The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam
“Arabian Adventurer: The Story of Haji Williamson” is by Stanton Hope. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 September 2022

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam
  • ‘Arabian Adventurer’ tells the story of ‘Haji’ Williamson — an early 20th-century visitor to the Middle East

DUBAI: Among the many valuable rare books at London’s Firsts Book Fair stands an orange-toned, slightly-torn biography of a gutsy traveler you’ve likely never heard of. He was something of a rebel in Victorian times, escaping family pressures by sailing abroad during adolescence and eventually leading a life of his own in the Middle East. His name was William Richard Williamson, but he became known, simply, as Haji Williamson. 

“Arabian Adventurer: The Story of Haji Williamson” was offered by the antiquarian bookseller Maggs Bros. Published in 1951, seven years prior to Williamson’s death, the book was penned by journalist and adventure-story writer Stanton Hope, who was taken by Williamson’s extraordinary life.




Haji Abdullah Fadhil Williamson aged 75. (Supplied)

 Maggs Bros.’ travel books specialist Sam Cotterell offered insight into Williamson’s jack-of-all-trades character. 

“He went to sea at 13 and had a bewildering array of jobs before turning 20, including cowboy, gold prospector and amateur boxer,” Cotterell told Arab News. “He even spent a short period as a juggler in a circus troupe.” 

Williamson was born in Bristol in 1872, where he was raised by a strict father. His voyages landed him in San Diego, the Caroline Islands, and Manila, where he was jailed for selling rifles to rebel tribesmen. 

“He was born to have a regular life somewhere in Victorian Bristol, but ended up experiencing things that would have been practically incommunicable to his friends and family in England — an experience totally removed from its initial context,” said Cotterell. “I always think stories like his are the most interesting because you learn about how different cultures interacted, and sometimes clashed, at specific points in history.” 




Haji Williamson at Kut-el-Hajjaj. (Supplied)

After escaping imprisonment, Williamson went to sea once again, making his way to Aden, Yemen to join the British police force. During the voyage, he came across a book on Islam, written by Abdullah Quilliam, an influential Briton who converted to Islam and established Britain’s first mosque in Liverpool in 1889. Reading the book was a turning point in Williamson’s life, and he eventually also converted. 

“Christianity was a consistent part of his early life, even on his first travels, such as when he stayed in California with his aunt who was a Seventh-day Adventist,” noted Cotterell. “It seems his study of Islam quickly became an obsession, which his shipmates noticed when he no longer wished to join them for football matches on land, preferring to read in the ship’s library.” 

What was considered a personal decision actually led to controversy in the establishment. “At first, he was considered a good policeman, but the British authorities became highly suspicious of his interest in the local community and Islam. And then, from the moment he converted, he was viewed as a potentially dangerous outsider,” said Cotterell. Their behavior towards Williamson shifted when Williamson took on the coveted role of inspector of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. 




Hadji Williamson (right) and Yusef in Zobair. (Supplied)

“A narrative about his life would never have been published early on, because it was only later, when his knowledge was deemed essential to securing oil concessions, that he regained acceptance from the British,” he continued. “There was a period of time in which he was completely apart from his country of birth.”  

Haji, meaning a male who performed the Hajj, became Williamson’s nickname, and indeed, he completed the pilgrimage in 1894, 1898 and 1936. 

“What’s communicated in the book — and this is not coming directly from Williamson — is that he found a clarity in Islam beyond what he’d experienced as a Christian,” noted Cotterell. 

Studying the Arabic language and culture, Williamson lived in Kuwait and an area close to Basra in Iraq, where he owned a dhow, and traveled widely in the Gulf region. He made a living through pearling, horse trading, and camel dealing. He fitted in, looking like a traditional Arab. One of the unique aspects of Maggs’ book is the curious cover, showing a large frontispiece of the eye-catching Haji Williamson.

“The portrait on the dust-jacket is memorable, showing him in his role as agent for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company,” said Cotterell.” He wears a Western suit but also a ghutrah and golden agal. It’s a kind of between-worlds image.”  


British filmmaker Guy Ritchie envisions bright future for Saudi Arabian film industry

British filmmaker Guy Ritchie envisions bright future for Saudi Arabian film industry
Updated 02 December 2022

British filmmaker Guy Ritchie envisions bright future for Saudi Arabian film industry

British filmmaker Guy Ritchie envisions bright future for Saudi Arabian film industry

RIYADH: British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, most famous for his hit gangster films, the "Sherlock Holmes" franchise and his live-action "Aladdin" adaptation, said that Saudi Arabia is ripe for building a successful film industry, at the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

The director was speaking to Arab News on day two of the film festival in Jeddah.

Guy Ritchie at the photocall at the Red Sea International Film Festival on Friday. (Getty Images)

"What's interesting about (Saudi Arabia) is that there's such an explosion of enthusiasm. It's young and it's creative. And there's a high desire to express creativity. That makes it very interesting. So it's trying to couple the inexperience with the enthusiasm, because you have the enthusiasm and the means. And now you've just got to develop some form of experience and sub-structure," said Ritchie about the developing and nascent film industry in Saudi Arabia.

