Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan discuss enhancing defense cooperation

The meeting focused on joint defense cooperation, the transfer and localization of technology, and scientific research in line with Saudi Vision 2030. (Supplied)
The meeting focused on joint defense cooperation, the transfer and localization of technology, and scientific research in line with Saudi Vision 2030. (Supplied)
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Updated 05 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan discuss enhancing defense cooperation

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan discuss enhancing defense cooperation
  • The Saudi-Turkish bilateral defense cooperation committee also met in Istanbul

ISTANBUL: Saudi Arabia, Turkiye and Pakistan’s tripartite committee held its third meeting recently in Istanbul to discuss ways to enhance defense cooperation.

Saudi Assistant Minister of Defense Talal bin Abdullah Al-Otaibi, Turkish Deputy Minister of National Defense Bilal Durdali, and Lt. Gen Mohammed Owais from Pakistan were among the officials present at the meeting, the Defense Ministry said in a report on Saturday.

The meeting focused on joint cooperation in defense, the transfer and localization of technology, and the development of scientific research in accordance with Saudi Vision 2030, the ministry stated.

The Saudi-Turkish bilateral defense cooperation committee also met in Istanbul recently.

 


Could AI one day perform all of Hajj social services?

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)
The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)
Updated 19 June 2024
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Could AI one day perform all of Hajj social services?

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)
  • This year’s Hajj will likely exceed two million pilgrims, more than last year’s 1.8 million
  • Many AI-driven technologies have been introduced to streamline the Hajj process

RIYADH: Like every Dul Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, millions of Muslims from all over the world have gathered in Saudi Arabia to take part in the ritual of Hajj, one of the world’s largest annual congregations.

Though this massive influx of pilgrims poses a challenge to the limits of the infrastructure and social services of the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, the Kingdom was well prepared to handle this year’s Hajj.

Social workers whose job it is to make the Hajj experience better for visitors, are a staple of the pilgrimage. (SPA)

As Saudi Arabia’s technological capabilities steadily expand, the country’s authorities have taken to using robotic social workers to make this spiritual experience of a lifetime unforgettable.

An estimated 1,845,045 pilgrims, 90 percent of whom came from outside the country, participated in Hajj last year, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.

FASTFACT

Saudi Arabia has extensive experience with the use of tech during Hajj, particularly during the challenging post-COVID-19 seasons.

Social workers whose job it is to help make the Hajj experience better for visitors have long been a staple of the pilgrimage at every relevant location in Makkah and Madinah.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

They play a vital role in supporting and assisting a pilgrim’s needs. However, the sheer scale of the event has some wondering whether artificial intelligence could complement, and even replace, certain social work functions.

Saudi Arabia has extensive experience with the use of technology during Hajj, particularly during the challenging post-COVID-19 seasons. Last year, the Kingdom’s Tourism Authority launched the Nusuk platform to streamline planning and booking for the entire Hajj experience.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

Smart robots have been used for several years, working in the fields of disinfection and sterilization and the distribution of Zamzam water.

Last year’s Hajj also saw the use of AI-enabled robots which communicated with pilgrims in 11 languages to guide them through the performance of religious rituals and offer assistance. A number of advanced technologies have already been introduced this Hajj season.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

On June 12, several officials from the Saudi Ministry of Transport and Logistic Services and the General Authority of Civil Aviation witnessed the launch of a self-driving — or, rather, self-flying — aerial taxi service in Makkah.

The Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence has also deployed AI technology to improve the entry process for pilgrims, equipping more than a dozen entry points in the country.

Pilgrims arriving to take part in the ritual of Hajj, one of the world’s largest annual congregations. (File/@haramainrailway)

Drones have been monitoring the flow of pilgrims in Makkah around the clock to ensure a smooth experience, and field monitors wearing augmented reality glasses are overseeing transportation and traffic patterns.

For the elderly and those with disabilities, the new technologies are a welcome improvement. Smart golf carts and electric scooters for those with mobility issues can be reserved by pilgrims; their use has improved the flow of traffic in the holy cities.

Last year, Saudi Arabia welcomed more than 1.8 million pilgrims — some 90 percent of them from overseas. (@HajMinistry)

Saudi technology to benefit pilgrims has expanded even outside of the typical social services. For instance, this season an elderly Chinese pilgrim received a lifesaving, highly advanced wireless pacemaker at the King Abdullah Medical City in Makkah after experiencing arrhythmia.

