Up, up and away: Saudi Arabia’s first hot air balloon pilots take to the skies

Up, up and away: Saudi Arabia’s first hot air balloon pilots take to the skies
The hot air balloon show is part of the AlUla Skies Festival, which is being organized by Saudia Airlines and runs from Feb. 27 to March 12. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 10 March 2022

Up, up and away: Saudi Arabia’s first hot air balloon pilots take to the skies

Up, up and away: Saudi Arabia’s first hot air balloon pilots take to the skies
  • SAHAB program is the first in the Middle East to train hot air balloon pilots, enables trainees to obtain a certified license from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency

JEDDAH: Colorful hot air balloons decorated the daytime skies of AlUla, sailing over its archaeological sites as the country’s first hot air balloon pilots also took flight.
The hot air balloon show is part of the AlUla Skies Festival, which is being organized by Saudia Airlines and runs from Feb. 27 to March 12.
The 150 balloons will give visitors a rich and adventurous travel experience by flying them over AlUla to enjoy views of the stunning desert terrain, where they can see ancient archaeological sites and volcanic plains.
Two of the balloons are captained by trained pilots from the Saudi Arabian Hot Air Ballooning Federation.
Hussain Makkawi and Afrah Al-Harbi are the first licensed Saudi hot air balloon pilots in the country. They are also the first graduates from the SAHAB training program.
Makkawi, 32, works at the General Authority of Civil Aviation and said he had been supported by SAHAB to acquire his hot air balloon pilot license.
“I sought to fly but, even more importantly, it was an incredible opportunity for me to be one of the first Saudi hot air balloon pilots. It was, as they say, a no-brainer,” he told Arab News.
Up above in the sky, he is unafraid of heights. “I’m generally a person who enjoys peace and quietness, and that’s what got me attached to the air balloon. The smooth flying experience and the sense of peacefulness in the air balloon are priceless.
“Flying in a hot air balloon, as anyone who’s tried it, is a quite mesmerizing experience.”




Hussain Makkawi and Afrah Al- Harbi are the first trained and licensed Saudi hot air balloon pilots in the country. (Supplied)


The SAHAB program is the first in the Middle East to train hot air balloon pilots. It enables trainees to obtain a certified license from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.
It also enables them to participate in international events, as well as obtain memberships to take part in hot air balloon sporting activities.
Makkawi said the program had helped him to explore many topics like “meteorology, human performance, how the human body is affected by flying, navigation, details about the operation, materials, maintenance, and emergency procedures for the balloon.”
The program also has a practical part that includes pre-flight preparations and weather condition briefings, flight planning, balloon assembly and inflation, taking off, in-route flying altitudes, landing, and packing the balloon.
“My first time riding the air balloon was during my training period in the Netherlands. It was in June 2020 and I was hooked from the moment we took off,” Makkawi said.
He is aiming to obtain a commercial license so he can operate larger balloons.
“The initial license allows me to fly smaller category balloons, but, after accumulating a certain number of flying hours, I can start to operate larger balloons and that’s the goal.”
Flying in different places around the world is one of Makkawi’s dreams.
“I love to travel and explore,” he said.
Visitors to AlUla can choose from a tethered balloon, an untethered one, or they can come in the evening to witness the “Glow Show,” which entered the Guinness World Record for the longest line of illuminated balloons “dancing” to music.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The first hot air balloon experience was brought to Saudi Arabia in AlUla in 2019, one of many events to be held in the area.
  • Events such as the hot air balloon show have created a major step in the promotion of AlUla, in northwestern Saudi Arabia, which is widely recognized as one of the country’s most beautiful tourism destinations.