"I don't like making movies in the UK anyway. So I'd rather make movies outside of the UK. We worked in Jordan for 'Aladdin.' And that worked very well for us. We were in Spain for the last film and in Turkey for the film before that. There's no need to get out of the UK but I'd much rather work in in new and exciting environments. And for that really you just need a sub-structure in order to facilitate the ability of making movies. And I'm sure that will happen," added the filmmaker, who is attending the film festival along with his actress-wife Jacqui Ainsley.

Ritchie with his wife Jacqui Ainsley at the opening gala of the Red Sea International Film Festival on Thursday. (Getty Images)

In a separate 'In Conversation' segment on Friday, Ritchie address this topic again and said, "I think I'm very interested in this part of the world. And I think creativity should find its way into this part of the world. That's why I'm here. Really, what we're after is a fusion and the integration of cultural collaboration."

Ritchie went on to explain that for a healthy film industry to be built, incentives and subsidies for film productions are the way to go. "I can't shoot in the UK anymore because it's too busy to shoot there. That's how busy it is. And they've been able to do that because of incentives. So once you have incentives, then the other thing you need is to make a few movies here in Saudi Arabia. So other filmmakers look at the filmmakers that have gone before and then they just trust that," said Ritchie. 

Ritchie first made headlines and found international acclaim with the 1998 British black comedy crime film "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," which he wrote and directed. In an In Conversation panel at the Red Sea International Film Festival on Friday, Ritchie talked about how the film almost didn't get made. 

"This was the hardest film. I mean, it's not coal mining. So you've got relativize it within the world of how hard it is to scratch a living. But the film fell down a 1000 times before it was resurrected. And even when it came to a redistribution, you know, it was out and in and then it was out. And then it came down to, suddenly, there was one particular guy called Chris Evans, in the UK, who saw it and he loved it. And at the time, his show was the most watched show in the UK. And he pulled me on for the next week. That's really what made it a hit. He made a fuss about it, then everyone else would come," said Ritchie.


Sharon Stone gets emotional during Saudi Arabia visit

Sharon Stone gets emotional during Saudi Arabia visit
Updated 02 December 2022

Sharon Stone gets emotional during Saudi Arabia visit

Sharon Stone gets emotional during Saudi Arabia visit
  • ‘Basic Instinct’ star is attending Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah

DUBAI: Hollywood star Sharon Stone was visibly emotional during an In Conversation panel discussion at the Red Sea Film Festival on Friday.

Talking about why she decided to visit Saudi Arabia, the star of “Basic Instinct” and “Catwoman” said: “I’m an envelope breaker, my success is to break the envelope, just like coming here. Everyone said to me, aren’t you afraid? And I said, ‘I’m afraid not to know. So why don’t I go, see how it really is and I’ll tell you?’

Sharon Stone at the opening gala on the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah. (AFP)

“What I’ve learned is that what everybody tells you isn’t always the way it is.”

Stone added that it meant the world to her to be at the festival.

“I’m just a kid from Pennsylvania. I grew up with Amish people who drove into my driveway in their horse and buggy. There was no possibility for me to come to Saudi Arabia to meet you.”

Meanwhile, a clip of her awestruck reaction to being seated next to Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan at the opening night of the festival on Thursday has been doing the rounds on social media.
 


VOX Cinemas reveals series of homegrown Arabic films

VOX Cinemas reveals series of homegrown Arabic films
Updated 02 December 2022

VOX Cinemas reveals series of homegrown Arabic films

VOX Cinemas reveals series of homegrown Arabic films
  • Announcement “reaffirms committment to produce 25 films in 5 years”

DUBAI: Plans are afoot to create a series of Arabic films, VOX Cinemas, the movie arm of Majid Al Futtaim announced on Friday at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah. Majid Al Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment & Cinemas CEO, Ignace Lahoud said the announcement reaffirmed the company’s commitment to the production of 25 Arabic films in five years.

In a line-up that features titles from new and established filmmakers in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Lebanon, VOX Cinemas is “reaffirming its commitment to become a major player in Arabic film production” Lahoud said.

 

 

“It is an exciting time for Arabic film, which has been gaining plaudits and audiences in the region and beyond, and tends to outperform foreign films,” he added.

“Distinctly local productions, particularly in a nascent market like Saudi Arabia, offer an untapped and real opportunity.”

 

 

Lahoud said VOX Cinemas would be working with a number of production companies In the ongoing push to growing a “sustainable film industry”.

“Storytelling is deeply rooted in Arabic culture,” he added, saying “VOX Cinemas is dedicated to cultivating the next generation of regional filmmakers and empowering them to use the language of film to tell their stories.”

The movies will be produced through collaborations with the likes of Image Nation Abu Dhabi and MBC Studios, as well as Film Clinic and Sirb Productions.

Currently under production are a number of titles including ‘HWJN (Hawjen)’, directed by Yasir Al Yasiri and due for release next year; other titles include “King of the Ring,” a Saudi remake of the South Korean comedy drama hit “The Foul King,” and “Voy! Voy! Voy!,” which is also slated for 2023.


