Hajj 2021: How Jeddah earned its reputation as the city of hospitality

Jeddah old view, Saudi Arabia. Created by Girardet after Lejean, published on Le Tour du Monde, Paris, 1860. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 18 July 2021

Hajj 2021: How Jeddah earned its reputation as the city of hospitality

  • For centuries, the port city of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast has offered pilgrims comfort and friendship on their arduous journey
  • The special bond between Jeddah and the pilgrimage has shaped the city’s geography, architecture and its entire way of life

JEDDAH: For centuries, Hajj has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the millions of Muslims who travel to the Holy City of Makkah. In days gone by the journey was often arduous. But weary pilgrims arriving in Jeddah, for many their first port of call, have always found comfort and friendship thanks to the famed hospitality of the city’s residents.

The port city on the Red Sea coast has been inextricably linked with Hajj and Umrah for more than 1,300 years. In 674, Caliph Uthman ibn Affan, a companion of the Prophet, designated the city as a gateway for pilgrims traveling to Makkah and Madinah.

It has continued to serve this noble purpose ever since, latterly under the careful stewardship of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which works tirelessly to facilitate the movement, accommodation and comfort of pilgrims on their journeys to Makkah, 40 miles to the east of Jeddah, and Madinah, 220 miles to the north.

This gateway to two of the holiest cities in Islam has provided generations of Muslims from all corners of the Earth with food and lodgings on their journey to perform the sacred pilgrimage. But the city offers so much more than shelter and sustenance. Pilgrims have traditionally been greeted with profoundly touching displays of hospitality, solidarity and friendship — a proud tradition among Jeddawis that continues to this day.

Families in Madinah are often referred to as “Muzawareen” — which comes from the Arabic word “zeyara,” meaning “visit” — denoting their inherited duty to take into their homes pilgrims visiting the mosque and the grave of the Prophet.

Families in Makkah are often called “Mutawefeen,” which is derived from “tawaf,” one of the rituals during Hajj and Umrah. Again, this denotes their traditional role in guiding visitors.

By the same token, Jeddawis are often known as “Wukalaa” in recognition of the assistance they provided as agents to the pilgrims who arrived there by sea.

Street view with a car in Jeddah, in 1939. (Photo by Ullstein Bild via Getty Images)

In the old days, large ships carrying the pilgrims would anchor in deeper waters off the Red Sea coast, and the travelers would be brought ashore by locals on smaller wooden sambouks and dhows. There they were greeted by their designated agents, who would show them to their lodgings.

Ahmed Badeeb, a local historian and longtime resident of Jeddah’s historic old city, said that this special bond between the people of the city and visiting pilgrims not only shaped its urban geography but its entire way of life.

“Pilgrims arriving by land were very few,” he told Arab News. “Large ships would bring Hajj pilgrims from all over and there were no hotels in Jeddah.

“The people of the city would provide lodgings for pilgrims in their own homes and the pilgrim would become part of the family, establishing relationships. And when their guests returned home, they’d continue their correspondence because they felt like they had a home (there).

Homeowners would normally sleep in the mabeet, their designated sleeping quarters located on the roof of the house, and provide lodging for pilgrims in the megad (sitting room) on the ground floor.

Pilgrims’ visits for Hajj could last for up to four months, but they usually remained in Jeddah for only a few days while their agents arranged onward travel to Makkah or Madinah. Jeddah was therefore a brief pit stop on their journeys.


Pilgrims have arrived at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to perform tawaf in the first Hajj act of the year after reaching the city on Saturday. Keep track of this year's pilgrimage here.

“It would take a few days for pilgrims to prepare their belongings before setting out for Makkah with their food, clothing and supplies,” Badeeb said.

“Camels were rented to carry pilgrims’ belongings, and at times a howdah (a seat on the back of a camel) was also brought in to carry the women. It would take one day to reach Makkah.”

The duration of a pilgrim’s stay in Jeddah varied depending on the arrangements made between the “wakeel” in Jeddah and the “mutawif” in Makkah who would host the pilgrim upon arrival there.

“(Jeddah’s) population would grow exponentially with every Hajj season,” Badeeb added. “It helped with the city’s economic growth and aided the pilgrims as well, as they would sell their goods and spices to residents of the city, who have always been welcoming.”