Al-Harbi, 21, is the first Saudi woman licensed to pilot a hot air balloon.
“My first time riding an air balloon was in the Netherlands during the training, and I was literally touching the sky,” she told Arab News.
“The idea came to my mind when I first saw hot air balloons in AlUla two years ago.”
She is currently working as a training officer with SAHAB, and said she tried to be unique and liked to explore interesting experiences.
“We are pleased to invite all those interested in flying to register in the next phase of the program. It is a very distinguished program that supports the citizens of this country to experience unique jobs.”
The AlUla festival is the start of her journey, and she said she was looking forward to being a professional hot air balloon trainer.
The first hot air balloon experience was brought to Saudi Arabia in AlUla in 2019, one of many events to be held in the area.
These events have created a major step in the promotion of AlUla, in northwestern Saudi Arabia, which is widely recognized as one of the country’s most beautiful tourism destinations.
AlUla also has Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Archaeological Site, Hegra, from the Nabataean civilization.


Saudi Arabia’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ art exhibit, straight from Jeddah

The event seeks to establish Jeddah as the main destination in the Kingdom’s contemporary art scene. (Supplied)
The event seeks to establish Jeddah as the main destination in the Kingdom’s contemporary art scene. (Supplied)
Updated 12 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ art exhibit, straight from Jeddah

The event seeks to establish Jeddah as the main destination in the Kingdom’s contemporary art scene. (Supplied)
  • Three-month exhibit was launched on June 30 and invites audiences to explore artists’ relationships with place
  • ‘Amakin’ displays works from 27 artists previously featured in Jeddah

DHAHRAN: A popular Arabic song by a legendary Saudi singer inadvertently became the inspiration for an entire art exhibition that debuted last year in Jeddah. For the first time, that exhibit is now housed in Dhahran, where original works of art serve as personalized portals of nostalgia that allow viewers to take a trip down memory lane to real or imagined destinations. The works will be displayed at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, for three months, where the exhibit opened on June 30.

The exhibit wrestles with the simple yet profound question: “What does the notion of place mean to you?” During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of one’s “makan,” or “place,” became a contemplative space for some and a refuge for others. Some escaped to a place created by their imagination, and others used their physical surroundings to build up their idea of a place.

Curator Venetia Porter

In a special treat for Shargiyya residents in eastern Saudi Arabia, the works of 27 artists previously displayed in Jeddah, in addition to the work by local artist Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, were displayed locally. The exhibit was created for the ninth edition of 21,39 by the Saudi Art Council, which was founded in 2013 by a group of local art patrons and led by Princess Jawaher bint Majed bin Abdulaziz.

21,39 Jeddah Arts is a non-profit initiative organized by SAC. Using the geographic coordinates of the city of Jeddah (21.5433°N, 39.1728°E), it seeks to establish Jeddah as the main destination in the Kingdom’s contemporary art scene. The 28th artist, Shargiyya artist and author Al-Soliman, was added by Ithra for this iteration to pay homage to a local pioneer in the Saudi art scene.

Obadah AlJefri’s piece

The exhibit was curated by world-renowned expert in Islamic and contemporary Middle Eastern art Venetia Porter and was originally displayed at SAC in Jeddah from March 3 to June 3, 2022. This is the first time it is shown outside of its hometown.

“The exhibition ‘Amakin’ is inspired by the song ‘All the places long for you,’ by Mohammed Abdu, whom everybody knows. The exhibition started in Jeddah — this was an exhibition that included 27 artists — and each artist tells us, through the work they create about a place that means something to them, whether it’s a physical place or a place in the imagination,” curator Porter told Arab News.

“I am very happy to be talking to you today about our very special exhibition hosted in Gallery One called ‘Amakin’ in collaboration with SAC. ‘Amakin’ means ‘spaces,’ which is very fitting for where we are right now. Ithra is a very unique space within itself and for what it provides,” head of Ithra Museum Farah Abushullaih told Arab News.

Badr Ali’s sketches

The exhibition feels almost like a collage of emotional homes, where emerging Saudi and international artists display their interpretation of a “makan” next to the works of pioneer artists, representing various generations and styles. The works range from photographs to mixed media.

One such artist is Jeddah-born Obadah Al-Jefri, who brought pages from his sketchbook to life, creating a dialogue with his past and current selves, with each giant page representing a different version of his perspective.

“My artwork examines my relationship with a sketchbook and how I found different parts of my identity within the pages of my sketchbook. The work itself feels like a collaborative effort between my present and younger self, and I explore those themes and honor my younger self for pushing me forward to become an artist and to pursue art professionally,” he said.

