Who’s Who: Sheikh Bandar Baleelah, imam at the Grand Mosque in Makkah

Sheikh Bandar Baleelah
Sheikh Bandar Baleelah
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Updated 20 July 2021

Who’s Who: Sheikh Bandar Baleelah, imam at the Grand Mosque in Makkah

Who’s Who: Sheikh Bandar Baleelah, imam at the Grand Mosque in Makkah

Sheikh Bandar Baleelah is one of the official imams at the Grand Mosque in Makkah by a royal decree issued in October 2013.

Sheikh Baleelah was assigned to deliver the sermon on Arafat Day by a royal decree from King Salman.

He has also been an associate professor of Shariah law at the College of Shariah and Regulations in Taif University since 2009.

Born in 1975 in Makkah, Sheikh Baleelah memorized the entire Qur’an while still a child. He gained proficiency in its recitation through the lessons of several recognized Qur’an teachers.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Umm Al-Qura University in 1996, where he studied Islamic law at Shariah College. He then completed a master’s degree in Islamic jurisprudence from the same university and graduated with first-class honors.

Baleelah also obtained a Ph.D. from the Islamic University of Madinah in 2008 with first-class honors.

He worked as an associate teacher of Islamic jurisprudence at the Academic Institute of the Grand Mosque in Makkah. He has authored numerous books and research papers related to his field.

Before becoming a Grand Mosque imam, he worked as an imam (leading prayers) and khateeb (delivering sermons) at numerous mosques throughout Makkah. The latest was Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz Mosque in the Ash-Shishah district of Makkah.

He first led the Taraaweeh prayers during Ramadan nights at the Grand Mosque in 2013 and began delivering Friday sermons in 2019 by royal decree.

Furthermore, another royal decree appointed Sheikh Baleelah as a member of the Council of Senior Scholars in October 2020.


Thousands flock to Global Town Festival opening in Riyadh for dance, food, culture experience

Thousands flock to Global Town Festival opening in Riyadh for dance, food, culture experience
Updated 28 October 2021

Thousands flock to Global Town Festival opening in Riyadh for dance, food, culture experience

Thousands flock to Global Town Festival opening in Riyadh for dance, food, culture experience

RIYADH: The largest multinational festival in Saudi Arabia opened on Wednesday in the capital Riyadh.

Thousands of people gathered at Exhibition Park on Eastern Ring Road for the Global Town Festival, an historic, cross-cultural experience of “unforgettable” moments.

Reema Al-Ruwaysan, chief executive officer of festival organizer MOLHIMA Group, said: “It’s a feeling that can’t be described, to see the Saudi youth, men, and women partake in a cultural event of this magnitude. I’m just happy to see it.”

 Reema Alruwaysan, CEO of MOLHIMAH Group. (AN Photo/Saad Aldossari)

It will be the second time Riyadh has hosted the two-week festival which sold out on its first day with 5,000 visitors. Countries from around the world will be showcasing famous landmarks, markets, folklore, and songs, and cafes and restaurants will serve traditional cuisines.

Polaris Slingshot three-wheeled motorcycles and Harley-Davidsons entered the main plaza to kick off the festival in the largest motorbike parade in the Kingdom’s history.

Welcoming crowds, Al-Ruwaysan said: “I hope you enjoy the festival that brings all cultures and civilizations in one place.”

Cultural dances, virtual reality games, and traditional food were some of the first-day experiences, with a number of ambassadors attending the opening ceremony.

Abdulhakim Al-Ouda, 35, from Riyadh, a speaker with the Vision 2030 team for training and development, said: “I’m here for the games, magic, and festivities. I visited stands that sold clothes, and paintings and I went to restaurants. It’s wonderful.”

Tickets available online priced SR40 ($10.60) sold out two days before the festival opening. Admission for under-12s is free, and the festival is open from 4 p.m. until midnight every day until Nov. 9.

Startups and family businesses were given spaces on Charity Street to sell their products as part of the Molhimah Al-Khair initiative.

Noora Alassaf, a certified decoupage artist and trainer from Qassim, said: “I tried to gather art from various cultures and place them altogether in one booth. Decoupage art comes from France, you can see some inspiration from (Spanish painter Pablo) Picasso here and these masks are Italian inspired.

