JEDDAH: The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has allocated 100 scholars to answer questions from pilgrims and worshippers during their Hajj journey.
Spread across 10 different locations inside Makkah’s Grand Mosque, the 100 scholars comprise elite judges and university faculty members trained to answer questions in person or on the phone through seven booths operating around the clock.
Director general for dawah and guidance at the Grand Mosque, Majid Al-Masoudi, said: “Responses offered by scholars to pilgrims are compatible with the outcomes of the Two Holy Mosques Fatwa document and its impact on facilitating the journey of pilgrims and worshippers.”
Scholars also offer responses about Hajj rituals in line with the frequent fatwas to avoid irregular fatwas, unify ijtihad (independent reasoning by an expert in Islamic law), and avoid racist and hate speech.
Worshippers can also have their questions answered by robots at the Grand Mosque. The presidency is offering this service in the main entrances of the Mataf area to take advantage of technology and artificial intelligence.
These robots support 11 languages to guide pilgrims from around the globe, including Arabic, English, French, Russian, Persian, Turkish, Malay, Urdu, Chinese, Bengali, and Hausa.
They guide pilgrims on how to perform their Umrah rituals, issue fatwas, answer questions and provide opportunities for people to communicate with scholars remotely.
The four-wheeled robots feature 21-inch touchscreens and a smart stopping system that allows them to be moved easily. They also feature high-resolution cameras for clarity when transmitting images, high-resolution headphones, and a microphone with high-capture quality that allows clear sound transmission.
The robots work on a Wi-Fi wireless network system with fast and high data transmission.
A similar scholars’ initiative was launched by the presidency during the previous Ramadan season, with 30 Muslim scholars to help worshippers answer their questions on the correct performance of Umrah rituals and give fatwas.
Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine
Kingdom’s track record belies lack of recognition of its donations for displaced Ukrainian refugees
A $10 million aid package has just been signed off by the UNHCR, WHO and Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief
Updated 15 August 2022
JEDDAH: The perception that Saudi Arabia is not helping Ukrainians affected by the war with Russia is completely at odds with the reality.
The firmness of the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting refugees and resolving the conflict has been evident since the outbreak of hostilities. Aid pledges have been matched by donations that are already making a big difference.
A $10 million Saudi humanitarian package for war-displaced Ukrainians has just been signed off by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and Saudi Arabia’s leading humanitarian aid agency.
A delegation from @KSRelief, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, headed by His Excellency Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabiah visited UNHCR's warehouse in Rzeszow, SE, from where relief items are dispatched across the country and to Ukraine. @UNHCR_GCC, @khaledkhalifapic.twitter.com/xTtmyoiVfi
About half of the $10 million grant has been allocated for distribution through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief).
In April, King Salman directed KSrelief to provide this amount of support for immediate assistance and give “urgent medical and shelter aid” to Ukrainian refugees, giving priority to those arriving in Poland.
The visit was followed by a distribution of relief items to refugee families from Ukraine living in the commune of Głogów Małopolski, and a meeting with officials who thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its generous support. pic.twitter.com/M9l3Kar0pG
“Thank you very much, and thanks to the center for helping us. The situation is as you can see,” a Ukrainian resident of a refugee center told Al-Arabiya news channel.
“All of us came from Ukraine, and we were in a very bad way. Thanks to you, our situation has improved. Thanks a lot, and we wish peace to the whole world.”
At the Poland-Ukraine border, Al-Rabeeah lauded the collaboration between the WHO, KSrelief, and the Polish government. “We highly appreciate the partnership with the WHO. Our work together has made great support to refugees and those in need here and elsewhere,” he said in a video released by WHO Poland.
The Kingdom’s support for Ukrainian refugees is an extension of its well-known humanitarian efforts in more than 85 countries, yet several reports have hinted that Saudi Arabia has picked sides in the conflict because of its ties to Russia as a fellow OEPC+ member.
Despite the political and humanitarian initiatives taken by the Kingdom, urging all parties to come to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, the Kingdom’s efforts have been viewed with skepticism in some quarters.