Badr Ali, another artist, began with paper and shifted to a different medium, employing printmaking techniques to transfer his ideas to silkscreen and using the markings of the five places he frequents, either physically or emotionally.

His family comes from Jeddah, a place that greatly inspired him, but he also grew up in London, worked in Paris and currently lives in Berlin. His fascination with Florence also prompted him to explore those destinations and create a new visual experience. He created drawings for each of these locations and combined them to create new locations.

“My work is based on drawings I made in cities that I live in or have lived in and have a personal connection to. I created a whole series of drawings in each of these places, around 100. In each one, I register memories, feelings, thoughts, and sensations. I chose the method of silkscreen printing as a way to create or combine elements in each of these locations,” he told Arab News.

The 19 artists from Saudi Arabia are: Abdullah Al-Othman, Abdulhalim Radwi, legendary artist Safeya Binzagr, Reem Al-Faisal, Bashaer Hawsawi, Emy Kat, Mohammed Hammad, Obadah Al-Jefri, Sara Abdu, Badr Ali, Asma Bahmim, Hussein Al-Mohasen, Muhannad Shono, Lujain Faqerah and Shadia Alem.

The Shargiyya artists are: Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, Talib Al-Marri, Bader Awwad Al-Balawi and Manal Al-Dowayan.

The remaining nine non-Saudi artists are: Taysir Batniji and Sadik Kwaish Al-Fraji from Palestine; Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi from Pakistan; Dia Al-Azzawi, Ghassan Ghaib and Nazar Yahya from Iraq; Ali Cherri from Lebanon and Catalina Swinburn from Chile.

 


Legitimate fatwas reconfirm Islam’s flexibility, scholars tell Grand Hajj Symposium

Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj. (Supplied)
Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj. (Supplied)
Updated 57 min 12 sec ago

Legitimate fatwas reconfirm Islam’s flexibility, scholars tell Grand Hajj Symposium

Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj. (Supplied)
  • Participants underscored the role of the religious fatwa in achieving the Islamic objectives of the Hajj when it came to contemporary issues

JEDDAH: Fatwas based on genuine Islamic principles reconfirm the religion’s flexibility, scholars told delegates on the second day of the 46th Grand Hajj Symposium.

The event was inaugurated on Sunday by Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and features ministers and eminent Muslim scholars from different countries.

Participants underscored the role of the religious fatwa in achieving the Islamic objectives of the Hajj when it came to contemporary issues. They also praised the Kingdom’s efforts in facilitating the Hajj.

During a session titled “Islamic Jurisprudence System and Contemporary Calamities,” the speakers said that Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam touched on the importance of the Islamic jurisprudence system in adapting legal fatwas in facilitating Hajj rituals for Muslims, saying that flexibility in such situations confirmed that Islam was valid for every time and place.

Dr. Saad bin Nasser Al-Shithri, an adviser at the Royal Court and a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, said the Islamic jurisprudence system was capable of dealing with emerging challenges.

The secretary-general of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, Dr. Koutoub Sano, referred to the factual nature of Islamic Sharia and its ability to deal with new problems to help people understand it.

He highlighted the role of institutes and academies devoted to fatwas in qualifying specialists and investing in Sharia studies to extract rulings from the appropriate texts. He also praised Saudi efforts to deploy all its capabilities to provide security and safety for pilgrims.

In Monday’s second session, “Caring for the Pilgrim’s Journey,” Malaysia’s Minister of Religious Affairs Dr. Datuk Idris Ahmad reviewed his country’s efforts in providing services and promoting awareness among pilgrims, including medicines, vaccines, and personal health follow-up programs.

Ahmed said the services provided in cooperation with the Ministry of Health were meant to ensure their pilgrims were free from infectious diseases. He also praised the care and attention paid by the Saudi government to pilgrims over the decades and the remarkable development achieved by the Hajj and Umrah system.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat highlighted the Saudi ministries’ digital initiatives that contributed to the issue of more than 2 million e-visas through a portal that included all relevant authorities.