“The reception at my booth has been amazing, and what’s beautiful is every year I see the Saudi people’s love for art increase. I see families now wanting to instill a love for art in their kids from a young age, and I absolutely love it. The art culture in Saudi Arabia is without limits,” she added.

Another startup at the festival was Spoilz, a mobile-gaming company founded by 29-year-old Musaab Al-Malki from Riyadh, who was showcasing its latest game “Smack Sack.”

A highlight from the evening's entertainment. (AN Photo/Saad Aldossari)

“We’re here in partnership with ThinkTech by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to show off our games and engage with our community. Our plans are to reach a global audience, to publish more games, and to become the largest game developer in the Middle East and North Africa region.

“I like the idea of mixing civilizations and showing different cultures (at the festival), and this is what we’re focusing on with our games, to show Saudi Arabia’s culture,” Al-Malki said.

Over the coming days, visitors can expect to begin their journey through the festival on Saudi Street, starting with a historical route through ancient Najd, Darwaza al-Tumairi, and Souk Al-Muqaybara.

Accompanied by an exhibition that displays the most prominent achievements of the Kingdom’s rulers, Saudi Street aims to showcase the country and what it has to offer in terms of culture and knowledge, Al-Ruwaysan told Arab News.

Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Djibouti will join in performing festive dances and serving traditional food on African Street.

One of the attractions on Egypt Street will be El-Fishawy cafe, which dates back to 1771. Known for attracting great thinkers, kings, and princes of ancient Egypt, its fame increased after the international writer and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Naguib Mahfouz used it as a place of inspiration for his novels.

Meanwhile, visitors were able to see Pisa’s famous leaning tower on Italy Street.

As well as walking around the attractions, visitors can rent electric scooters and bicycles.


Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest

Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest
Updated 28 October 2021

Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest

Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest
  • Arab News visited the “Million Tree Farm” in Jouf, a land of fertile soil and moderate climate ideal for cultivating this popular drupe

JOUF: Olive oil, the green elixir and a staple in Saudi households, is getting a production boost  as farmers in the northern Jouf region — the “food basket of the Kingdom” — adopt high-tech methods to get the most out of their traditional olive groves.

Olive trees have their roots in the cradle of civilization. Cultivated even before the invention of written language, distinctive tree varieties spread to Iran, Syria and Palestine, and throughout the Mediterranean basin.

With its fertile soil and moderate climate, the Jouf region in the north of the Kingdom has become Saudi Arabia’s biggest producer of olive oil, and is home to vast orchards holding millions of trees.

Throughout history, the humble olive has been associated with prosperity. But olive oil has always been much more than just a delicious part of the daily diet, and is a valuable and intrinsic part of Arab culture and heritage.

 

Arab News traveled north and visited the Busita farm, also known as the “Million Tree Farm,” whose owner, Nasser Al-Hamad, shared his story of swapping a career as an Islamic studies teacher in Riyadh for life in the world of agriculture.

Al-Hamad researched and planned his farming project for years before planting 160,000 olive trees imported from Spain through the Agromillora company.

His efforts have borne fruit and he is now regarded as one of the best farmers in the region.

Throughout history, the humble olive has been associated with prosperity. But olive oil has always been much more than just a delicious part of the daily diet, and is a valuable and intrinsic part of Arab culture and heritage.

“I grew up between farms and in a family full of farmers, so I was already familiar with planting methods for many crops,” he told Arab News.

Al-Hamad decided to grow Spanish olive trees in high-density groves, a more economical and productive model that also delivered high-quality crops and flavor.

“When my family started their farming business in Jouf city, the quality of olive oil caught my attention. We did not depend on the Spanish olive oil for daily use, and it was only used for medical prescriptions. However, I found out that it has a nuttier and richer fruity flavor and a sweeter taste than other types,” he said.

“When you eat it in the early morning, it gives the body a kick-start for the day.”

The journey that led to the Million Tree Farm began with a single step.

Nasser Al-Hamad at his Busita Farm in Al Jouf. (AN photo)

“I started with a small orchard of the available olive trees, then I started my research, including visiting international farms and agricultural experts all over Europe,” Al-Hamad said.

In 2018, 160,000 trees, all of the Arbequina variety, were planted as the first stage of the “Million Tree” project.

“The trees are watered through pressure-regulated irrigation networks for four years, resulting in significant growth, heavy branches to support the fruit and excellent productivity,” he said.

