Ancient secrets of love and happiness — set in stone across Arabian Peninsula

Across the Arabian Peninsula, written inscriptions offer clues to the Arab communities that lived in various areas. (Shutterstock)
Across the Arabian Peninsula, written inscriptions offer clues to the Arab communities that lived in various areas. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 04 January 2022

Ancient secrets of love and happiness — set in stone across Arabian Peninsula

Across the Arabian Peninsula, written inscriptions offer clues to the Arab communities that lived in various areas. (Shutterstock)
  • Rock engravings are offering surprising clues about the Arabian Peninsula’s earliest cultures

MAKKAH: Ancient inscriptions on rocks throughout the Arabian Peninsula are helping to paint a picture of the earliest Arabic cultures, including economic and social conditions — and even people’s thoughts on love, marriage and happiness.

The engravings provide evidence of early religious belief and ritual performances, as well as details of professions, crafts and currencies, and also highlight the professionalism and skill of the engravers, according to Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University in Riyadh.
“Writing is an invention of man,” Hawsawi told Arab News. “It is a means of exchanging ideas and knowledge, as well as discussing it within societies, regardless of class, beliefs and sects.”
She added that historical information gleaned from these inscriptions can reflect the feelings of love, fear, longing, sadness and happiness felt by people at the time.
“That is why inscriptions are seen as a true witness of what the people of that era experienced, which highlights the region’s cultural depth.”
Hawsawi said that writing and engraving were regarded as professions. “Writing, in general, illustrates the level of civilization and education that Arab society reached, and also demonstrates writing’s role in the progress of humanity.”

The existence of writing in civilizations of all kinds is proof of their importance in codification, communication and relations between societies.

Dr. Salma Hawsawi

She said that writing developed through two stages — “the pre-alphabet stage, which is figurative writing, or depicting material things in the human environment to denote moral aspects through rock drawings. Then, after that, symbolic with syllabic sounds.”




Engravings also provided details of tribal names and locations, as well as professions and crafts, trade provisions, currencies, and exports and imports.

According to Hawsawi, cuneiform script spread throughout Mesopotamia from about 3,200 B.C. and was used until A.D.100.
Hieroglyphic script was in use in Egypt by 4,000 B.C., while Ugaritic script was used in northern Syria. Sinaitic script dates back to 1,400 B.C. and was invented by a group of Canaanites working in turquoise and copper mines in the Sinai desert.
Meanwhile, Phoenician script, which dates back to 1,000 B.C., and Punic script spread throughout North Africa from 300 B.C. until A.D. 300.
“The existence of writing in civilizations of all kinds is proof of their importance in codification, communication and relations between societies,” Hawsawi said.
Across the Arabian Peninsula, written inscriptions offer clues to the Arab communities that lived in various areas. Some of the inscriptions had a religious aspect, focusing on the names of gods and religious rituals, while others were more social, discussing personal status, marriage, divorce, and people’s names.
Engravings also provided details of tribal names and locations, as well as professions and crafts, trade provisions, currencies, and exports and imports.




The engravings provide evidence of early religious belief and ritual performances.

“On the political level, inscriptions included the names of kings and rulers, wars and the rise and fall of states,” she said.
“These inscriptions are an important source of historical and cultural knowledge of the region. The spread of these inscriptions and their large number give us an idea of the level of knowledge and culture reached by the societies and the attention they paid to writing and documentation.”
Hawsawi said that inscriptions can be found on rocks in an arranged or random manner, depending on the writer’s skill, as well as on the facades of temples, houses and even gravestones. Some depicted society through famous events or the aphorisms of its rulers.
In southern Arabia, Ancient South Arabian script was used from about 800 B.C. the A.D 600. Inscriptions are widespread, and can be found on stones, timber, and bones in eastern Arabia, Al-Faw, Najran and as far north as AlUla.
“The Zabur script also appeared in the south and dates back to about 500 B.C. Some say that the ancient South Arabian script and Zabur script emerged at about the same time,” Hawsawi said.
In the north of the Arabian Peninsula, Thamudic script was in use from 800 B.C. and consisted of 29 characters. Inscriptions have been found on rock facades along the trade route from the far south of the Arab world to the far north.
The Safaitic script is similar to the Thamudic script and dates back to the first century B.C. Dating back to the ninth century, the Aramaic script contains 22 letters, taken from Phoenician writing, and spread widely in the ancient world, especially in Mesopotamia, Iran, India, Egypt and the northern Arabian Peninsula.
Hawsawi pointed out that “the Dadanite and Lihyanite scripts date back to the sixth or fifth centuries B.C. and contain 28 letters, some of which resemble the Thamudic and ancient South Arabian scripts. It is written from right to left and the words are separated by a vertical line. The Palmyrene and Syriac scripts derived from Aramaic date back to the first century B.C. The Nabati script is derived from the Aramaic, however some of its letters have changed in terms of form and adding a dot, giving way to the Arabic script in which we write today.”
She said that writing in Arabian Peninsula societies differed from that of other cultures due to its distinctive scripts and range of topics.
“Life and related events were recorded, unlike other civilizations that focused on codifying political events,” she said.