In addition to boosting the local economy, Hajj also shaped Jeddah’s architecture. Historians believe that because prosperous families in the old city hosted so many pilgrims, it became common for their homes to include several stories — as many as seven. They had numerous rooms set aside for specific purposes and often featured protruding rowshan balconies. The taller and more elaborately decorated the house, the greater the status of its residents.

Inside these towering structures, the owners would prepare rooms for the pilgrims they were hosting. Guests were normally given the megad on the ground floor and provided with mats and pillows. 

1976: A crowd of pilgrims from Indonesia on the deck of their chartered ship in Jeddah harbour, bound for Makkah. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Derived from the word “to sit,” the megad is a large room normally used for welcoming family and close friends. While pilgrims were provided with lodgings on lower floors, families would move into rooms on the upper floors and provide their guests with meals prepared in their kitchen, which was usually located on the first floor.

“By the time the pilgrims arrived in Jeddah, their food supplies would have depleted on their long journeys,” said Badeeb. “Everything was provided for them from the minute they landed until they left.

“Pilgrims arriving from certain countries or regions usually stayed with specific families, facilitated through agents in their home countries. The trust that is built through that allowed them to keep their money and belongings safely stored until they completed their pilgrimage.”

Over the years, as the number of pilgrims steadily grew, it became increasingly difficult to find lodgings with families in the old city. To ensure everyone was safely housed and cared for, the Saudi authorities realized they would have to build new, specialized facilities.

In 1950 the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdul Aziz, ordered a “pilgrims’ city” to be established close to Jeddah Islamic Seaport, where about 70 percent of pilgrims arrived in the country on their way to perform Hajj. By 1971, this city within a city had 27 buildings, including health clinics, shops, mosques and other facilities.

Several similar facilities were subsequently established, including one to the east of the historic old city capable of accommodating 2,000 pilgrims, and another near the old airport, which by the mid-1980s could host 30,000 people.

Times have changed and although Jeddah’s families no longer host visitors in their own homes as their forefathers once did, they continue to offer the same warm greetings and hospitality that has characterized the city’s residents for centuries.

Saudi Food and Drug Authority wins UN award

Updated 18 October 2021

Saudi Food and Drug Authority wins UN award

  • The 2021 award recognized the SFDA’s commitment to realizing its vision of becoming “a leading international science-based regulator to protect and promote public health”

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority has won a UN award for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

It was honored for its efforts to prevent and control these diseases through nutrition-related legislation.

In line with the Vision 2030 Quality of Life Program, the authority set out in 2018 to improve public health and enable consumers to find a variety of healthier food options.

The UN Inter-Agency Task Force Award on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases aims to encourage cooperation between UN bodies and global governments to support efforts in combating noncommunicable diseases associated with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The 2021 award recognized the SFDA’s commitment to realizing its vision of becoming “a leading international science-based regulator to protect and promote public health.” 

The authority seeks to protect and ensure community safety through regulations and adequate controls of food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, and pesticides.

Since its launch, the SFDA has worked on several pieces of legislation related to food products and food establishments.

The legislation was introduced to improve the nutritional value of food products in local markets by limiting the consumption of sugar, salt, and fat, and obligating food establishments with menu labeling for calories and allergens.

It also launched several initiatives and awareness campaigns on proper nutrition and the healthy choices available in food and beverages.

The initiatives include the Food Labeling Nutrition Calculator and the revival of the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables in food establishments and the workplace.


War of words as print defies e-book rivals

Updated 18 October 2021

War of words as print defies e-book rivals

  • Tradition is trumping tech in Saudi Arabia, with readers and publishers on the same page

MAKKAH: The march of technology might be gathering pace in all areas of Arab life, but when it comes to reading and enjoying books, old habits die hard, it seems.

Despite warnings in recent years of print’s imminent demise, traditional books are still holding their own against their electronic rivals, as Saudis continue to enjoy the sensation of turning over a new page.

Many publishing houses in the Middle East have acknowledged the power of the printed word, with books maintaining their superiority, especially at book fairs. Buyers still prefer the elegance and feel of a printed masterpiece.

However, publishers acted early to counter the threat posed by electronic books, adopting careful strategies to protect their publications and also fight the growing problem of content piracy. 

Rania Al-Moallem, a commissioning editor at Dar Al-Saqi, told Arab News that there is still a relatively low demand for e-books, mainly due to the limited availability of digital devices, which are still considered a luxury item by many people.

