Motawifs reminisce about serving Hajj pilgrims in years gone by

In the past, hajj pilgrims would arrive in ships after a long journey that could take about four to five months. (SPA)
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In the past, hajj pilgrims would arrive in ships after a long journey that could take about four to five months. (SPA)
Motawifs reminisce about serving Hajj pilgrims in years gone by
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Muttawwif Wejdan Buqas with Malaysian pilgrims after Hajj. (Supplied)
Motawifs reminisce about serving Hajj pilgrims in years gone by
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Muttawif Adil Jameel Eid inherited the occupation from his father and grandfather. (Supplied)
Motawifs reminisce about serving Hajj pilgrims in years gone by
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Picture of the Mutawwif, Shiekh Hamza Eid, the Mutawwif of southeast Asia. (Supplied)
Motawifs reminisce about serving Hajj pilgrims in years gone by
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Picture of the Mutawwif, Shiekh Abdulrahman Eid, the Mutawwif of southeast Asia. (Supplied)
Motawifs reminisce about serving Hajj pilgrims in years gone by
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Hayyat Eid, the girl on the right, with her Muttawwif family. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 June 2023
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Motawifs reminisce about serving Hajj pilgrims in years gone by

In the past, hajj pilgrims would arrive in ships after a long journey that could take about four to five months. (SPA)
  • Motawif — a guide and general service provider who assists and cares for Hajj pilgrims — is an age-old role that was traditionally passed down from one generation of a family to the next
  • One Mowatif told Arab News that what was once a position held by individuals has now become an institutional role

RIYADH: Hayat Eid, a Saudi former Motawif, recalled how in days gone by she would dress up in her most beautiful clothes and burn incense throughout her house as she prepared to welcome Hajj pilgrims, many of whom had traveled very long distances in the days before air travel was common.

Motawif — the name for the guides and general service providers who assist and care for Hajj pilgrims — is an age-old role that was traditionally passed down from one generation of a family to the next.

Eid’s grandfather, for example, rented buildings, cleaned them and offered accommodation in them to pilgrims. He also hired supervisors and translators to assist the visitors. The job was passed down to his son, Eid’s father.




Abdulrazzaq lulu Buqas with hajj pilgrims he hosted in his home, in a picture taken in may, 1993. (Supplied)

“My father, Jamil Abdulrahman Eid, was the ‘sheikh’ of the pilgrims of Southeast Asia,” she said, referring to the tradition of pilgrims referring to Mowatifs as “sheikhs.”

“My grandfather and grandmother were also among the Motawif and (my grandfather) was ‘the sheikh of Java,’ that is, the sheikh who receives the pilgrims from Java, Indonesia. After my grandparents died, my father rose to the (position of) Motawif.”

Reminiscing about those days in the 1960s and 1970s, Eid, who is now in her 50s and retired, said that pilgrims would send letters to her family asking to stay with the “sheikh” in his house.




Eid family preparing feasts for pilgrims. (Supplied)

“The sheikh explained to them the rituals of Hajj and what they should do (and) take them to the Grand Mosque and return home with them so that they did not get lost,” she added.

Her brother, Adel Eid, said the role of the Motawif was an individual position in the past but has now become an institutional role.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Motawif are guides and general service providers who assist and care for Hajj pilgrims.

• The position, which was once held by individuals and passed from one generation to the next, is now an institutional role.

• Each Motawif was assigned a certain number of pilgrims based on ability; some could serve only 100, others could cope with 1,000.

• They were required to speak the pilgrims’ language or hire interpreters.

“Each Motawif used to serve the pilgrims by himself,” he said. “They would travel to (the pilgrims’) country and market their services … they were also required to be able to speak (the pilgrims’) language well.”




Some of the pilgrims having lunch. (Supplied)

Each Motawif was assigned a certain number of pilgrims based on ability; some could serve only 100, others could cope with 1,000.

Because the Eids assisted pilgrims from Indonesia, they learned the Malay language and about the spices and food their visitors preferred, so that they could make the pilgrims feel as much as home as possible in Makkah.