Saudi, Belgian artists showcase women-centric artworks

Saudi, Belgian artists showcase women-centric artworks
Updated 19 May 2022

Saudi, Belgian artists showcase women-centric artworks

Saudi, Belgian artists showcase women-centric artworks
  • Skna Hassan’s artwork is colorful while Andrea Hulsbosch’s is mysterious with dark colors

RIYADH: For Europe Month 2022, Belgian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dominique Mineur invited visitors to an art exhibition titled “Belgian and Saudi Face to Face” at Lar’t Pur Gallery, which commenced on May 17 and will last for a week.

“The Belgian Embassy is delighted to collaborate with the EU and Saudi Arabia to hold an exhibition featuring Belgian and Saudi artists in conjunction with the European Union month,” Mineur told Arab News.

The exhibit features abstract women-centric art pieces by Belgian artist Andrea B. M. Hulsbosch and Saudi artist Skna Hassan.

“Both artists are portraying women in their respective contexts, and I think the dialogue between them is inspiring, and there is no better way than art to create links between two countries,” Mineur said.

Hassan’s artwork is colorful and showcases Arabian women dressed in traditional yet modern attires on large-scale canvases, while Hulsbosch’s artwork is mysterious with dark colors on small canvases. 

“I believe that Skna and I are very complementary. Her artworks are large and bright while mine are intentionally smaller and more sober. My work requires a symbiotic connection with my collaborators and a level of intimacy with the audience which generates a sense of mystery, while Skna’s art makes an immediate impression. But both focus on women, and I feel that’s what connects us — telling stories as women and about women transcends borders,” Hulsbosch said.

Hassan is known for her female representations in her artwork as she always shows traditions, especially Najdi culture in her artworks.

“My work represents the Saudi woman and her life and culture. I am glad they called me and that the Belgium Embassy chose me to represent the Saudi woman. I feel that it was convenient to do it with Andrea because her pieces are about women and their cultures,” said Hassan.

Europe Month celebrates the founding of the EU on May 9 to celebrate peace and unity in Europe and cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The celebration runs until June 9, and is centered around the exchange of cultural experiences and encouragement of further communication between Europe and the Kingdom to improve mutual understanding and strengthening relations.


Moroccan TV star Salma Bensaid discusses new platform to promote her homeland’s heritage

Moroccan TV star Salma Bensaid discusses new platform to promote her homeland’s heritage
Updated 19 May 2022

Moroccan TV star Salma Bensaid discusses new platform to promote her homeland’s heritage

Moroccan TV star Salma Bensaid discusses new platform to promote her homeland’s heritage

PARIS: Salma Bensaid is a television presenter and producer who has worked on the design and production of several projects aimed at young people and the Moroccan public — focusing on lifestyle, housing, crafts, social issues and heritage.

For shows such as “Dar Wa Décor” and “Decocoeurs,” Bensaid and her team have visited more than 380 Moroccan families and over 20 accommodation centers, fitting out and furnishing more than 400 spaces. She has traveled across Morocco, meeting women and men passionate about their culture, tradition, and art.

Bensaid spoke to Arab News about her new platform, Dialna Maroc — which she has created to help preserve and promote her country’s rich cultural heritage.

Q: Tell us about your recently launched Dialna Maroc platform. What are its aims?

A:The Dialna movement and the Dialna Maroc platform are the natural continuation of a journey of 21 years in audio-visual production and content creation. The promotion of Morocco, its know-how, its history, arts, and heritage were among my priorities, but what accelerated the launch of this movement was the meeting I had with a family of craftsmen in Fez. They had suffered the full brunt of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — the border closure and the drastic reduction in tourism. Moroccan craftsmen suffered during this period when economic activity was completely at a standstill.

Our mission consisted of finding alternative markets and sources of income for artisans and relaunching production in certain workshops. We first created demand in a market abroad and, in a continuous spirit of solidarity, we continued with the production of a collection called “SB,” marketed via a digital platform. The objective is to keep productivity up among these craftsmen and to create a link between the artisan and the customer.

Dialna Morocco is a unifying ecosystem. It’s a platform for networking, relaunching a dynamic of creation, meetings and debates around a multicultural country.

It makes it possible to support craftsmen and serves as a bridge between art curators, historians, influencers, and Moroccan youth. Our main mission — through an inclusive culture and shared responsibility, is to revive the legacy of the past; to protect it, to enrich it and to pass it on to future generations.