“I have been to China, different countries in Europe, and I have met some of the biggest dealers in the field. It turned out that Busita is the best, in terms of quality, production and cost, thanks to different factors, such as the weather.”

INNUMBERS

160,000 - the number of trees planted in the first stage of the “Million Tree” project

10 kg - every 10 kg of olives yields one liter of high-quality olive oil

He added: “In other countries, rainfall in the harvest season can cause crop damage or increase in moisture level for the fruits, but not here.”

Al-Hamad said that every 10 kg of olives yields one liter of high-quality olive oil.

“This whole orchard is managed by one irrigation pump, and requires only one worker due to the use of modern technology,” he said.

The farm uses a smart irrigation system that distributes water in equal amounts to reduce wastage. (AN photo)

Al-Hamad’s success has prompted him to launch another project, with plans to plant 700,000 trees in the next six months. Three types of Spanish olive tree — Arbequina, or “Queen of Arabia”; Arbosana, which translates as “Arabs of Sinai”; and Olea europaea, the European olive — will be used in the planting.

With a long-term goal in mind, the “smart farmer” is focusing on ways to conserve water, lower costs, and transform the way olive oil is produced in the Kingdom in line with modern business principles.

“As I made a career in the farming industry, I found out that the farming process is easier now. My trip to Spain taught me that farming can also adopt technology that is more feasible than standard methods used in other countries.”

Al-Hamad’s methods result in lower costs, reduced water consumption and minimal use of labor, but the result is a consistent high-quality olive oil.

Olive trees thrive on little water, unlike palm trees, which require intensive watering.

Al-Hamad’s methods result in lower costs, reduced water consumption and minimal use of labor. (AN photo)

Differences in trees sizes can be seen in some orchards due to variations in watering or uneven land.

However, Al-Hamad said: “I use a smart irrigation system that distributes water in equal amounts to reduce wastage. This system allows only two liters of water to be consumed in one hour, no matter the pressure level is. Hence, every tree has a single watering unit to guarantee all trees grow evenly.”

Harvesting olives usually requires a large workforce and is labor intensive. Crop quality can also be affected if olives are left in the sun before being collected.

Harnessing modern techniques, Al-Hamad relies on a mechanical olive harvester — or as he calls it, the “one-man mission machine” — to fulfil his vision.

“Instead of 500 workers harvesting the crop, I bought a high-density olive harvester that ensures gentle handling and seamless transport of the olive to the container and then to the olive press station.”

A high-density olive harvester ensures gentle handling and seamless transport of the olive to the container and then to the olive press station. (AN photo)

The olive harvest starts at the end of September and runs till early January. The harvester combs the olive trees and collects 50 tons of the crop every day.

To allow the harvesting machine to operate between each row, olive trees are trimmed to a standard three-meter width and 1.5-meter height. The crop is then transported through a belt conveyor while dusting and washing are carried out.

Olives are then “cold-pressed” at room temperature to extract the juice, resulting in the so-called olive paste, which is kneaded for 30 minutes until the oil is secreted. The liquid is then separated from the olive mixture, and the extracted juice separated into water and oil.

Pure fresh oil is filtered and stored immediately in cans and bottles ranging from one to 16 liters in volume.

“With persistence, planning and work, nothing is difficult,” Al-Hamad said. “In this project, I made sure to benefit from the climate, land and farming methods, all of which are studied and well planned.”

In 2021, Al-Hamad won the best farmer award in the Jouf region. His “Million Tree” brand, created to highlight the success of his project, also claimed the silver award in the Dubai olive oil competition.

“I pride myself, my family, and my country with this huge accomplishment in producing the finest olive oil in the world,” he said.

“The government’s appreciation for the success of my project encouraged me to think about transforming agriculture into an industry and becoming the most advanced olive oil manufacturer in the world.”