Adel, who is in his 60s and also retired, said that the pilgrims’ journeys to the Kingdom, mostly on ships, could take four or five months. After docking in Jeddah, they would board buses to Makkah. In most cases, they would be led during their journeys by a Motawif.




A historical motawif identity card belonging to Jamil Abdulrahman Eid, the ‘sheikh’ of Southeast Asian pilgrims. (Supplied)

“Hajj is for those who can afford it, so pilgrims would sell what they had to perform Hajj,” Adel said. “They would come loaded with things to sell in Makkah, such as clothes, sheets, food and gold.”

Wijdan Abdulrazzaq Lulu Buqas, 46, similarly inherited the profession of Motawif. She is also fluent in Malay, having learned it from her father and grandfather. But some nationalities prove more challenging than others.

“We would circumambulate with pilgrims from Southeast Asia and speak their language to serve them but the Chinese language was difficult, and so we brought a translator for the Chinese pilgrims,” she said.




Some pilgrims having an exploring trip around the rituals of Hajj in Makkah. (Supplied)

Some pilgrims bring gold or pearls to give the Motawif as a gift on Eid Al-Adha, Buqas said. Her father, Abdulrazzaq Lulu Buqas, added “Lulu,” the word for pearls in Arabic, to his name to commemorate these gifts from pilgrims.

One “unforgettable situation” that Buqas, who still works as a Motawif, recalls occurred when she met a pregnant woman, in her third trimester, who showed signs of fatigue.

“When I saw the suffering of the pregnant woman we took her to the hospital where she delivered safely,” she said.




Picture of pilgrims in front of the accommodation in the 70's. (Supplied)

“I asked her why she came when she was pregnant and she told me that she had applied for Hajj and had been waiting for this opportunity for 20 years, and if she had not come, she would have lost her chance forever. That is why she decided to perform Hajj and complete the fifth pillar of Islam.”

Buqas said that she has witnessed great changes, for the better, in the Hajj experience over the years.

“The difference between Hajj in the past and in modern times is very big because previously there were more difficulties and challenges,” said Buqas. “It would take months to arrange it but today, it takes only hours … thanks to the great efforts by the Saudi (leadership).”

 


Saudi king, crown prince send condolences to Sultan of Oman

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)
Updated 33 sec ago
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Saudi king, crown prince send condolences to Sultan of Oman

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)
  • A group of school children and a driver died when their vehicle was overtaken

RIYADH: King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday sent cables of condolences to Sultan Haitham bin Tariq after 17 people died in flooding in several parts of Oman.

The Saudi leaders sent their sincerest condolences to the sultan, and the families of the deceased, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

A group of school children and a driver died when their vehicle was overtaken, authorities said.
Civil defense officials gave the death toll for the rains, which saw Oman’s North Al Sharqiyah province hardest hit. The Royal Oman Police and the Omani military deployed to the province to transport citizens out of flooded areas

Heavy rainfall often causes flash flooding in the sultanate, drawing the curious from their homes to nearby dry riverbeds, known in Arabic as “wadi.” In flooding, they can quickly fill and wash away people and vehicles.

— with input from The Associated Press

 


Saudi independent musician takes road less traveled

Saudi independent musician takes road less traveled
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi independent musician takes road less traveled

Saudi independent musician takes road less traveled
  • Artist SOVL speaks on the challenges and joys of making music independently

RIYADH: As the music scene diversifies in Saudi Arabia, from psychedelic rock to electronic dance, young artist SOVL is bringing a new flavor to the mix.

SOVL is a self-taught independent musician who was on a quest to create a top-notch, industry-standard album on his own that reflected his personal artistry and carried a meaningful narrative. He platformed a distinct blend of alternative, modern, and indie rock, all rooted in the DNA of guitar music.

“As an independent musician, it’s a harder process than someone, say, signed to a label. But I try to take advantage of what I have,” he said.

