”
The sultan and crown prince held talks where they reviewed bilateral relations and aspects of bilateral cooperation in several fields, and discussed the latest regional and international developments.
Minister of Energy Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, Minister of Sport Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, Minister of Interior Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, and Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan also attended the meetings.
The two sides also welcomed a joint statement announcing the opening of the first direct land crossing between the two countries. The 725km Omani-Saudi road will contribute to the smooth movement of citizens of the two countries and the integration of supply chains, the statement said.
Sultan Haitham awarded the crown prince the Oman Civil Order of the first degree – one of the highest Omani honors – during their official talks at Al-Alam Palace in Muscat. The distinction is awarded to kings, heads of state, crown princes and heads of government whose countries have distinguished relations with Oman.
Prince Mohammed’s tour comes after an earlier royal directive from King Salman to communicate with GCC leaders and strengthen ties, and also includes visits to Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait to discuss ways to develop bilateral relations in all fields, as well as other issues of common interest.


Saudi Arabia, Oman agree to strengthen media and business competitiveness

Saudi Arabia, Oman agree to strengthen media and business competitiveness
Updated 07 December 2021

Saudi Arabia, Oman agree to strengthen media and business competitiveness

Saudi Arabia, Oman agree to strengthen media and business competitiveness
  • On the eve of Saudi Crown Prince Salman’s arrival in Muscat, Saudi Arabia and Oman signed 13 memoranda of understanding, reportedly worth more than $10 billion and covering several sectors

DUBAI: Oman and Saudi Arabia signed on Tuesday a memorandum of understanding in the field of media related to strengthening cooperation between the two countries in news, audio-visual and print media, Oman’s state news agency reported.
Another memorandum aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of national industries and marketing research, encouraging joint activities and developing countries’ ease of business and e-commerce index was also signed. 
The latest round of cooperation comes a day after Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman arrived in Muscat to meet with Sultan Haitham bin Tarik as part of his official tour of GCC states.
On the eve of Saudi Crown Prince Salman’s arrival in Muscat, Saudi Arabia and Oman signed 13 memoranda of understanding, reportedly worth more than $10 billion and covering several sectors.


154 KSrelief food aid trucks sent to Yemen

The convoy included 30,399 food baskets (3.252 tons) for distribution in 15 Yemeni governorates. (KSrelief)
The convoy included 30,399 food baskets (3.252 tons) for distribution in 15 Yemeni governorates. (KSrelief)
Updated 07 December 2021

154 KSrelief food aid trucks sent to Yemen

The convoy included 30,399 food baskets (3.252 tons) for distribution in 15 Yemeni governorates. (KSrelief)
  • KSrelief has implemented, in cooperation with its many humanitarian partners, a total of 644 projects in Yemen

RIYADH: Dr. Abdullah Al Rabeeah, Supervisor General of King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief), inaugurated the launch of 154 relief trucks from Saudi Arabia on Monday. 

The convoy included 30,399 food baskets (3.252 tons) for distribution in 15 Yemeni governorates.

The food aid is the first to be sent by KSrelief to Yemen as part of the comprehensive “Yemen Food Security Support Project”, which will continue into 2022.

In comments to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Dr. Al-Rabeeah stated that this convoy comes as an extension of the commitment of the government of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to provide ongoing assistance to the Yemeni people and to support them during their current humanitarian crisis.

Al-Rabeeah added that Monday’s convoy from KSrelief is part of the center’s impartial, comprehensive assistance to people in need in all parts of Yemen, and that all aid is provided according solely to need and without any other motive.

He added that the 154-vehicle convoy is the first in what will amount to a total of 973 trucks carrying more than 192,000 food baskets (20.540 tons) for a total cost of $29,978,000. The goal of the massive food aid delivery project is to alleviate the suffering of crisis-affected families across Yemen.

Al-Rabeeah said the aid will help to increase food security and improve the quality of life of Yemenis, adding that this aid is particularly important in light of the additional challenges being posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He stressed that KSrelief was keen to ensure that all aid reaches its targeted beneficiaries, and that the food baskets would be distributed through United Nations organizations and local partners in coordination with Yemen’s High Relief Committee.

KSrelief has implemented, in cooperation with its many humanitarian partners, a total of 644 projects in Yemen covering all key humanitarian sectors.


