Who’s Who: Amjad Shacker, Saudi Conventions and Exhibitions General Authority CEO

Who’s Who: Amjad Shacker, Saudi Conventions and Exhibitions General Authority CEO
Amjad Shacker
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Updated 01 May 2022

Who’s Who: Amjad Shacker, Saudi Conventions and Exhibitions General Authority CEO

Who’s Who: Amjad Shacker, Saudi Conventions and Exhibitions General Authority CEO

Amjad Shacker has been acting CEO of the Saudi Conventions and Exhibitions General Authority since July 2021.
He has also been the Royal Commission for Riyadh City’s executive adviser for strategic projects since May 2021.
Shacker was senior executive officer of corporate brand and communications at Mobily from May 2018 to May 2021.
Before that he served as communications adviser to the managing director at the Public Investment Fund in 2017 during the successful launch of the first edition of the Future Investment Initiative. From 2014 to 2017, Shacker was general manager of corporate communication at the Saudi Telecom Co., successfully lifting the brand to No. 1 position in the Middle East.
In 2011, Shacker joined Pedersen & Partners as country manager, a position he occupied until 2014.
He was also vice president of corporate communications at ACWA Power projects in 2007.
In the same year, Shacker founded and presided over DCC in Riyadh, a consultancy specializing in strategic PR and marketing services. He was general manager of corporate communications at the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority in 2005, and executive manager of corporate communications at Kingdom Holding Co. from 1997 to 2005.
In 1997, he worked as a senior trainer of audio and visuals at Vinnell Arabia, and as a media affairs and health education coordinator at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center the previous year.
Shacker also worked as an anchorman for Saudi TV Channel 2 from 1989 to 1991, presenting daily English newscasts and coverage of the 1991 Gulf War. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication and media studies from DePaul University in Illinois, US.
His seven professional certifications include the principles of effective crisis management from Steve Goldman Associates.

Top officials at Hajj services company sacked, Saudi ministry announces

Top officials at Hajj services company sacked, Saudi ministry announces
Updated 17 sec ago

Top officials at Hajj services company sacked, Saudi ministry announces

Top officials at Hajj services company sacked, Saudi ministry announces
  • The ministry said the decision came after coordination with the company’s board of directors and was based on the observations of the ministry’s field teams

RIYADH: A chief executive and a top official at “one of the Hajj companies” operating services for this year’s pilgrimage have been sacked, the Saudi ministry responsible for Hajj has announced.

The ministry said the removal was for the failure to provide adequate services to pilgrims, the Saudi Press Agency reported early on Thursday.

The ministry said the decision came after coordination with the company’s board of directors and was based on the observations of the ministry’s field teams.

The statement also said that the two officials were “referred to investigation.”

The Hajj, a key pillar of Islam, will begin on Thursday and involve a million pilgrims from across the globe.

The ministry reiterated that it closely monitors all services provided by all agencies and companies operating during the Hajj season to ensure their quality.

It said that it also “monitors all violations and deals with them immediately” as part of its efforts to follow up on the safety and comfort of pilgrims.

The ministry stressed that it will not allow and will not tolerate any shortcoming that affects the service of pilgrims.

“The ministry’s inspection and field teams carry out continuous tours to assess and follow up the quality of services provided to pilgrims, and deal with reports submitted without exception, in an effort to 
raise the level of quality of services for pilgrims and maintain their safety,” it concluded.

A brief guide to Hajj 2022

A brief guide to Hajj 2022
Updated 17 min 13 sec ago

A brief guide to Hajj 2022

A brief guide to Hajj 2022
  • This year one million pilgrims will perform the Hajj, one of the pillars of Islam obligatory for Muslims 
  • Saudi authorities have introduced many technological tools to aid pilgrims on their journey 

JEDDAH: Hajj is an annual religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah undertaken yearly by millions of Muslims worldwide. It occurs in the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, called Dhul Hijjah, between the eighth and 13th days of the month.

This year, Hajj takes place from approximately July 7 to 12. Taking part in the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime is a major obligation for all able-bodied Muslims of financial means, and between 2 million and 3 million people participate in the six-day ritual every year.

This year, 1 million pilgrims will flock to the holy city, 85 percent of them traveling from abroad for the first time following a two-year hiatus brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and attendant restrictions that prevented them from performing the ritual.

To ensure a smooth and safe journey for the pilgrims, the Saudi government has announced a series of entry conditions.

Pilgrims who wish to perform Hajj must be under 65 years old and fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a booster. They must also present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before departure for the Kingdom, and priority will go to those who have not performed the ritual before.

Following Prophet Muhammad, for 14 centuries, pilgrims began their journeys in a spiritual state of purity and devotion, also known as Ihram, which is the combined sacred act of Niyyah and Talbiyah necessary to perform Hajj. It is the innate intention to commit an act of worship, while Talbiyah is a special prayer said in supplication to attain Ihram.

After entering Makkah, pilgrims perform the welcome tawaf, circling the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the Black Stone. They then head to the hills of Safa and Marwa, where they perform saee, which is the act of going back and forth between the two hills seven times.

Kindergarten students walk near to a replica of the Kaaba as they perform Tawaf while practicing for the Hajj pilgrimage at the Nurul Iman mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, on June 9, 2022. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country. (REUTERS)

Pilgrims then travel to Mina, an area of 20 square kilometers nearly five kilometers away from the Grand Mosque in Makkah, on the eighth day of Dhul Hijjah, also known as Yom Al-Tarwiyah, where they will stay and fill their day and evening with prayers and supplications, resting and consuming water ahead of their long, perilous journey.

On the second day of Hajj, pilgrims travel to Mt. Arafat, 20 kilometers away. The day is devoted to prayer and supplications as they observe duhr (noon) combined with asr (afternoon) prayers until sunset.

Day of Arafat is considered the most critical day for pilgrims and the millions not performing. It is the day that, “atones for the sins of the preceding and coming (Muslim) year” and is the best day for worship and supplication in the entire year.

After sunset, pilgrims descend from Mount Arafat and make their way to Muzdalifah for isha (night) prayers, collect pebbles no larger than the size of a fingertip ahead of the stoning ritual on the next day, and rest until midnight or dawn, when they will make the long journey back to Mina for the final steps of Hajj, the stoning ritual at Jamarat Al-Aqabah.

A million fully vaccinated Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad, are allowed at this year's Hajj  after two years of drastically curtailed numbers amid the pandemic. (AFP) 

On the third day of Hajj, Eid Al-Adha, pilgrims stone the Jamarat Al-Aqabah, or the big pillar, a place where the Prophet Ibrahim threw seven pebbles at the devil. After doing so, pilgrims change from their Ihram; sacrificial animals are slaughtered, and men cut or shave their heads while women cut a fingertip’s length of hair to commemorate the end of the Hajj pilgrimage.

For three days, known as Ayyam Al-Tashreeq, pilgrims stay in Mina and perform the stoning of the other two pillars, Al-Jamarah Al-Wusta and Al-Jamarah Al-Sughra.

With years of preparations ahead of the mass gathering, Saudi Arabia’s authorities undergo major planning every year to control the crowds, dividing a large number of pilgrims into groups and designating specific timings and routes to reach the bridge where the pillars are located.

Thousands of volunteers, military, law enforcement, and health personnel will be on the ground to assist pilgrims in what many believe is their sacred duty to serve the guests of God in the holiest and most sacred of journeys for a Muslim.

Saudi security forces train in preparation for the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah on July 3, 2022. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Utilizing the power of technologies, Saudi Hajj authorities are including the pilgrims’ smart ID again this year to render the transport of the “visitors of Allah” easier and to ensure their fast arrival to their locations and tents, whether in Mina or Arafat, with robots with touch screens available to explain rituals explained in 11 languages.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in collaboration with the General Authority for Awqaf, launched 13 detailed e-manuals offering advice to pilgrims from around the world on a variety of topics in 14 languages, including French, Turkish, Persian, Urdu, Russian, and Amharic, which are compatible with all phone operating systems and can be reached by visiting guide.haj.gov.sa.

In a video shared on Twitter, the Ministry said: “These guiding e-manuals are interactive, and include Shariah and Islamic law, procedural, organizational and health directives which pilgrims will need during their Hajj journey.”


Projects launched to develop and uplift holy sites in and around Makkah

Projects launched to develop and uplift holy sites in and around Makkah
Updated 06 July 2022

Projects launched to develop and uplift holy sites in and around Makkah

Projects launched to develop and uplift holy sites in and around Makkah

MAKKAH: Projects are being launched in and around Makkah to develop and uplift sites through street lighting, seating areas, and walkways.

The CEO of Kidana Development Company, which is behind the initiative, said some areas had already been improved.

“Approximately 20 percent, or 500,000 square meters, have been developed in Mina,” Hatim Mouminah told Arab News. “We are no longer talking about a mere tent but ready-to-live accommodation equipped with integrated services for pilgrims.”

Mouminah said the camps had been developed taking into consideration the highest safety specifications, particularly concerning electricity.

CEO of Kidana Development Company Hatim Mouminah

Kidana has launched a project to improve the areas adjacent to Jabal Al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy) on the plains of Arafat as part of its plans for the holy sites.

The project, which covers 200,000 square meters, is aimed at improving the area’s aesthetics and accessibility for visitors and pilgrims throughout the year and not just during the Hajj season.

It includes street lights, toilets, parking bays, seating areas, and walkways. There will also be restaurants, cafes, platforms for TV channels, and security control towers.

Kidana has also launched the Tsleem Comprehensive Services Center to assist pilgrims, facilitate smooth operations in Mina and Arafat, and provide the necessary services for Hajj stakeholders such as Makkah Municipality, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Civil Defense, the National Water Company, and the Saudi Electricity Company.

Mouminah said Kidana could quickly adopt or upgrade changes to assist pilgrims with the help of qualified contractors because it had access to the designs for the camps and holy sites.

He said the company had completed part of a project to renovate toilets at the holy sites.

“This project is part of a package of development projects that aims to construct 1,000 toilets in Mina and 1,000 toilets in Arafat and Muzdalifah, in addition to maintaining and renovating 30,000 toilets to assure the comfort of pilgrims.”

Mouminah also spoke about the Malik Center, a technical support unit that solves problems at the holy sites by referring them directly to the relevant body.  

The center is run by Saudis who are trained in communication skills and ensure that the task is completed within the shortest time possible.

Diplomats praise Saudi Arabia’s ‘excellent’ Hajj arrangements

Diplomats praise Saudi Arabia’s ‘excellent’ Hajj arrangements
Updated 06 July 2022

Diplomats praise Saudi Arabia’s ‘excellent’ Hajj arrangements

Diplomats praise Saudi Arabia’s ‘excellent’ Hajj arrangements
  • Kingdom welcomes pilgrims from abroad for largest Hajj since COVID-19 pandemic began

RIYADH: Ambassadors and envoys from across the Muslim world have hailed Saudi Arabia’s hosting of Hajj this year.

Pilgrims from around the world have gathered in Makkah for the biggest Hajj pilgrimage since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic almost two years ago.

Hajj was restricted to just 1,000 people residing in Saudi Arabia in 2020, and 60,000 domestic pilgrims in 2021.

This year, after lifting most of its COVID-19 curbs, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million pilgrims, including 850,000 from abroad to perform Hajj — one of the five pillars of Islam, which all Muslims with the required means must perform once in a lifetime.

Foreign diplomats in Saudi Arabia have praised the Kingdom for its expansive Hajj arrangements this year.

Kazakhstan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Berik Aryn told Arab News: “I would like to congratulate all Muslims on the beginning of Hajj season. We have been waiting for this moment for a long time due to the hiatus during the pandemic.

“From the arrival of the first group of pilgrims, the Saudi government has accomplished an outstanding achievement in providing all facilities in the holy cities for the Hajj. They paid special attention to ensuring the safety and security, and good health of the pilgrims, which is important at this time because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the envoy.

“On behalf of the Kazakhstan pilgrims, I want to express sincere gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for excellent Hajj arrangements.”

Kazakhstan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Berik Aryn.

Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yahaya Lawal said: “All praise be to Allah for allowing us to witness the Hajj 2022 season, the first in the post-pandemic period. I also take this opportunity on behalf of Nigeria to convey our sincere gratitude to the Saudi government and King Salman for the internationally acclaimed decision to organize the Hajj this year, and allow foreign pilgrims to participate. We commend the Saudi authorities for all the preventive measures put in place to safeguard the health of the guests of Allah.

“Nigeria, which will be sending almost 50,000 pilgrims, is excited to make a return to this significant event — a journey of a lifetime,” he said.

“We pray for the success of this annual pilgrimage as we also look forward to a normal pre-pandemic Hajj season next year.”

Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yahaya Lawal.

Dato’ Sri Syed Saleh Syed Abdulrahman, head of the Malaysian Hajj delegates in Makkah, told Arab News: “Malaysian pilgrims thank King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for allowing international pilgrims to perform the Hajj this year. We are extremely grateful to the Saudi government for choosing Malaysia once again to be one of the five countries selected for the Makkah Route program this year.

“Malaysia was the first country chosen for Makkah Route’s pilot project in 2017. The Makkah Route program has provided Malaysian pilgrims with excellent service as they are able to arrive in Madinah and Jeddah, easily and quickly. They are able to breeze through the arrival gates at the two airports after the long flight and not have to worry about their luggage either. All Malaysian pilgrims are very satisfied with the service.”

Saudi Arabia has also built and upgraded various infrastructure in Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah to enhance the experience of all pilgrims, including Malaysians, during the busy Hajj season, he added.

“We pray for Saudi Arabia’s success in achieving Vision 2030 so it continues to provide the best services to Muslims from all around the world who come to Makkah and Madinah for Umrah and Hajj,” said Abdulrahman.

Pakistani Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ameer Khurram Rathore praised the leadership of the Kingdom for Hajj preparations. “This year to support and help the pilgrims from Pakistan ‘Route to Makkah’ initiative was very helpful for our Hujjaj coming from Islamabad. It is a manifestation of our brotherly and good relations with Saudi Arabia. Next year, Inshallah, the ‘Route to Makkah’ initiative will be initiated from three major Pakistani cities.”

He added: “The government of Pakistan has developed three digital apps, which will be greatly helpful for our Hujjaj during the pilgrimage.” 

Indian Consul General Mohammed Shahid Alam said: “All Indian pilgrims have arrived in Makkah to perform Hajj. This year, 56,637 pilgrims have come from the Hajj Commission of India, and 22,600 pilgrims through the Hajj group organizers. We have made elaborate arrangements in Makkah and Madinah for their comfortable stay, as well as hassle-free transportation to commute between their accommodation and the Haram. We have made available medical facilities and makeshift hospitals.”

Alam added: “We are deeply thankful to King Salman and the crown prince, as well as the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, for their excellent support to us in making all these arrangements. They have been available round the clock to make the efficient arrangements in time. We extend our sincere gratitude to them for the excellent arrangements they have made for (pilgrims’) safety, enabling them to perform the Hajj smoothly.”

Indian Consul General Mohammed Shahid Alam.

Bangladeshi Ambassador to the Kingdom Dr. Mohammad Javed Patwary said: “I express my deep satisfaction over the Hajj management and thank the king and the crown prince for their continuous support to the Muslim Ummah. Through the wider use of e-Hajj systems, expedited services are ensured. Bangladesh is the fourth largest Hajj pilgrim-sending country and our prospective pilgrims were eagerly waiting to perform Hajj after a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Saudi government is allowing 60,000 pilgrims from Bangladesh.

“All our pilgrims completed the immigration process back in Bangladesh under the Makkah Route Initiative. They are receiving their luggage at their hotels, which is a remarkable development for hassle-free movement of these guests of Allah.

“Bangladesh pilgrims who have arrived in Saudi Arabia — we have talked to many of them — have highly praised the Saudi authorities for their arrangements,” said the envoy.

Bangladeshi Ambassador to the Kingdom Dr. Mohammad Javed Patwary.

Head of the office of Thai pilgrims affairs, Zaki Takei, also praised the efforts and services provided by the Saudi government to pilgrims. He said that the Kingdom has “spared no effort” in aiding the visits of pilgrims.

ThePlace: Maqam Ibrahim, the stone on which the Prophet stood

ThePlace: Maqam Ibrahim, the stone on which the Prophet stood
Updated 07 July 2022

ThePlace: Maqam Ibrahim, the stone on which the Prophet stood

ThePlace: Maqam Ibrahim, the stone on which the Prophet stood

MAKKAH: When worshippers circumambulate the Kaaba, they are often mesmerized by Maqam Ibrahim, the footprints of Prophet Ibrahim, kept in an enclosed glass case.

Maqam Ibrahim is a stone on which the prophet stood when the Kaaba was being built.

The stone is 50 centimeters long on each side and has two footprints in the middle in the form of two oval pits. 

(AN photo by Faisal Al-Fahad)

According to historians, when the Kaaba was being built, the walls became too high and Prophet Ibrahim stood on a stone that miraculously lifted him to build the walls and lowered him so he could collect stones from his son, Prophet Ismail.

Dr. Samir Ahmed Barqah, a researcher in the history of Makkah and the prophet’s biography, told Arab News:  “It is a wet stone holding the footprints of Prophet Ibrahim. His footprints remain visible to the present day. The maqam and the Black Stone are the oldest and most sacred landmarks in Islam, dating back 4,000 years. 

(AN photo by Faisal Al-Fahad)

It is located in front of the door of the Kaaba, around 10 to 11 meters east.”

Barqah said that historian Mohammed Tahir Al-Kurdi in 1367 stated the length of the footprints to be 22 centimeters long and 14 centimeters wide.

The stone is set in a gold and silver frame and kept in a glass case. During Omar Ibn Al-Khattab’s caliphate, Nahshal floods hit the city and dislodged the stone from its place. When the caliph came to Makkah, he fixed the stone in its current position. 

(AN photo by Faisal Al-Fahad)

It was previously inside a compartment to protect it from damage and theft. But the compartment was later removed, with the stone placed inside glass casing so that every worshipper could see it.

History researcher Saad Al-Sharif said that, throughout time, the stone had always remained near the Kaaba.

When Prophet Muhammad conquered Makkah, he and his companions decided to shift the stone from its original location near the Kaaba to its current location at a distance of more than 10 meters to facilitate circumambulation.