A March report by the Wilson Center, a US government-linked public policy think tank, claimed that Saudi Arabia “has decided to side with Russia” and “chose Putin over Biden,” accusing the Kingdom of playing political games to keep oil prices high.
The remarks came despite the Kingdom’s repeated offers to both mediate between the warring parties and increase oil production along with neighboring Gulf countries.
The differences between the Western and Arab positions on the question of how to end the war have not stopped either side from addressing the humanitarian emergency.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has reiterated that though ending the ongoing war in Ukraine is no easy feat, the Kingdom has treated the issue just as any ongoing crisis in the region, stressing that human suffering is the same in all conflicts and that violence is not the solution.
In March, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kingdom was ready to exert all efforts to mediate between the two nations.
In May, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the crisis.
Less than a week later, Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during the latter’s visit to Riyadh, where he underscored the importance of reaching a political solution to achieve security and stability for all involved.
Though scant details on Lavrov’s visit and meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council ministers were released, the trip was still misinterpreted as evidence of Saudi Arabia’s support for Russia, even though the Kingdom and other Gulf states had opted to stay neutral, treating the war in Ukraine in “a fair context” and providing aid to the needy.
In June, Prince Faisal bin Farhan clarified the Kingdom’s position further: “Our stance as Gulf countries regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is unified,” he said on June 1 during a speech at the opening of the 152nd session of the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“Today we had two fruitful meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian ministers, during which we stated our unified stance regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and its negative consequences, namely the food security of the affected countries and the world.”
Saudi Arabia’s decision to remain neutral and prioritize humanitarian engagement during the war also ought to be viewed in the context of public opinion. In a recent Arab News-YouGov poll, of the more than 1,000 Saudis who were asked for their opinion, 14 percent blamed US President Joe Biden for the conflict while 21 percent blamed NATO.
Throughout the conflict, more than 40 countries, organizations, and individual donors have made pledges and commitments, some of which have made their way to the 6.3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine as well as those who remained. But there is a striking gap between pledged and delivered support.
Thus far, most Western governments have given priority to military assistance over humanitarian aid.
According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the US has pledged $23.8 billion in military aid, the highest number to date, but has only allocated $8.9 billion in humanitarian assistance.
According to the center, that number has since increased but by a relatively small percentage. Similarly, the EU pledged $12.3 billion in military aid but just $1.4 billion has been siphoned for humanitarian response and aid packages.
Since the outbreak of the conflict, Western and Arab governments have been under no illusion that the need for a resolution of the conflict is no less pressing than addressing the humanitarian emergency.
Last month, President Biden visited Jeddah and met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two sides discussed several topics of concern, including energy, security and the crisis in Ukraine.
Soon after Biden left the Kingdom, Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke to CNBC to set the record straight. “We have said from the very beginning, we supported the UN General Assembly Resolution and the inadmissibility abuse of force, about the sovereignty of nations and respect for that,” he said.
“We have called for a peaceful resolution to this; stop the fighting and get to the negotiating table and work out your differences peacefully.
“The concern that we have is that escalation on one side leads to escalation on the other side and before you know it, things are more likely to spin out of control and we all pay the price.”
For good measure, Al-Jubeir said: “We’ve reached out to both Russia and Ukraine. We’ve urged them to move towards a ceasefire settlement and their conflict peacefully. We continue to be engaged with them as are a number of other countries, and our hope is that they will be able to recognize that it’s better to argue across the table from each other than fight across the battlefield, because of the unintended consequences of war and conflict.”
Thank you H.E Dr. Abdullah Alrabeeah and @KSRelief for witnessing and discussing today UNHCR’s support to refugees in Poland & taking time to listen to refugee families from Ukraine in Warsaw. pic.twitter.com/vXlN3gWoW6
Meanwhile, when it comes to humanitarian giving, Saudi Arabia’s pledges continue to be matched by its actions.
On Friday, accompanied by Saad Al-Saleh, the Saudi ambassador to Poland, KSrelief’s Al-Rabeeah visited the UNHCR’s warehouse facilities in Rzeszow in Poland. They jointly inspected the aid already provided as part of the Kingdom’s $10 million grant to support Ukrainian refugees.