SOVL visually represents the theme of ‘Too Much Is Not Enough’ on the album’s cover with the image of the artist pouring water into an already large and abundant sea. (Supplied)

The Saudi rockstar, 22, debuted his first album “Too Much Is Not Enough” last December. The album represented a bold artistic leap as SOVL, a producer, songwriter, and singer, ventured into the captivating realm of full-length storytelling through his music.

The 10-track work is an emotional odyssey. Open to interpretation, the songs become a canvas upon which the listener’s own feelings are painted.

In a world where the pursuit of “too much” often takes center stage, “Too Much Is Not Enough” offers a message that resonates with all: In the pursuit of everything, we must not forget to preserve the most essential part of our being — ourselves.

I firmly believe that you can write and record music right from your own bedroom and doing so can make the final product more genuine, presenting your art exactly as you envision it.

SOVL, Saudi music artist

But before the full body of work came along, his journey was nothing but relentless.

“When I laid my hands on my first electric guitar in 2019, I was taking a different approach in learning the instrument,” he said. His technique was more makeshift than anything: placing his fingers wherever they landed or strumming whatever sounded right until he began learning some basics of guitar chord theory.

SOVL, Saudi music artist

He later began recording his music on the beginner-friendly GarageBand before moving on to using the Logic Pro software and experimenting with different sounds.

SOVL released his single “What’s Going On?” in 2021, his first official launch into the local music scene as an indie alternative artist. The refreshing sound brings listeners back to the rock gems of the 70s like The Who and The Clash, who inspired much of his music.

He also tries to infuse a bit of Arabic spirit into his music; the oud instrument makes an appearance in some of his songs, including “Ana.”

While making music is the easy part, some other aspects of the industry like marketing and distribution can be difficult to tackle.

A record label, for example, would handle cover art, music video production, and music distribution. “It (would have) been much easier to sign with a record label so they could get all that sorted,” he said.

Regardless of the challenges, SOVL expressed his joy in having the freedom of creative direction: “I’m a strong advocate for the do-it-yourself approach. I firmly believe that you can write and record music right from your own bedroom and doing so can make the final product more genuine, presenting your art exactly as you envision it.

“Don’t get me wrong; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with signing to a major label,” he noted. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for those who have it. However, in a world flooded with too much music content, it can be challenging to stand out and get your unique sound heard.”

For his first album’s cover art, he enlisted the help of his friends. They took an impromptu one-day trip to the Eastern Province for the makeshift photoshoot and ended up filming one of his music videos there as well.

“It takes a whole lot of belief, and my friends have had my back since the get-go,” he said about the experience.

Many independent artists now are utilizing social media platforms like TikTok to promote their music, but SOVL says their approach is a bit “cliche” for his persona.

Personifying a rather mysterious image, hence the anonymous stage name, and presenting a style that is much more nuanced than generic pop, he allows his sound and lyrics to speak for themselves.

His album, although niche in genre, presents an exploration of a rather universal experience. He narrates the battle within to settle for what we already have. The theme is encapsulated in the album cover, which features the artist pouring water into an already plentiful and vast sea.

What distinguishes SOVL is his continuous pursuit to diversify not just genres but the very composition of albums in the novel Saudi music industry. Concept albums, which can tell a larger story than what could be contained in a single track, enhance the listeners’ experience of various notions.

SOVL is adamant about making and releasing music that is authenticated by genuine and soulful feelings, and his name serves as a reminder of that.

He said: “The album is super focused lyrically, on the theme, the sound, and some of the listeners criticized me on that point. Because it was my first album, (they believe) it should be a showcase of what you’re capable of, but on a broader aspect.

“With the Extended Edition, going forward, I’m going to broaden the sound, experiment a bit, but still with the same themes … It’s also to compel the story.”

While the writing and producing process is personal and self-centric, the product may not be everyone’s cup of tea, he said. Pop sensibility is not the artist’s goal, but he understands that broadening the scope of his work, even slightly, will create a more palatable experience for listeners to get into more psychedelic and grunge alternative rock.