AI-powered systems can optimize the scheduling and flow of pilgrims, manage crowd control, and ensure efficient distribution of resources.

With the amount of technology integrated into Hajj growing year after year, some may wonder what is in store for the use of AI during the pilgrimage. As in previous years, the Kingdom has continued to ensure that social services are readily available to all pilgrims.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development announced this year the launch of Ajeer Al-Hajj, a service that enables businesses to hire seasonal workers specifically for the Hajj period.

The service allows facilities working during the Hajj season to cover the number of workers needed and contributes to serving pilgrims.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

Social workers are entrusted with a variety of duties including helping pilgrims navigate their religious journey, assisting in emergency help with medical staff such as giving medical and psychological support to people at sites, reuniting separated or lost family members, and guiding pilgrims through crowded places.

These tasks require organization skills, language proficiency, cultural sensitivity, and quick responses to orders — all of which AI has the potential to excel at.

One of the services the Kingdom has been providing for decades for its visitors during this religious holiday is social service. At every location, there are social workers to ensure that pilgrims receive safe and best quality experience during Hajj. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Abeer Alomrani, a Saudi AI consultant, says that while it has the potential to significantly support and enhance the efficiency of operations during Hajj, AI cannot replace human creativity, complex moral judgment and deep cultural sensitivity.

“AI can excel in tasks that require data management and logistical planning. For instance, AI-powered systems can optimize the scheduling and flow of pilgrims, manage crowd control, and ensure efficient distribution of resources,” she said.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

“These systems can analyze real-time data to adjust plans dynamically, helping to prevent bottlenecks and manage emergency situations efficiently.”

AI and virtual assistants have already been used to help pilgrims with accessing information and assist in locating missing people. Computer vision and natural language processing algorithms could also help with communication to serve pilgrims who may not speak the local language.

“AI-powered translation tools and natural language processing systems are highly adept at breaking down language barriers. These tools can provide real-time translation services to assist pilgrims from diverse linguistic backgrounds, ensuring that communication is clear and effective,” Alomrani said.

However, there have been concerns regarding AI and whether it can compare with humans in terms of creating genuine experiences for pilgrims. After all, computers cannot offer the empathy or emotional support that human social workers can provide.

Dr. Amal Salamah, a family medicine consultant, explained to Arab News the necessity of human interactions to solve health problems between patients and doctors.

“Some medical rules cannot be replaced, especially the ones that have direct contact with patients,” she said. “Empathy can’t be provided by robots. In our career, one plus one does not necessarily equal two. You might need to provide more. We always need to work by equity.”

Others believe that a hybrid approach, where AI can perform routine tasks and process large amounts of data while social workers focus on complex duties that require emotional intelligence, could be a promising way forward for the future of Hajj.

Alomrani strongly supports the use of a hybrid model and describes it as “the best approach.”

Through a hybrid method, social workers would feel comfortable and would have the time to “focus on the personal, empathetic interactions and decision-making that require a human touch,” she said.

“This synergy could ensure that the spiritual and logistical elements of Hajj are both honored and efficiently managed.”

As technology advances, AI will undoubtedly play a larger role in social services during Hajj season in the future.

Special care is needed to ensure that the new technologies being introduced operate with suitable cultural and religious context for the religious ritual.

While AI may never be able to replace human workers, it can contribute to Saudi Arabia’s ultimate goal of improving the quality of services and offering exceptional experiences to the millions of Hajj pilgrims every year.

 


Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling across KSA

Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling across KSA
Updated 19 June 2024
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Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling across KSA

Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling across KSA
  • Saudi security authorities urged people to report any activities related to drug smuggling or promotion by calling 911 in the Makkah, Riyadh and Eastern Province regions, and 999 in the rest of Saudi Arabia’s regions

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s drug control authority arrested several people involved in smuggling, and seized large quantities of narcotics after operations across Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Press Agency reported Tuesday.

Border Guard land patrols in Rabwa, Asir province, arrested 15 violators, Ethiopians and Yemenis, for smuggling 300 kg of khat.

Additionally, security patrols in Jazan region have arrested two Yemenis and four Saudis after finding them in possession of 196 kg of hashish and 7,227 amphetamine tablets.

Another raid by Border Guards in Al-Dair, Jazan province, thwarted smuggling of 450 kg of khat.