“Buying e-books online is not available to everyone, and there is also an emotional bond between readers and print books. Even readers who are able to buy e-books still prefer print, which is understandable,” she said.

An e-book is a protected electronic copy of a book, making piracy and illegal publication difficult. The copy protects the material rights of the writer, primarily, but also the publisher compared with fake electronic copies found online in PDF, Word or other forms.

“Dar Al-Saqi’s publications have been characterized by their format and high-quality content over the years. It is mainly concerned with acting in the reader’s interest and satisfying their tastes as we give great attention to the subject, style and language,” Al-Moallem said.

“We also focus on the final form of the book in terms of presentation, page layout, font and letter size, paper type, cover design and size. All such considerations are subject to the changes and developments experienced with the advancement of the publishing world,” she added.

As well as high-quality print books, the publisher also caters to e-readers through several platforms and has launched an Al-Saqi Digital Library.


• Publishers faced problems with piracy and uploading of books in PDF format online for free, and have filed complaints with Google in a bid to curb the practice, he said.

• Majid Shebr said that despite their widespread availability, e-books are frequently said to cause eye fatigue. Meanwhile, paper books maintain their dominance in Europe and the Arab world through book fairs.

“We are aware that the e-book market is yet to be properly established and the print book is still the much preferred format. However, we are also aware of the importance of engaging with e-book readers, as we believe that the relationship between them is complementary, rather than competitive,” Al-Moallem said.

Despite the tech wave, it is evident that devoted readers in the Kingdom are engaged in a constant hunt for the perfect copy, as evidenced by scenes at the Riyadh International Book Fair, where people, young and old, walked out with handfuls of books.

Majid Shebr, manager of Al-Warrak Publishing in London, said that e-books in the Gulf region are still at an embryonic stage.

Publishers faced problems with piracy and uploading of books in PDF format online for free, and have filed complaints with Google in a bid to curb the practice, he said. 

Arab states lack platforms that can target free pirated books, which directly affect publishers and pose a significant challenge.

Shebr said that despite their widespread availability, e-books are frequently said to cause eye fatigue. Meanwhile, paper books maintain their dominance in Europe and the Arab world through book fairs.

“I was in a Waterstones book store in London to look at the latest releases and saw that large numbers of people still choose paper books,” he said.

Shebr said the competition between the print and electronic formats is driven by the reader’s style and language convenience.

Egyptian writer and novelist Rasha Samir said that as an avid reader, she doubted that e-books could ever match the pleasure of reading print.

“I cannot get rid of the habit of reading paper books and I cannot read electronically at all. The feel of a book, the smell, and the written dedication of literary figures are the secret of my attachment to this type of reading,” she said.

“Paper books will always be my treasure that I keep on the shelves of my large library,” she said.

Some publishers believe that publishing electronically allows them to sell their publications faster, and that online advertisements are easier and do not cost as much compared with paper publications.

Others believe that electronic publishing will eliminate paper books, but these are the origins of the industry, and this should be combated.

Samir added: “There is no fault in finding a literary work electronically, as it gives easy access to several groups such as expatriates and Arabs who live far from Arab libraries. It has now become a means that supports publications and advertises the work of a writer; it has become a good way to shorten the distances that paper books cannot minimize sometimes.”

She said that the response to print or electronic books often depends on the reader’s age and older generations are reluctant to abandon paper, while younger people might see it as nonpractical at a time dominated by modern technology.

With the new generation, whose lives are dominated by technology and the internet, publications need to keep pace, Samir said.

“This is a generation that learns through social media and no longer uses paper books as a source of information. Google is their most trusted source, which is a problem, so we need to meet them halfway, encourage them to read and learn in their own way while we help guide them. We should also push them to understand the value of books, evaluate their content and distinguish valuable books from cheap ones.”

Even if reading on paper transitioned to reading on Kindle or any other device, as educated people, we should continue to advocate for paper books and the preservation of their place.

Adel Houshan, a Saudi poet and novelist, said that even after the demise of some print empires in the Arab world and around the globe, digital projects, including e-books and audiobooks, still suffer due to two reasons.

“The first is related to advertising, as they rely on institutions and small projects that cannot find a way to break the power of paper books and their rich history. The second reason is Arab book festivals, which are growing in popularity with the help of social media,” he said.