He also spoke about a luggage transport service that allowed pilgrims to focus on the duties of their rituals. He said pilgrims had received multilingual Hajj awareness guidelines before and after their arrival in the Kingdom.

Mashat added that the success of the Hajj and Umrah system was linked to a clear strategy derived from the Guests of God Service Program, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 programs, to enrich pilgrims’ Hajj experience and facilitate their spiritual journey.

“A pilgrim can electronically book all appointments and services, limiting negative practices such as stampeding. It can also ensure the flow of movement, smooth traffic, and easy grouping of pilgrims from one place to another.”

Dr. Ali Arbash, head of Turkish religious affairs, expressed his thanks to the Saudi government for its efforts in providing the appropriate pilgrimage environment in terms of hygiene and health to protect people.

Arbash also reviewed his country’s participation in the Green Hajj Initiative to raise awareness among pilgrims about reducing waste at the holy sites.

Saudi Assistant Minister of Health Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly underscored the efforts to provide the best health services to pilgrims.

He said these services, provided through the latest technology, were closely followed up by the Saudi leadership.

These services included 23 hospitals, 147 health centers, and 16 emergency centers on Jamarat Bridge. He added that more than 25,000 medical personnel were ready to provide all health services.

Dr. Hanan Balkhi, assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, described Saudi Arabia as an important strategic partner for the organization.

She praised the “bold decisions” taken by the Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect pilgrims and limit the spread of coronavirus.

She said Saudi Arabia stood head and shoulders above all other countries due to its cumulative experience in crowd management.

 


Saudi housing ministry, Alwaleed Philanthropies, Sakan celebrate milestone

Saudi housing ministry, Alwaleed Philanthropies, Sakan celebrate milestone
Updated 37 min 22 sec ago

Saudi housing ministry, Alwaleed Philanthropies, Sakan celebrate milestone

Saudi housing ministry, Alwaleed Philanthropies, Sakan celebrate milestone
  • In accordance with Jood Eskan, Alwaleed Philanthropies will provide further financial support by allocating homes for 10,000 of the neediest Saudi families, amounting to SR2.06 billion ($548 million)

RIYADH: The National Developmental Housing Corp. Sakan, represented by the Jood Eskan platform, Alwaleed Philanthropies and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing celebrated the anniversary of the partnership agreement between their organizations on Sunday in Riyadh.

The anniversary coincided with the milestone achieved by the partnership in granting 750 cars and providing housing for 2,110 families in need, with the support of Alwaleed Philanthropies.

The celebration was held under the patronage of Minister and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Developmental Housing Majid bin Abdullah Al-Hogail and in the presence of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Alwaleed Philanthropies Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and several other dignitaries.

In accordance with Jood Eskan, Alwaleed Philanthropies will provide further financial support by allocating homes for 10,000 of the neediest Saudi families, amounting to SR2.06 billion ($548 million).

The tripartite agreement, which was signed in July 2021, will last for a duration of five years.

Deputy Minister Eng. Abdullah bin Muhammad Al-Badir said the partnership represents a successful model for the non-profit sector by assuming societal responsibilities and sponsoring community initiatives that have a tangible impact on segments of society, specifically families. This agreement and others like it, he explained, aid in the achievement of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals by raising the non-profit sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product by 5 percent by 2030.

Secretary-General of Alwaleed Philanthropies Princess Lamia bint Majed bin Abdulaziz said that the accomplishment embodies Alwaleed Philanthropies’ approach and its aspirations of improving the lives of needy families and contributes to achieving “a flourishing economy and an ambitious homeland.”

By introducing creative development programs and launching inspiring initiatives, she added, these cadres will be a driving force in economic prosperity, social cohesion and sustainable development.