Saudi security authorities urged people to report any activities related to drug smuggling or promotion by calling 911 in the Makkah, Riyadh and Eastern Province regions, and 999 in the rest of Saudi Arabia’s regions.

Alternatively, information can be emailed to [email protected]. All reports are treated confidentially.

 


Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call

Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call
Updated 18 June 2024
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Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call

Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call
  • Number of regional and international issues and recent repercussions also reviewed

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau spoke on the phone on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the call, the development of relations between the two countries and ways to enhance them in various fields were reviewed.

A number of regional and international issues and their recent repercussions, as well as international efforts made regarding achieving security and stability, were also discussed.


Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season

Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season
Updated 18 June 2024
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Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season

Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season
  • Hajj invites millions to the holy city where locals show deep-rooted Saudi hospitality

RIYADH: During the sacred days of Hajj, Makkah witnesses an influx of pilgrims and locals themselves engage more fervently in Islamic practices such as prayer and fasting.

Sami Al-Alwani, a local citizen, enjoys the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage and says the Hajj season is unlike any other month.

“This annual tradition of welcoming, joy and enthusiasm with which we receive the pilgrims of the House of God is passed down from generation to generation,” he told Arab News.

Muttawwif Wejdan Buqas with Malaysian pilgrims after Hajj. (Supplied)

The arrival of pilgrims also means a peak in economic activity and boost for local employment.

Al-Alwani added: “One significant economic aspect we notice is the full occupancy of hotels, leading to a noticeable economic boost in restaurants and services.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Locals of Makkah, including young men and women, volunteer through available programs to assist and guide pilgrims.

• The sacred time of Hajj also brings forth the deep- rooted compassion and friendliness that are hallmarks of the people of Makkah.

“We have numerous job opportunities during Hajj to assist pilgrims and work with them in Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifah and the train station. We also serve as their supervisors and assist them in completing their Hajj obligations. Many volunteers, including young men and women from Makkah, participate voluntarily through available programs.”

Residents of Makkah have historically played a crucial role in hosting and supporting the millions of Muslims who come to perform Hajj. (Supplied)

Al-Alwani added pilgrimage routes and traffic patterns in recent years had had no negative effects for Makkah’s population.

Wejdan Buqas is a female mutawwif — someone who leads pilgrims in the traditional rites and prayers of Hajj and Umrah — who says she used to offer to drive people to Mount Hira and other holy locations.

“Back in the 1980s, we used to greet pilgrims, let them stay in our homes, and transport them to the Al-Tanaim Mosque, Al-Maala Cemeteries, and Hira Mountain. We used to also take them to private, tiny museums that highlighted Makkah inhabitants’ customs, such as telling them about our Eid celebrations,” she said, adding such activities were now streamlined by the government.

Due to the high volume of pilgrims, nearby companies and service providers were set up to meet their needs by providing lodgings, transportation, medical care, and guidance. The sacred time of Hajj also brings forth the deep-rooted compassion and friendliness that are hallmarks of the people of Makkah.

Bakur Hemdi is a Makkah native from a long lineage of muttawifs, including his grandfather and father. He followed in their footsteps and took up the role when he was 21 years old.

“As a mutawwif, my role goes beyond just guiding the pilgrims through the rituals and ceremonies of Hajj and Umrah,” he said.

“I’m a cultural ambassador, helping them navigate the intricacies of Makkah’s landscape and ensuring they can fully immerse themselves in the spiritual journey they’ve come to undertake.”

He added: “Through my interactions with pilgrims from diverse backgrounds, I've gained a deep appreciation for the richness of their traditions and the shared devotion that unites them in their pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. I take great pride in upholding the legacy of my ancestors, while also adapting to the evolving needs of modern-day pilgrims.”   

Hayat Eid, who also comes from a family of mutawwifs, said everyone in Makkah mostly worked during Hajj or, if not, they traveled.

“We make a profit of a whole year during Hajj season, so many people will not miss that opportunity,” she said. “We also remark to each other, ‘Hajj wala dajj?’ which translates to ‘Are you working in Hajj or are you fleeing?’ which is a humorous statement.”  

She added many women participated by preparing treats like maamoul cookies and date cakes to share during Eid.

Every activity contributes to the Hajj season, a time of great spiritual significance and community engagement for the residents of Makkah who play a crucial role in hosting and supporting the millions of Muslims who come to perform this important religious duty.