With the help of its members and its ambassadors, Dialna Maroc disseminates its values ​​through its various content and alliances, in Morocco and beyond. Our projects spark debate and stimulate creativity. Our main themes are Moroccan identity, coexistence, savoir-vivre, artistic and cultural characteristics and skills, architectural heritage, and gastronomy.

Q: What are the main challenges Moroccan artisans face?

A: The question we’re addressing is how to provide them with effective tools so they can promote their skills, build networks, and enter new markets without depending on one-off events. With Dialna Morocco, we’ve launched “Artisan w Aala Bal,” which provides artisans with training in marketing, digital, and e-commerce and offers image coaching.

Q: Morocco is renowned for its cultural richness. How are you promoting and passing on this legacy?

A: In terms of architecture, crafts, art and gastronomy, there are things specific to Moroccan culture that are the subject of international recognition. Unfortunately, our craftsmen do not have any real support. These professions — and a part of our heritage — face the risk of disappearing. Cultural transmission is a common responsibility. And a necessity. The protection of heritage needs to be at the heart of the debate, stimulating interest among young people and encouraging research, reflection and a sense of community.

Q: Can you give an example of how you are helping to do that?

A: For example, we’ve launched a photo contest for students and academics. The objective is to bring together young people who wish to better understand and analyze their history and heritage. We offer them the opportunity to immortalize a moment through photographs.

Other projects are planned too. The goal is to engage with others to preserve our heritage and our culture. Our mission is to encourage young talents, and ensure they get access to necessary training to perpetuate ancestral professions, and become the guarantors of our cultural heritage. Our identity is what we are: Our past, our present, and what we will leave to future generations.


New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic
Updated 19 May 2022

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

DUBAI: As Joni Mitchell observed: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” That has certainly proved true for travel since the onset of the COVID-pandemic saw worldwide restrictions on movement cause the industry to grind to a halt in early 2020. 

Many feared airlines and hotels would be struggling for years to come, but at this month’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, experts were bullish about the near future, with recovery looking extremely healthy. The ability to hop across borders for a long weekend or a summer vacation, or even a work trip — has now become something precious; the chance to escape everyday routine has become more alluring than ever. 

“Travel has moved from something that we took for granted to something that, now, we really need,” Paul Kelly, managing partner of Dubai-based consumer-insight company D/A, told Arab News. “That’s something that came through in this analysis: This huge pent-up demand — the emotional side of traveling has changed a lot.”

Residents of the GCC are eager to get travelling again, as research that D/A presented at the travel market proved. The company assessed millions of social media and online posts with its AI-driven “Sila” tool to discover the travel intentions and desires of more than 2.2 million Arab speakers across the GCC. What D/A found was that while many of the favored destinations remain the same (with one major exception — more on that later), the reasons for visiting them have changed significantly. It seems people are longing for relaxation in natural surroundings, along with cultural experiences, more than they are looking for shopping destinations and material acquisition.

“Visiting cities for shopping used to be much (more popular). It was never as big as the ‘Beach Holidays,’ category, but ‘Shopping’ was always number two,” Kelly said. “It’s now the lowest. Beach destinations are still number one — for instance, since the pandemic, visitor numbers to the Maldives from the GCC are higher than ever. But the ‘Nature and Mountains’ category — so, lakes, for example; think Switzerland more than the Maldives — has become much more popular. And cultural tourism — say, music festivals, art events, and general cultural experiences — has also become far more important, especially among younger people.”

Here are some of the main findings from D/A’s research.

SAUDI RISING 

One country has seen a major increase in interest over the past three years: Saudi Arabia. While the glitz of the UAE — and particularly Dubai — remains in high demand, the Kingdom is now the second-most desirable destination for travelers from the GCC, according to D/A’s research. “Saudi has become a really big destination. That was never the case previously, except for pilgrims, but this research discounts religious travel,” Kelly explained. Clearly, the Saudi authorities’ efforts over the past few years to position the country as an attractive tourism destination have been a huge success. More and more Saudis are looking to take short breaks in their own country, and travelers from the Emirates, Oman and other GCC countries are taking the opportunity to explore the rich culture and stunning landscapes that had previously been all-but-impossible to access.

“This has all been driven by what’s currently open — festivals like MDLBEAST, the Riyadh and Jeddah seasons, AlUla, the sporting events,” Kelly said. “That stuff works.”

THINK LOCAL 

The top three destinations for GCC travelers were all in the Gulf: The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. This is a recent development, according to Kelly. “The Gulf countries were never really factors before – apart from the obvious, Dubai, which has always been a beacon for the Middle East. But what’s been interesting is the rise of Qatar, because of the World Cup, and then Saudi as well,” he said.