Hajj gathers global female faithful and their colorful cultural clothing

Men can only wear Ihram during Hajj while women can wear normal clothes. (SPA)
Men can only wear Ihram during Hajj while women can wear normal clothes. (SPA)
Updated 04 July 2022

Hajj gathers global female faithful and their colorful cultural clothing

Men can only wear Ihram during Hajj while women can wear normal clothes. (SPA)
  • Uthe said wearing the clothes was important, but it was vital to prepare physically, mentally and spiritually for the pilgrimage

JEDDAH: During the Hajj, pilgrims from around the globe come to Makkah and Madinah bringing not only their faith but also their diverse culture and traditions.

Men are limited to only wearing the Ihram — a two-piece unstitched plain white cloth wrapped around the body —during Hajj and Umrah, while women can wear normal, loose, modest clothes.

Lailah Saleh Al-Bassam, professor at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, is the first Saudi academic to study the history of traditional Arab clothes and textiles in Saudi Arabia.

FASTFACTS

• The Sudanese thawb is a long two-piece outer covering — that comes in different colors and designs — worn over a plain dress.

• In Indonesia, it’s a tradition to wear the batik for Hajj and for other celebrations.

Al-Bassam explained to Arab News the history of what women, from various parts of the Kingdom, wore during the Hajj. “In the past, women of the central, eastern, and northern regions used to wear cotton dresses or two pieces of cloth called ‘kurta’ and ‘maqtaa’ in green and black colors. However, those who are from the western region (wore) similar pieces but in white for both Ihram and funerals.”

She added: “Nowadays, women also wear what looks like a ‘jalabiya’ and there are many types that are (now) customized and designed to be suitable for Ihram, and some women buy the cloth and tailor it.”

During a visit to Madinah in June, Arab News interviewed Uthe, 43, who was one of the first pilgrims to arrive from Indonesia.

Uthe will perform Hajj for the first time this year. “I feel so lucky, I have been waiting for this opportunity for 10 years and it has finally come,” she said teary eyed.

She prepared five dresses and most importantly her “batik,” an Indonesian traditional dress, which she even wore on her journey to the Kingdom. “I wore batik on my first flight to perform Hajj and I will be wearing it again on my way back. Both my mother and grandmother used to wear the batik during their Hajj trips as well.”

She said it was a tradition to wear the batik for Hajj, but it is also worn for celebrations.

Uthe said wearing the clothes was important, but it was vital to prepare physically, mentally and spiritually for the pilgrimage.

Daniah Al-Khaldi, a 35-year-old mother and architectural engineer from Baghdad, said that Iraqi females have a specific Hajj tradition. “We dress in all white, from socks to hijab and abaya, the white color must be included in all the details, as it is a sign of purification from sins.”

To prepare for the day of Arafat on July 8, Al-Khaldi said she has a list of prayers ready. “Bringing a pocket Quran, subha, and a small, light sling bag for when moving between different areas in Hajj is really important. Also, a comfortable walking pair of shoes and odorless personal hygiene items are crucial,” Al-Khaldi added.

Asia Ahmed, 55, from Sudan said: “Old and married women usually wear our traditional Sudanese attire during Hajj trips, it is known as thawb, and comes in many colors, while those who are not married wear regular abayas.”

The Sudanese thawb is a long two-piece outer covering — that comes in different colors and designs — worn over a plain dress.

Ahmed also said that pilgrims should get portable chargers, skincare items, umbrellas, first aid kits, and common medicines to help other pilgrims if required.


Head of office for Thai pilgrims’ affairs praises Saudi Hajj efforts

Head of office for Thai pilgrims’ affairs praises Saudi Hajj efforts
Updated 04 July 2022

Head of office for Thai pilgrims’ affairs praises Saudi Hajj efforts

Head of office for Thai pilgrims’ affairs praises Saudi Hajj efforts
  • Takei said the Kingdom has spared no effort in facilitating pilgrims and enabling them to perform rituals peacefully

RIYADH: The head of the office of Thai pilgrims affairs praised services provided by the Saudi government to pilgrims, Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.

Zaki Takei also praised the efforts exerted by all Hajj and pilgrim agencies and the Motawifs Pilgrims for South East Asian Countries Company to serve pilgrims.

Following a visit to the company on Monday, he said that the Kingdom has spared no effort in providing support to facilitate pilgrims and allow them to perform their rituals in peace.