 


Hajj: An odyssey of faith and personal growth

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah
Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah
Updated 18 June 2024
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Hajj: An odyssey of faith and personal growth

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah
  • Pilgrimage fosters spiritual renewal, community bonds, experts say

MAKKAH: The journey of Hajj, representing the fulfillment of the fifth pillar of Islam, is a chance for personal transformation, fostering patience, resilience, endurance, solidarity and cooperation.

These virtues can positively impact an individual’s life long after completing the pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, many pilgrims sell valuable possessions such as properties and homes to fulfill this obligatory act of worship, which Muslims must perform if they are able.

Abeer Al-Jasser, a Syrian pilgrim from Deir Ezzor, said that she has waited many years to perform Hajj. She highlighted her commitment to fulfilling all Hajj rituals meticulously, hoping to emerge with renewed vigor and a new outlook on life.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

She described the pilgrimage as an exceptional spiritual opportunity that enhances closeness to God, increasing faith and providing tranquility and peace. “Performing the rituals is seen as a chance to purify oneself from sins, offering psychological relief and freedom from past burdens.

“The sight of Muslims in white attire, symbolizing equality and unity, brings comfort and peace. Witnessing this profound sense of brotherhood, with people from all over the world united for one purpose, is a deeply moving experience,” Al-Jasser said.

Witnessing this profound sense of brotherhood, with people from all over the world united for one purpose, is a deeply moving experience.

Abeer Al-Jasser, Syrian Hajj pilgrim

She added that Hajj has numerous positive effects on health, family and community, and it encourages self-assessment and goal-setting, aiding personal growth and decision-making.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

“The pilgrimage also teaches the spirit of cooperation, helping others, and respecting and valuing others, fostering humility and discouraging selfishness,” she added.

Pilgrims may experience deep inner peace and satisfaction after completing the ritual — feelings that can last long after returning home, she said.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

For many, Hajj is not just a religious duty, but a also psychological journey that restores balance and enhances well-being. Psychological consultant Abdulrahman Al-Zahrani told Arab News about the positive psychological impacts of Hajj, describing it as a road map for Muslims to reassess their relationships with God, their community and their families.

The pilgrimage offers a historical opportunity for “spiritual healing and conscience cleansing,” he said.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

Although pilgrims may be physically exhausted from the journey, Hajj provides a form of “psychological cleansing that momentarily frees them from worldly concerns,” Al-Zahrani added.

“Facing the challenges of travel and performing rituals in potentially difficult conditions teaches patience and resilience, which positively influence daily life. Moreover, the values of cooperation and solidarity learned during Hajj are significant,” he said.

'This journey can also help heal emotional and psychological wounds, with sacred sites and religious rituals providing solace and healing'. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

Religious rituals such as standing at Arafat offer pilgrims a chance for deep reflection, potentially leading to fundamental changes in their mindset and life perspective,” Al-Zahrani said.

“Witnessing and appreciating the hardships faced by others can deepen the pilgrims’ gratitude for what they have, and participating in Hajj with a diverse group of Muslims fosters mutual understanding and cultural tolerance, building bridges of respect and brotherhood.

'This journey can also help heal emotional and psychological wounds, with sacred sites and religious rituals providing solace and healing'. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

“This journey can also help heal emotional and psychological wounds, with sacred sites and religious rituals providing solace and healing.”

Psychologist Ahmed Al-Zamel told Arab News that many pilgrims return from Hajj a strong intention to improve their behavior and align their lives more closely with religious and ethical teachings.

“The experience of standing in holy places and contemplating life and death instills deep humility and reverence for God, enhancing individual spirituality,” he said.

The Hajj pilgrimage may also strengthen family bonds, as many pilgrims perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories and strengthening family ties,” he added.

“Pilgrims often experience inner peace after completing the pilgrimage, learning forgiveness and compassion, and enhancing personal and social relationships.”

Mutawwif Nader Osama described Hajj as an inspirational spiritual journey. “Upon returning, pilgrims often have a positive impact on their communities, inspiring others with the positive changes they have made in their lives and encouraging them to improve their behavior and actions,” he said.

Many pilgrims turn to charitable work and helping others, driven by the values instilled during the pilgrimage, he added.

“Their experiences of equality and unity among people of different races and nationalities during the pilgrimage encourage them to appreciate and celebrate the human values consistently promoted by Islam,” Osama added.