Who’s Who: Fahad Almutlaq, CEO of Sharqia Development Authority

Fahad Almutlaq. (Supplied)
Fahad Almutlaq. (Supplied)
Updated 07 December 2021

Who’s Who: Fahad Almutlaq, CEO of Sharqia Development Authority

Fahad Almutlaq. (Supplied)

Fahad Almutlaq has served as CEO of Sharqia Development Authority since September 2019.
He has more than 20 years of experience in managing comprehensive development strategies, urban planning, building integrated development, legislation and empowerment initiatives. Almutlaq served as chief strategy officer at the Council for Economic Affairs and Development, which took part in the national strategy of Saudi Arabia, Vision 2030, between 2017 and 2019.
Before that, he served as CEO of the Arabian Industry and Services Group from June 2014 to August 2018. Almutlaq led significant mergers and acquisitions, and directed strategies and plans to accommodate social changes in the region.
He has held several positions in the Saudi Ministry of Defense, building international experience through working with one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense contractors, BAE Systems.
Almutlaq also worked with major science and technology companies and oversaw the construction and operations of the largest aerospace and industrial facility in the Middle East between 2011 and 2014. Within the ministry, he served as head of business development and future support and planning in 2010, and as program manager, based in the UK, between 2007 until 2010.
He held several positions in the Saudi Electricity Company, including head of the project management and planning division. Almutlaq also worked on civil, urban and electromechanical projects between 2004 and 2008, served as senior project engineer between 2003 and 2004, and before that worked as a planning engineer in the department of facilities planning and land use from 2001 to 2003.
He now serves on the board of several organizations.
Almutlaq holds two master’s degrees and an MBA in project and construction management. He has completed several practical and executive programs, covering strategic planning and leadership training.


Saudi environmental security officers protect sea and land ecosystems

Saudi Arabia is committed to protecting the environment and its natural resources. (Twitter: @SFES_KSA)
Saudi Arabia is committed to protecting the environment and its natural resources. (Twitter: @SFES_KSA)
Updated 07 December 2021

Saudi environmental security officers protect sea and land ecosystems

Saudi Arabia is committed to protecting the environment and its natural resources. (Twitter: @SFES_KSA)
  • Among the arrested are illegal firewood traders

RIYADH: The Saudi Special Forces for Environmental Security have apprehended dozens of offenders for environmental violations as part of a recent crackdown.

The forces, under the command of the Ministry of Interior, arrested individuals who illegally moved sand and soil in Jeddah and Tabuk. People who illegally entered the Imam Turki bin Abdullah Royal Reserve in northeast Riyadh and hunted wildlife in restricted areas were also detained.

Others were arrested while transporting local firewood and trafficking endangered fungi in Al-Muzahmiyya Governorate. Several other citizens were also caught selling local firewood in other regions of the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is committed to protecting the environment and its natural resources across its vast territory. The Saudi environment law focuses on conservation, protection, development, pollution prevention, public health protection and the rational use of natural resources.

It also aims to make environmental planning an integral part of comprehensive development in industrial, agricultural and urban areas.

One practice that harms the Saudi environment is illegal dredging. Talal S. Al-Rasheed, a consultant at Gulf Energy for Environmental Consultations, warned that dredging and similar practices can negatively impact the environment and economy if studies are not conducted beforehand. Reduced fish stocks and damage to coral reefs are major consequences of poorly planned and illegal dredging.

Al-Rasheed added that taking sand and soil without a license is a “major disaster” because it changes the nature of the land by creating deep pits that cause accidents and endanger the lives of road users.

“Because the marine environment is sensitive to its habitat, when anything changes in nature, creatures begin to shift to other locations. Some of these habitats might not suitable for living. Because of the availability of suitable places for marine organisms, every species in the marine environment has a designated place to adapt to,” Al-Rasheed said.

Nasser M. Al-Hamidi, an environmental activist, said that burning or cutting trees in natural forests for wood is harmful to the environment and local communities due to smoke pollution.

He added that any attack on the environment, including dredging and stealing natural materials such as mountain rock deposits, poses a severe threat to the Kingdom’s natural beauty, which should be preserved for future generations.