An Englishman’s journey to the truth

An Englishman’s journey to the truth
Updated 23 September 2014

An Englishman’s journey to the truth

An Englishman’s journey to the truth

The fact that this book was published by Arabian Publishing, a reputable publishing house, speaks for itself. James Budd, for his part, has written a fair and honest account about a country he had reasons to dislike. However he never gave in to a desire of vengeance after he was removed from his teaching post in Aneiza. Incidentally this oasis town ten hours away from the capital Riyadh is written several ways: Anayzah, Onaizah, Onizah and Unayzah.
Dr. Ibrahim Abdulrahman Al-Turki, Cultural Affairs Editor of Al Jazirah mentions James Budd’s controversial removal in his incisive introduction. A group of determined critics opposed the arrival of the English teacher because they feared the intellectual impact the teacher might exert on the young people. This triggered a war of suspicions and intrigues which eventually led to James Budd’s departure from the Kingdom.
“Many a dark cloud has a silver lining and in this case those who wrote the first chapter of this story were not the ones who wrote its conclusion. The fortunes of yesterday’s outcast were reversed and today it is James who has emerged triumphant.”
While some people could not believe that James Budd was genuinely interested to master a language he loved, in the end his honesty, integrity and determination proved them all wrong. After leaving Saudi Arabia in 1970, he lived in Kuwait and Qatar until 1983 and then left for Muscat where he worked for the Omani News Agency from 1992 until 1998.
During all those years, he never forgot his Saudi friends and kept regularly in touch with them. He returned to the Kingdom in 1996 to perform his pilgrimage in the company of one of his old students. And finally, in 2011 he made a long awaited return trip to Aneiza. Forty-one years after his first stay he felt that very little appeared to have changed.
“The town still has an unhurried, intimate atmosphere, as well as the same easy sociability that I remember from the days when it was less than a fifth of its present size and in the company of its present day inhabitants I felt almost as though I were carrying on a conversation which had been broken off only a day or two previously, rather than forty-one years earlier”.
This book goes beyond its title. It is more than an Englishman’s journey from Aneiza to Makkah. It is first about a man’s journey to the truth. It is also about a man’s sincere desire to learn Arabic and live in an Arab country. Thirdly, it is about a fascination for the Arab world which never faltered.
James Budd tells us he read Wilfred Thesiger’s classic, “Arabian Sands” when he was sixteen. And I am sure this book resonated in his mind when he lived in Aneiza, which is approximately a ten hours drive from the Nafud desert, the Kingdom’s second largest desert after the Empty Quarter. This book crystallizes the feelings created by “The Deserts of Arabia” to a point which to this day has never been equaled. Wilfred Thesiger was the last adventurer to cross the Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world in the late 1940’s.
“Since leaving Arabia I have traveled…to remote places…I have seen some of the most magnificent scenery in the world…None of these places has moved me as did the deserts of Arabia”.
Thesiger’s powerful account echoes the feelings expressed by James Budd and many foreigners who have lived in the Kingdom. A passage to Arabia often leaves an imprint of the desert, creating a never ending yearn to return.
Unlike many books written by non-Saudis on the Kingdom, “Half Past Ten in the Afternoon” is accurate. It makes a positive contribution to the history of a period which is not well-known.
The author admits that it was unfortunate that he never wrote a journal about the years he spent in Aneiza from 1965 to 1970.
“At the time I believed I had an infallible ability to recall facts and events and that keeping a diary would be pointless drudgery, but today, over forty years on, I realize how wrong I was”.
However, James Budd managed to recall a number of anecdotes. One of them which is related to his name is extremely funny and is definitely one that cannot be forgotten.
One day during a gathering, as he was giving his name, “James” the mere sound of it provoked a hearty laugh: “Jumsi, like the lorry!!”. The author of the joke, a certain Hamad, had indeed never heard this name before but he was familiar with the popular GMC Trucks which were and still are extremely popular to this day.
The people living in Qassim are known to be very traditional however, the author is right in noting that: “Many of its inhabitants had experience of the outside world and some of its leading families had long-established business connections in Mumbai, Basra, Zubair and the Gulf”.
Budd also gives some excellent descriptions of the “majlis”, a special room where Saudi men hold their friendly gatherings during which the traditional coffee is made following strict rules. In the past, this important ritual among the Bedu was followed by a recital of poetry described in this book. However, the author justly remarks that today visitors are no longer entertained in the house majlis but in an “istiraaha”, a small guest house whose décor recalls a Bedouin tent or even in an actual Bedouin tent.
I was deeply moved when the author mentioned Saad Abdullah Sowayan whom I have met. He is an eminent expert on the traditions of the Bedu. His book on Nabati poetry is a classic and it includes a masterful description of the coffee making ritual which he says: “is not just an ingredient of hospitality but its more important and ceremonious part”.
Eighteen years after he left the Kingdom, James Budd embraced Islam, something that one of his employers, Abu Sami had envisioned: “I have a feeling you will become a Muslim one day. You will probably not believe me now, but I have an idea that you are closer to Islam that you think, closer in fact, that many Arabs who are nominally Muslims”.
In an age when Islam is being defamed and defaced by Muslims themselves, it is gratifying to read James Budd’s touching and sincere account of both his journey to Islam and to Aneiza. Islam stands for peace and the author by his wise, forgiving and calm nature highlights the true nature of a Muslim. This book which gives a moving account of his life should be read by anyone wishing to know the truth about a country and a religion which are both still deeply misunderstood.

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