“Years ago, we said that paper will not last long, but old habits die hard.”

Saudi minister Al-Jubeir, Spanish envoy discuss ways to enhance Saudi-Spanish ties

Updated 18 October 2021

Saudi minister Al-Jubeir, Spanish envoy discuss ways to enhance Saudi-Spanish ties

RIYADH: The minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel Al-Jubeir, on Sunday received the Spanish ambassador to the Kingdom, Alvaro Iranzo, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

During their meeting in Riyadh, they reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries and ways to support and develop them.

They also discussed regional and international developments of common interest.

The meeting was attended by the Foreign Ministry’s undersecretary for multilateral international affairs, Abdulrahman bin Ibrahim Al-Rassi.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call last month from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

They reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries and ways to enhance them in various fields.

On Oct. 12, King Salman and the crown prince sent greetings to King Felipe VI of Spain on the country’s national day.

They wished the king good health and happiness and the government and people of Spain progress and prosperity.


A new batch of Saudi pilots get their wings

Updated 18 October 2021

A new batch of Saudi pilots get their wings

  • Pilots must complete the three years of training before getting their wings

JEDDAH: A new batch of young female and male pilots are taking to the skies after receiving their pilot licenses from the Oxford Saudia Flight Academy on Sunday.

Pilots from the academy’s first graduating class will now receive a three-year contract where they will develop their skills and reach up to 750 hours annual flying hours.

The academy was established in 2018 near King Fahd International Airport in Dammam at the Saudi National Center of Aviation.

As the eighth branch of the Oxford pilot school, it aims to bring the best aviation trainers to the Kingdom.

The Saudi National Center of Aviation aims to have a pilot school, a maintenance training center, and a simulator training center for commercial airlines.

The training program at the school is approved under the GACAR 141 pilot school certification and caters to students in the GCC region.

Pilots must complete the three years of training before getting their wings.

The first year includes learning the basics and passing the flight acceptance test.

In the second year, students learn the practical dynamics of flying and are provided with three licenses at the end of their performance.

They earn the private pilot license, the instrument use license, and the commercial pilot license, which enables them to train on the Airbus 320 in their final year.

Every year, 300 students are enrolled in the training, with female students making up 10 percent of the classes.

The academy is expected to open two more branches at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah and at Princess Nourah University in Riyadh.

The academy has agreements with five Chinese airlines and an Ethiopian airline for training its their students.

It has also signed a contract to purchase 60 European Diamond aircraft, as well as four flight simulators dedicated to the Diamond. It will manufacture one full-motion and one fixed-motion Airbus 320 simulator, costing SR50 million ($13.3 million).

Who’s Who: Abdullah Mohammed Al-Sadhan, vice governor at KSA’s  Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority

Updated 18 October 2021

Who’s Who: Abdullah Mohammed Al-Sadhan, vice governor at KSA’s  Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority

Abdullah Mohammed Al-Sadhan is vice governor of operations at the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority after the merger of the General Authority of Zakat and Tax and the General Authority of Saudi Customs as of October 2021.

Prior to assuming this role, he served as deputy governor of operations at the erstwhile GAZT since 2017 and played a prominent role in the implementation of VAT in the Kingdom. This gained him a reputation as a strong and supportive leader who can successfully deliver national-level strategic projects in challenging and highly pressurized environments.

Before joining the ZATCA, he worked as director of planning and performance at STC from 2016 to 2017, where he devised and implemented strategic business plans, contributed to the expansion of business opportunities and managed bottom-line factors to maximize efficiency and realize substantial revenue growth.

He worked as an advisor at the Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants from 2013 to 2016, where he participated, in collaboration with the former Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in building and launching the Qaweem system, which allows companies to deposit all financial information electronically using innovative technology tools, such as InlineXBRL. Here, Al-Sadhan also played a prominent role in establishing the Bayan Credit Bureau.

Prior to this, he also worked with the Saudi Stock Exchange from 2006 to 2013, where he led major projects including new system implementations and the introduction of a new issuer listing process.

Al-Sadhan is also currently a board member at the Saudi Business Center and SOCPA since January 2019.

He was a member of the Audit Committee at the Bayan Credit Bureau from June 2017 to December 2020.

He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional accounting from King Saud University and a diploma in commercial banks credit from the Arab Academy for Banking and Financial Services.