REVIEW: ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ makes for a disappointing rom-com, despite splendid performances from stars

REVIEW: ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ makes for a disappointing rom-com, despite splendid performances from stars
Updated 02 December 2022

REVIEW: ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ makes for a disappointing rom-com, despite splendid performances from stars

REVIEW: ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ makes for a disappointing rom-com, despite splendid performances from stars
  • Shekhar Kapur's rom-com, starring Shazad Latif and Lily James in lead roles, opened the Red Sea International Film Festival on Thursday night

JEDDAH: Renowned Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur's "What's Love Got To Do With It," which opened the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Thursday night, is a bit of a disappointment despite its distinguished cast. Coming from someone who gave us solid movies like an extremely likeable "Masoom" ("Innocent"), "Bandit Queen" (on the life of the notorious outlaw, Phoolan Devi) and "Elizebeth," his attempt at a rom-com falls flat. 

To start with, the premise of "What's Love Got To Do With It" hinges on the outdated concept of arranged marriages, which has been fancifully renamed here as an “assisted match.” This is, at best, whitewashing of a concept popular in India where the parents choose their children's partners, and that was that. However, in 21st century London, this idea appears ludicrous, and no amount of dressing up the plot with exquisite locales from the city makes the concept work. 

Taking off from a script written by London-born Jemima Goldsmith, who was once married to the former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and her experiences there have reportedly been worked into the movie, Kapur tells us about two childhood friends, who grew up on the same street in London. 

Zoe (Lily James) is a successful documentary film-maker, but the serious subjects she chooses have made finding funding for her projects difficult. When Kazim (Shazad Latif) , whom she secretly pines for, says he has begun the process of looking for a partner through an arranged marriage, because of his mother, played by Shabana Azmi, Zoe feels that this could be an excellent idea for her next work. Yes, this would also lead to a lot of heartache for her. 

Kapur's movie travels between Lahore and London with a practiced ease but is also peppered with loud garishness. However, the idea of a fairytale, which Zoe hoped to lace her documentary with, falls flat. 

Adding to the silliness is Emma Thomson, who plays Zoe's mother and is quite splendid as a woman trying desperately to match her daughter with Kazim.

James is remarkable as well, and helps to get a message across quite convincingly – that love can happen anytime, anywhere! True, but we already knew that. 


Saudi designers spotlighted at opening night of the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

Saudi designers spotlighted at opening night of the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah
Updated 02 December 2022

Saudi designers spotlighted at opening night of the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

Saudi designers spotlighted at opening night of the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

DUBAI: The second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival kicked off in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday night with stars from across the world descending on the red carpet. 

While stars like Sharon Stone, Shah Rukh Khan, Oliver Stone, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and many more graced the red carpet in striking fashion looks, Saudi designers also had their moment to shine at the prestigious event. 

Brazilian supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio wore a creation by Jeddah-based designer Yousef Akbar. (AFP)

Brazilian supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio dazzled in a blue jumpsuit from Jeddah-based designer Yousef Akbar. She completed the look with with a gold bangle and matching stud earrings. The model has often sported creations from Arab designers. Last month, she wore a lime gown by Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad to a holiday brunch in Mexico.  

Jomana Al-Rashed (right) on the red carpet with Red Sea CEO Mohammed Al-Turki (left) and Hollywood star Sharon Stone (centre). (Getty Images)

Jomana Al-Rashed, the first Saudi Arabian woman to be appointed CEO of the Saudi Research and Media Group, was spotted posing alongside Hollywood star Sharon Stone, wearing Saudi label Loodyana.

Filmmaker Guy Ritchie with actress-wife Jacqui Ainsley. (Getty Images)

British actress Jacqui Ainsley, known for her role in the 2017 film "King Arthur: legend of the Sword," took to the red carpet wearing US-based label Dazluq, founded by Saudi designer Salma Zahran. Ashley is married to British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, who was also in attendance. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by HONAYDA (@honaydaofficial)

Honayda Serafi, founder of the Saudi label Honayda, represented her own brand in a striking green ensemble. "Delighted to be attending the opening ceremony of the second edition of the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, surrounded by successful talents from around the world, and celebrating Arab artists. A grand event bridging cultures from West to East, bursting creativity and beauty," she posted on Instagram, along with shots of her outfit. 

Sofia Guellaty, the founder and editor of Mille World, also took to the red carpet in an elegant gown from Honayda.

Lebanese influencer Nathalie Fanj was seen wearing an ethereal mermaid black gown from designer Tima Abed. She completed the look with dangling, heart-shaped earring from Chopard.

Saudi Arabian actress Mila Al-Zahrani looked stylish in a sleek black-and-white gown from label Mashael Al Faris. She was styled by Rawan Kattoa and wore jewelry from French label Boucheron. 

The opening night film was Shekhar Kapur’s film, "What’s Love Got to Do with It?," starring Lily James and Emma Thompson, written by Jemima Khan, and produced by StudioCanal and Working Title.