Saudi aid agency continues relief projects in Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon

Saudi aid agency continues relief projects in Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon
Updated 28 October 2021

Saudi aid agency continues relief projects in Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon

Saudi aid agency continues relief projects in Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon

HODEIDAH: In a single week, more than 301,000 liters of clean water were pumped into tanks, and an additional 287,000 liters were provided for domestic use, as part of an ongoing King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center project to supply water and environmental sanitation in Yemen’s Hodeidah governorate.
KSrelief also delivered medical supplies to the Jordanian government to support the health sector in the country and help authorities battle the coronavirus pandemic. They included liquid medical oxygen, oxygen tanks and equipment for intensive care departments.
The aid was officially presented by the Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairi to the Jordanian Minister of Health Firas Ibrahim Al-Hawari.
Al-Sudairi said that the Kingdom and Jordan are bound by strong and distinguished relations that are supported by the leaderships of both countries.
KSrelief said it also continues to distribute bread in northern Lebanon as part of the third phase of the Al-Amal Charity Bakery Project. It has been distributing 20,000 bundles of bread daily to needy Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian families for 12 months. Each family receives two bundles and the project is benefiting 50,000 people.
The project is part of the Kingdom’s efforts, through the work of KSrelief, to improve the living conditions of refugees and provide them with basic food supplies, authorities said.


Who’s Who: Anas Al-Oqalaa, vice governor at Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority

Who’s Who: Anas Al-Oqalaa, vice governor at Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority
Updated 28 October 2021

Who’s Who: Anas Al-Oqalaa, vice governor at Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority

Who’s Who: Anas Al-Oqalaa, vice governor at Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority

Anas Al-Oqalaa was recently named vice governor of legal and enforcement at the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority.

Al-Oqalaa is a tenacious legal professional with a wealth of expertise acquired through providing legal counsel and management as part of regulatory compliance strategies.

He is also considered a legal expert in drafting legislation specializing in direct and indirect taxes, and capital markets laws. Through tenure, he has acquired an excellent working knowledge of commercial, tax and capital markets laws, and regulations.

Al-Oqalaa has 17 years’ experience in the industry, and has proven leadership skills in building and managing teams for more than 10 years. He possesses a reputation as a leader in his area of specialization.

As an experienced lawyer and legal professional who has worked in the public and private sectors, Al-Oqalaa built robust knowledge in different areas including real estate, economic and financial laws, and regulations.

Al-Oqalaa served in different roles at the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority including deputy governor for legal affairs from October 2018 to October 2021 and general manager of the legal and compliance department from November 2017 to October 2018.

Before that, he served as the general counsel at the National Housing Co. from April 2017 to November 2017, and the general legal counsel and board secretary at the Middle East Financial Investment Co. from September 2015 to April 2017.

He also held different positions at the Capital Market Authority including head of the listed companies violations department from January 2014 to August 2015, head of investment funds and offering violations department from December 2013 to July 2014, and legal counsel from November 2006 to December 2013.

Before that, he worked as a lawyer in local law firms. Al-Oqalaa also leads and is a member of several committees and programs.

He received a master’s degree in corporate and commercial law from the University of New South Wales, Australia, and a bachelor’s degree in law from King Saud University.

Al-Oqalaa also holds several certificates in areas related to law, leadership, investment and accounting.


Saudi medical team takes part in groundbreaking COVID-19 study

Saudi medical team takes part in groundbreaking COVID-19 study
Updated 28 October 2021

Saudi medical team takes part in groundbreaking COVID-19 study

Saudi medical team takes part in groundbreaking COVID-19 study

RIYADH: The findings of an international study on the effectiveness of blood thinners in reducing COVID-19-related deaths have been published in the British Medical Journal, with the King Saud University Medical City Clinical Research Unit playing a key role.
The comparative scientific research, which included King Saud University Medical City, King Faisal Specialist Hospital, studied the effect of blood thinners (heparin drugs) used daily for most patients in hospitals to alleviate dangerous side effects of COVID-19.
In the Kingdom, 148 patients took part in the study, representing one-third of total participants around the world.
Results show that deaths in a high-dose groups were less than those in a preventive dose group. Heparin drugs in the latter group were used as an anticoagulant to decrease harmful blood clotting.
The head of the Saudi research team, Dr. Mosaed bin Hamoud Al-Hamza, vascular surgery consultant at King Saud University Medical City and general supervisor of the study in the Kingdom, said: “The research was based on the findings of survey studies at the beginning of the pandemic, which showed that some infected cases were exposed to arterial and venous clots that lead to severe complications.”
He added that the results of the newest study might lead to a change in treatment protocols for some COVID-19 patients, specifically people hospitalized due to a lack of oxygen.