“Khaleejis like going for short breaks — five days or something. And a lot of people, for those breaks, are now staying within the GCC. Saudi hasn’t overtaken the UAE yet, but it’s really come up as a tourism destination,” he continued. “The whole concept of staycation within the region has really come up — people are staying for longer periods too. Shorter stays are much more valued now.” 

TURKISH DELIGHT

Turkey is one of the most desirable international locations for GCC travelers, according to D/A’s research. It’s always been popular, but what the social-media chatter suggests is that people aren’t just heading to the big cities anymore — instead it’s the country’s mixture of “beach and mountains” that is attracting attention, with its Mediterranean areas proving especially in demand.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENT

While GCC travelers are eager for new experiences, they’re also looking for the reassurance of the familiar. So destinations like the UK, the US and Thailand remain extremely desirable, but, Kelly said, they are now looking for new experiences in places where they may have been several times before. 

“What we found across most of the countries is that there’s a big movement towards new experiences, even in really familiar settings,” Kelly said. “So they like to go to the same places — London, for example, is a big destination. But while they’re in London, they want to do something different, maybe be there a bit longer and go out into the countryside. There’s also an eagerness to fill out itineraries a bit more, do more things.”

FORBIDDEN FRUIT

“People really wanted to go to the countries that closed their borders early because of COVID,” Kelly said. “You want to do what you can’t do, I guess.” China and Japan were the main beneficiaries of this particular quirk of our brains, with both featuring prominently on the wishlist of destinations in the Far East for GCC travelers. China, in particular, is a desirable place for studying for GCC residents, D/A found.


Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing
Updated 19 May 2022

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

DUBAI: The Lebanese illustrator discusses her latest digital drawing, which pays tribute to Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in Jenin earlier this month. 

When I heard the news of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, I was in Portugal with my parents on a three-day vacation. I saw a couple of posts on social media, but it wasn’t very clear what was happening, so I went on Google Search and read a couple of very short reports, as the news was breaking. I went back on social media and my Palestinian friends were posting more and more about it. 

It was actually very shocking. I felt like I had to go back to the hotel and draw a tribute to her. Seeing her on the floor was really intense and I was deeply disturbed for a while. It took me some time to process what was happening. I feel like she’s done so much for everyone; the way she’s been reporting for so many years and has been a voice for the people — risking her life almost every day. 

‘Honoring Shireen.’ (Supplied) 

Illustration is how I can communicate my thoughts and feelings more clearly. Most of my work is digital illustrations and I use an iPad. My fingers were moving so fast, almost in rage, but I had to stop myself and give a softer emotion to it. I had to pour out appreciation and admiration of who she was. I wanted that to translate into the piece, rather than it being an angry piece. 

She was a very soft and kind person and I think that contributes to the halo around her head. At first, I wanted the flowers to be colorful, but then I wanted them to be kind of muted out and be white and very peaceful. She had an angelic face and was graceful till the end and I wanted that to be highlighted in the illustration. 

She was wearing a press vest when she got shot and part of me wanted to remind people not just about the job that she carried out until her last breath, but also that she was wronged and that hurt a lot people. 

The white, blank eyes may be disturbing to others, but to me they’re calming. It’s to remind people that, yes, there’s a human being behind that person, but there’s also a soul. 


Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single
Updated 18 May 2022

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

DUBAI: Moroccan singer and songwriter Jihane Bougrine this week released her latest single “Rahat El-Bal,” in which the France-raised artist explores the often taboo subject of mental health, bipolar disorder in particular.

In her new song, which translates to “Peace of Mind,” the star, who is signed to Universal Music, said she wishes to send a message of “hope and optimism” by shining a light on the mental illness.

She was inspired to write the song by a family member who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago, she told Arab News.

At the time, her family faced myriad challenges. “Here in Morocco, with the traditions and culture, it’s taboo to talk about mental health,” the singer said. “So they used to tell us he was crazy. It was very tough for the family, so I decided to write it and put a name on it to say that people should not be afraid to talk about it.”

The song, which already has more than 250,000 views on YouTube alone, is a mix between indie, electro and pop genres. 

For the music video, the singer collaborated with the French director Julien Fouré, who she said “managed to put my words into an image.

“For him, photography and cinema are a way to send important messages to change the world,” Bougrine said. “It is very inspiring and (it was) easy to work with someone like him because he is very talented.”

The four-minute clip stars Moroccan actress Mouna R’miki.

Bougrine, who has lived in multiple cities around the world, said that traveling made her “wealthy” when it comes to music. “Music is a melting pot. I can have different rhythms in my songs. I don’t have any limits. The sky is my limit,” she explained. 

The singer added that she hopes her music will offer international audiences a glimpse of life as a Moroccan. “If (my songs) can be a small window to Morocco… and make people understand what we are feeling and what we are living, it would be amazing,” she said.