“What I’m trying to do here is get people interested in different colors of music,” he said. “This is one that hasn’t been targeted yet here (in Saudi Arabia), but I’m really glad to try and start it.

“The scene here and the talents are still developing their musical identities … If you’re interested in music, just go for it. Once you start and find it’s really interesting, you’re maybe gifted, so try to invest more time on that,” he added.  

SOVL’s goal is to prove, not only to himself but also to his friends and aspiring musicians, that artists can take an indie approach and still achieve their dreams in the world of music.

His album is out now on all popular streaming platforms.

 

 


King Salman Royal Reserve — an ecological haven

King Salman Royal Reserve — an ecological haven
Updated 15 April 2024
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King Salman Royal Reserve — an ecological haven

King Salman Royal Reserve — an ecological haven
  • Fahd Al-Shawaier told Arab News: “The diverse wildlife inhabiting the area is huge … Arabian oryx groups were recently released, and plans are underway to reintroduce species formerly present in the area”

JEDDAH: In the northern part of the Kingdom, the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Reserve, which is recognized by BirdLife International, has strengthened its standing as one of the biggest and most important bird regions in the world through recent expansions.

The additions to the global bird sites within the reserve include the At-Turaif area, Harrat crater, Hail area, and Tabarjal. These areas, situated on major bird migration paths, are considered important protection areas.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

Within the expansive boundaries of the reserve, a remarkable 290 species of wild birds have been recorded. An astonishing 88 percent of these are migratory, making a stop in the reserve, while 12 percent are resident.

FASTFACTS

• 58 percent of the total birds recorded in all regions of the Kingdom find refuge within the King Salman Royal Reserve, underscoring its importance for avian conservation efforts.

• The additions to the global bird sites within the reserve include the At-Turaif area, Harrat crater, Hail area, and Tabarjal.

Notably, 58 percent of the total birds recorded in all regions of the Kingdom find refuge within the reserve, underscoring its importance for avian conservation efforts. Alarmingly, 25 species among them are listed on the Red List of Threatened Species.

A jewel in the crown

At the heart of the reserve lies Al-Khunfah Natural Reserve, spanning more than 20,000 sq km on the edge of the Nafud desert. Designated as a natural reserve in 1987, Al-Khunfah boasts a natural landscape characterized by sedimentary formations and sandstone, displaying a diverse color palette ranging from dark brown to white, with shades of gray and light brown.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

The biodiversity within Al-Khunfah is spectacular, encompassing a variety of fungal, animal and plant species. Resident and migratory birds, including the houbara bustard and cranes, find sanctuary here, alongside trees such as arfaj, athel, arta, talh, harmal and lavender.

Fahd Al-Shawaier, director of communication and public relations at the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Reserve Development Authority, told Arab News: “The diverse wildlife inhabiting the area is huge … Arabian oryx groups were recently released, and plans are underway to reintroduce species formerly present in the area.”

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

These efforts aim to restore degraded ecosystems.

Al-Khunfah does not merely house avian wonders; it hosts various reptile species, as well as rabbits and foxes. From the majestic Arabian wolf, sand cat, wild cat, and the false cobra to the elusive desert warbler, wild rabbit and desert hedgehog, the reserve is home to many species.

NUMBER

290

A remarkable 290 species of wild birds have been recorded within the expansive boundaries of the King Salman Royal Reserve.

The area is also inhabited by many resident bird species such as the Arabian partridge, greater hoopoe-lark, owl and long-legged buzzard, and migratory birds such as the steppe eagle, eastern imperial eagle, vulture and saker falcon.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

Al-Khunfah hosts a variety of habitats for reptile species such as the desert warbler, lizard, frog-headed lizard and fringed-toed lizard, among others.

There is one rabbit species in Al-Khunfah, the cape hare, and two fox species, the red fox and Ruppell’s fox, Al-Shawaier said.