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Saudi Crown Prince receives call from Pakistani PM
Updated 15 August 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call on Sunday from Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, prime minister of Pakistan, Saudi Press Agency reported.
During the call, they reviewed the brotherly and historical relations between the Kingdom and Pakistan, in addition to discussing opportunities for cooperation between the two countries and ways to enhance them in various fields.
Also on Sunday, King Salman and the crown prince congratulated Pakistani President Arif Alvi on Saturday on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day.
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has sent a cable of congratulations to President Dr. Arif Alvi, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on the anniversary of his country’s Independence Day,” SPA said.
In his message, Prince Mohammed “wished the President constant good health and happiness and the government and friendly people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan steady progress and prosperity.”
Hundreds of women benefit from Saudi virtual health sessions
The sessions are provided in cooperation with the Saudi Charitable Association of Diabetes to the university’s students and employees
Updated 14 August 2022
RIYADH: Almost 330 women have benefited from virtual health sessions provided through the Nutrition Unit at Princess Nourah bint Abdul Rahman University, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The sessions aim to highlight diabetes prevention, adopting a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of infection, spreading awareness about diabetes, the stages of diabetes, correcting misconceptions, answering inquiries, and providing the necessary moral support and awareness for those with diabetes by opening a reliable advice channel.
The sessions are provided in cooperation with the Saudi Charitable Association of Diabetes to the university’s students and employees.
Every month, the clinic hosts an association member who gives medical consultations and holds awareness sessions.
Families of university employees who wish to benefit from the counseling sessions can also attend.
The virtual clinic contributes to achieving the university's strategic goals of providing a campus life that supports people’s health and well-being for better productivity.
The efforts come within the framework of cooperation between the university and organizations that seek to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 by keeping pace with the needs of female students, promoting health, and moral support.
Flight SV5712 from Madinah airport, carrying 347 Hajj pilgrims, was bid farewell on Sunday
Saudia’s Hajj plan began with arrivals to the Kingdom on June 6 and continued with departures on July 14
Updated 14 August 2022
RIYADH: The Kingdom’s flag carrier Saudia concluded its global Hajj 2022 transport operation with a flight to Ahmedabad, India on Sunday.
Flight SV5712 from Madinah’s Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport, carrying 347 pilgrims, was bid farewell by Saudia’s chief Hajj and Umrah officer Amer Alkhushail.
Saudia’s operational plan for Hajj began with arrivals to the Kingdom on June 6 and continued with departures on July 14.
More than 350,000 pilgrims were transported over the two phases, of which 120,000 traveled on 300 Hajj flights. A further 230,000 pilgrims traveled on scheduled and additional flights.
The airline revealed that 280,000 pieces of luggage were handled as part of its free “luggage first” service that was launched this year.
As part of the free service, pilgrims’ luggage was collected from their hotel or other accommodation in Jeddah, Makkah or Madinah 24 hours before their departure and delivered to the correct airport baggage center where it was checked in before they arrived at the airport.
Fishing violations have decreased in recent months, thanks in part to cooperation between the fishermen and local authorities
Updated 15 August 2022
DAMMAM: The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture in the Eastern Province has warned fishermen against using shrimp nets to catch small species of fish, especially the “Sweifi” fish.
The breeding period for a number of key species continues for another six months, and fishing during this period is against the law as it severely depletes fish stocks in the Arabian Gulf.
Mubarak Al-Aridi, the acting director general of the ministry’s branch in the region, said that the ministry is committed to protecting fish stocks in the Kingdom’s waters. Managing stocks through sustainable exploitation, he added, is key to long-term sustainable development that supports the livelihoods of coastal communities.
He also said that specialists from the fisheries sector play an important role in raising awareness and guiding fishermen on taking into account the minimum length of fish (15 cm) before they can be caught during field visits that extend from Khafji in the north to Salwa in the south.
Fishing violations have decreased in recent months, thanks in part to cooperation between the fishermen and local authorities.