Al-Khunfah’s mountains and highlands showcase nature’s splendor across areas such as Bagheith, Al-Asmar, Anz, Abu Talihat, Dhaea, Al-Dhahakiya, and valleys such as Al-Fater, Niyal, Al-Saileh, Al-Aqeelah, Abu Mataya and Wadi Al-Mawrida. Seasonal rains, ranging from 50 to 100 mm, sustain the land, plants, trees and wildlife habitats.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including sandy and rocky environments, plains, mountain slopes and dunes, provides habitats for resident and migratory wildlife species.

While seasonal rains are crucial for plant growth and diversity, flooding resulting from these rains can pose challenges to certain plant species.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (SPA)

The rains work to rejuvenate soil fertility and improve its composition, contributing to the creation of an ideal environment for the growth of plant species, including annual herbs (which are aided by the rains to complete their life cycle), as well as the flourishing of trees, shrubs and perennial herbs during the rainy season, which enhances plant diversity in the area, Al-Shawaier said.

“However, it should be noted that floods resulting from these rains can negatively affect plants, especially those that do not tolerate continuous water immersion,” he said.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

Temporary basins are formed, supplying resident and migratory wildlife with their water needs while the basins last.

Al-Shawaier said that the reserve has implemented various programs, initiatives and projects, including surveying and monitoring wildlife, reintroduction programs, post-release monitoring, and initiatives to maintain vegetation cover and habitats.

These efforts are crucial for meeting conservation targets and ensuring the long-term sustainability of this ecological haven.

 

 


Saudi Shoura speaker visits Jordan to strengthen ties

Saudi Shoura speaker visits Jordan to strengthen ties
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi Shoura speaker visits Jordan to strengthen ties

Saudi Shoura speaker visits Jordan to strengthen ties
  • Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh emphasized that the leaderships of both countries are keen to strengthen and consolidate bilateral relations to meet the aspirations of their brotherly peoples

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council Speaker Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh arrived in Jordan on Monday for an official visit.

Al-Asheikh leads a delegation from the council who were officially invited by Ahmed Safadi, the speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives.

Upon his arrival at Queen Alia International Airport in the capital Amman, he was received by Safadi, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Jordan Nayef bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, and several senior officials of the Jordanian House of Representatives.

In a statement, Al-Asheikh commended the progress and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Jordan in various fields. He emphasized that the leaderships of both countries are keen to strengthen and consolidate bilateral relations to meet the aspirations of their brotherly peoples.

He praised the Shoura Council’s use of parliamentary diplomacy to promote relations between Saudi Arabia and other countries, through which the council seeks to build bridges that consolidate relations, share views, and highlight the Kingdom’s positions on various issues and events.

During the visit, Al-Asheikh will hold talks with Safadi, focusing on enhancing cooperation in parliamentary fields, unifying efforts by coordinating common positions and visions in regional and international forums and platforms, and strengthening mechanisms of dialogue and parliamentary cooperation. He will also meet with Senate President Faisal Al-Fayez, Senate officials and other senior officials in Jordan.

 


Saudi deputy foreign minister and US envoy discuss war in Sudan

Saudi deputy foreign minister and US envoy discuss war in Sudan
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi deputy foreign minister and US envoy discuss war in Sudan

Saudi deputy foreign minister and US envoy discuss war in Sudan
  • They held talks on sidelines of international humanitarian conference in Paris for the war-torn African nation

RIYADH: The Saudi deputy minister of foreign affairs, Waleed Elkhereiji, and the US special envoy for Sudan, Tom Perriello, held talks on Monday in Paris on the sidelines of an international humanitarian conference for Sudan and its neighboring countries.

They discussed the latest developments in the war-torn country, ways in which cooperation between their countries might be enhanced, and other issues of common interest, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Donors pledged more than $2.13 billion in aid during the conference, French President Emmanuel Macron said, which took place on the first anniversary of what humanitarian workers described as a neglected but devastating conflict.

They said efforts to help millions of people driven to the verge of famine by the civil war have been held up by continuing fighting between the Sudanese army and rival paramilitary organization the Rapid Support Forces, restrictions imposed by the warring factions, and the financial demands donors are facing as a result of other global crises, including the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine.