Legitimate fatwas reconfirm Islam’s flexibility, scholars tell Grand Hajj Symposium

Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj. (Supplied)
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Updated 05 July 2022
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Legitimate fatwas reconfirm Islam’s flexibility, scholars tell Grand Hajj Symposium

  • Participants underscored the role of the religious fatwa in achieving the Islamic objectives of the Hajj when it came to contemporary issues

JEDDAH: Fatwas based on genuine Islamic principles reconfirm the religion’s flexibility, scholars told delegates on the second day of the 46th Grand Hajj Symposium.

The event was inaugurated on Sunday by Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and features ministers and eminent Muslim scholars from different countries.

Participants underscored the role of the religious fatwa in achieving the Islamic objectives of the Hajj when it came to contemporary issues. They also praised the Kingdom’s efforts in facilitating the Hajj.

During a session titled “Islamic Jurisprudence System and Contemporary Calamities,” the speakers said that Islam-based fatwas played a significant role in facilitating religious matters and raising awareness about the Hajj.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam touched on the importance of the Islamic jurisprudence system in adapting legal fatwas in facilitating Hajj rituals for Muslims, saying that flexibility in such situations confirmed that Islam was valid for every time and place.

Dr. Saad bin Nasser Al-Shithri, an adviser at the Royal Court and a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, said the Islamic jurisprudence system was capable of dealing with emerging challenges.

The secretary-general of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, Dr. Koutoub Sano, referred to the factual nature of Islamic Sharia and its ability to deal with new problems to help people understand it.

He highlighted the role of institutes and academies devoted to fatwas in qualifying specialists and investing in Sharia studies to extract rulings from the appropriate texts. He also praised Saudi efforts to deploy all its capabilities to provide security and safety for pilgrims.

In Monday’s second session, “Caring for the Pilgrim’s Journey,” Malaysia’s Minister of Religious Affairs Dr. Datuk Idris Ahmad reviewed his country’s efforts in providing services and promoting awareness among pilgrims, including medicines, vaccines, and personal health follow-up programs.

Ahmed said the services provided in cooperation with the Ministry of Health were meant to ensure their pilgrims were free from infectious diseases. He also praised the care and attention paid by the Saudi government to pilgrims over the decades and the remarkable development achieved by the Hajj and Umrah system.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat highlighted the Saudi ministries’ digital initiatives that contributed to the issue of more than 2 million e-visas through a portal that included all relevant authorities.

He also spoke about a luggage transport service that allowed pilgrims to focus on the duties of their rituals. He said pilgrims had received multilingual Hajj awareness guidelines before and after their arrival in the Kingdom.

Mashat added that the success of the Hajj and Umrah system was linked to a clear strategy derived from the Guests of God Service Program, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 programs, to enrich pilgrims’ Hajj experience and facilitate their spiritual journey.

“A pilgrim can electronically book all appointments and services, limiting negative practices such as stampeding. It can also ensure the flow of movement, smooth traffic, and easy grouping of pilgrims from one place to another.”

Dr. Ali Arbash, head of Turkish religious affairs, expressed his thanks to the Saudi government for its efforts in providing the appropriate pilgrimage environment in terms of hygiene and health to protect people.

Arbash also reviewed his country’s participation in the Green Hajj Initiative to raise awareness among pilgrims about reducing waste at the holy sites.

Saudi Assistant Minister of Health Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly underscored the efforts to provide the best health services to pilgrims.

He said these services, provided through the latest technology, were closely followed up by the Saudi leadership.

These services included 23 hospitals, 147 health centers, and 16 emergency centers on Jamarat Bridge. He added that more than 25,000 medical personnel were ready to provide all health services.

Dr. Hanan Balkhi, assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, described Saudi Arabia as an important strategic partner for the organization.

She praised the “bold decisions” taken by the Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect pilgrims and limit the spread of coronavirus.

She said Saudi Arabia stood head and shoulders above all other countries due to its cumulative experience in crowd management.

 


Italian Embassy celebrates blossoming ties with Saudi Arabia on first ‘Made in Italy Day’

Updated 19 April 2024
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Italian Embassy celebrates blossoming ties with Saudi Arabia on first ‘Made in Italy Day’

  • Mission marks event with opening of new visa application center, exhibition space
  • Facility will be used to promote ‘quality, variety and creativity’ of Italian goods, official says

RIYADH: The Italian Embassy in Riyadh on Tuesday celebrated the inaugural “Made in Italy Day” with the opening of a new visa application center and exhibition space.

Giuliano Fragnito, the deputy head of the mission, told Arab News the event provided an opportunity to showcase Italian expertise in a variety of fields, including the fashion, design, automotive and space industries.

“Today we are celebrating ‘Made in Italy Day,’ which is a day that celebrates the creativity, innovation and the territories of Italy and Italy’s products,” he said.

The date was chosen to mark the anniversary of the birth of Leonardo da Vinci on April 15, 1452.

Fragnito said the new exhibition space, called Casa Italia, would be used to promote Italy from a “commercial, cultural and scientific point of view,” with the opening event being a celebration of its contribution to the space industry, titled “Italian Space Way.”

The event was fitting as Italy and Saudi Arabia were close partners in the sector, with the Italian Space Agency and Saudi Space Commission signing an agreement in 2022 to work more closely together, he said.

The wider purpose of Tuesday’s celebrations was to highlight the growing relationship between Italy and the Kingdom in a range of fields, Fragnito said.

“Saudi Arabia is a key partner of Italy and the bilateral relationship is growing at a very fast pace … first of all from a political point of view but also the trade sector, scientific cooperation, academic cooperation and cultural cooperation.”

Italian exports to Saudi Arabia grew by 20 percent last year and Rome was keen to take the relationship between the two countries “to the next level,” he said.

“The Saudi market is more and more conscious and appreciates the quality, the variety and the creativity of the Italian products.

“Saudi Arabia is a key partner of Italy and it is very important to celebrate ‘Made in Italy Day’ in Saudi Arabia, which is a very important market for Italian exports.”

The new visa application center, which is co-managed by technology services companies AlmaViva and VFS Global, is located at Gate 2 of Loclizer Mall in Riyadh. Similar services are also available in Jeddah and Dammam.


Saudi authorities thwart attempt to smuggle Captagon pills

Updated 19 April 2024
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Saudi authorities thwart attempt to smuggle Captagon pills

RIYADH: The Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority has thwarted an attempt to smuggle 1,006,518 Captagon pills at Duba Port, northwest of the Kingdom.

The pills were found hidden in a shipment labeled “pepper and guava” coming into the Kingdom through the port. After the seizure was completed, coordination was made with the General Directorate of Narcotics Control to ensure the arrest of the expected recipient of the seized items inside the Kingdom, and he was arrested.

Authorities said they are committed to tightening Customs control of the Kingdom’s imports and exports, stressing that they will stay vigilant to fight smuggling attempts to ensure the security of the society.

Saudi authorities have recently made several drug-related arrests and confiscations in operations across the Kingdom. Border Guard land patrols in the Jazan region thwarted an attempt to smuggle 120 kg of qat. The patrols also foiled an attempt to smuggle 170 kg of qat in Al-Ardah governorate of the same region.


Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve Development Authority begins archaeological survey

Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve Development Authority begins archaeological survey

  • Study will look at the reserve in depth and conduct archaeological studies to help it achieve its strategic objectives

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve Development Authority on Thursday announced it had launched a comprehensive preliminary archaeological survey.

The study — which was announced on April 18, World Heritage Day — will look at the reserve in depth and conduct archaeological studies to help it achieve its strategic objectives, while working toward targets for the year 2030 for the Kingdom’s royal reserves.

The study is being done in partnership with King Saud University and in cooperation with the Heritage Commission. It is being led by a team of experts and specialized national competencies, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

It will be conducted using two methods: the first via satellite, and the second, based on what is known as the “comprehensive archaeological survey,” by visiting the discovered sites, while preparing a detailed report for each site visited.

The survey involves producing studies on the old environment; work on rehabilitating archaeological and historic sites; and an attempt to label suitable sites as tourist attractions. It will also include developing a plan to preserve existing and discovered sites.

The King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve is one of the seven reserves established by royal decree. It holds governmental membership in the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and is managed by an independent body headed by the Minister of Interior Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif.


Saudi Arabia and Armenia to forge ‘road map’ for diplomatic ties, FM Ararat Mirzoyan tells Arab News

Updated 19 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia and Armenia to forge ‘road map’ for diplomatic ties, FM Ararat Mirzoyan tells Arab News

  • ‘No limit’ to opportunities for Saudi-Armenian cooperation, says Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan on ‘historic’ Riyadh visit
  • Says Armenian government supports a ceasefire in Gaza and the two-state solution for Israel-Palestine
  • Discusses ‘Crossroads of Peace’ project, which offers ‘window of opportunity’ for lasting peace in South Caucasus

RIYADH: Armenia is committed to drafting a “road map” for the development of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Ararat Mirzoyan, Armenia’s minister for foreign affairs, told Arab News on Thursday in an exclusive interview during a visit to the Kingdom.

In a wide-ranging discussion, in which he explored the development of ties, the peace process in the South Caucasus, and the war in Gaza, Mirzoyan said the establishment of official diplomatic relations in November last year was only the start.

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan says there's ‘no limit’ to opportunities for Saudi-Armenian cooperation. (AN photo)

“Historically, we have enjoyed friendly relations with the Arab world, with all the Arab countries, and these relations have been based on traditionally historically friendly relations between our peoples, between Arab people and the people of Armenia,” he said.

“And we also should remember that many Arab countries became home for Armenian refugees, the survivors of the Armenian genocide. But of course, the cultural ties, the relations — they were there even before that.”

Mirzoyan met his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh on Wednesday, and was also received at the Saudi Ministry of Education and Ministry of Economy.

“We don’t want to stop here. There are so many areas, there are so many fields where we can deepen our cooperation. And there are so many spheres where we can explore what we can do jointly. And hopefully, after this visit, the road map will emerge — a road map of development of relations,” he said.

Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan (R) receives Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan ahead of their meeting Riyadh on April 17, 2024. (SPA photo)

The past few years have seen gradually warming ties between the two countries. In October 2021, Armenia’s then-President Armen Sarkissian visited Saudi Arabia. This visit marked the beginning of a new diplomatic future for Armenia.

Although formal diplomatic relations are new, Mirzoyan is highly optimistic about the mutual benefits of developing ties.

“Frankly, there is no limit here,” he said. “Education, sciences, advanced technologies, urban development, agriculture, tourism, people-to-people contacts, trade, investment, and infrastructure. There are so many things going on on the ground here in Saudi Arabia, but also in Armenia.”

Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan also met with Saudi Economy and Planning Minister Faisal F. Al-Ibrahim (R) in Riyadh on April 17, 2024. (SPA photo)

Mirzoyan praised the launch of commercial flights between Riyadh and the Armenian capital Yerevan by Saudi airline Flynas, which began in June last year, saying he expects the development to increase tourism between both nations.

The foreign minister also congratulated Saudi Arabia on winning its bid for Expo 2030 — a bid for which Armenia expressed its support in 2022.

“Our vision is that we should build a very good and close cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including when it comes to regional affairs, but also international fora,” he said.

“I see possible close cooperation on international fora as well. Again, I would like to mention that when Saudi Arabia came up with the bid for Expo 2030, Armenia was among the countries who supported this.”

The Saudi and Armenian foreign affairs ministers, along with their respective delegations, meeting in Riyadh on April 17, 2024. (SPA photo)

Mirzoyan also expressed his support for a two-state solution and ceasefire in Palestine. In December last year, Armenia joined Saudi Arabia and more than 150 other countries in the UN General Assembly in voting for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. If necessary, and if asked, he said Armenia would be ready to act as a potential facilitator between the two sides.

“Armenia has always supported the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, and Armenia is strongly against the violence and targeting civilian populations,” Mirzoyan said, adding that Armenia had very recently been on the receiving end of such violence.

“So we are really strongly against violence against civilian populations,” said Mirzoyan.

Armenia’s commitment to helping war-affected civilian populations has gone beyond mere words and condemnation. Last month it sent 30 tonnes of food and medicine to displaced Palestinian civilians sheltering in Rafah.

“Armenia regrets tens of thousands of innocent victims of the escalation of hostilities in Gaza. We ourselves have experienced the horror of attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and we join calls of the international community for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said at a press briefing during a visit to Egypt to discuss aid deliveries.

Palestinians inspect a house destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Mirzoyan said he hoped the aid “could help a little bit (to) ease the situation and the suffering of these people.”

Closer to home, Mirzoyan expressed his desire to see peace between Armenia and other nations in the South Caucasus, although he acknowledged that lasting peace would require efforts to overcome any obstacles.

“We truly believe that there is a window of opportunity, quite realistic momentum, to establish lasting peace and stability in the South Caucasus,” he said. “My government is committed to this peace agenda, and we are engaged in negotiations in good faith in quite a constructive manner.

“Although to tell the truth, there are still a couple of crucial issues regarding which the positions of the sides are far from each other. The first issue is, of course, the issue of the borders and mutual recognition of territorial integrity.”

The South Caucasus has been the site of frequent territorial disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have quarreled over their respective borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

To normalize the relationship, Mirzoyan said all parties had to respect the principles of sovereignty, jurisdiction, equality and reciprocity.

“We believe that everything can be unblocked, including the railways, and we believe that everything that is going to be unblocked should remain under the sovereignty of the respective countries,” he said.

“The infrastructure on Armenian territory should remain under Armenian sovereignty and, respectively, the Azerbaijan infrastructure under its sovereignty. And also this infrastructure should function according to our national legislations, and everything should be done in accordance with the principles of equality and reciprocity.”

Armenia can ensure the security of people and cargo passing through its territory without the need of any third country presence, he added.

Mirzoyan explained that his country had launched an initiative to improve prospects for stability and peace by unblocking transport infrastructure across the region.

“We came up with an initiative. We gave a title to it — Crossroads of Peace — because we truly believe that if the whole transport infrastructure is unblocked in the South Caucasus, including the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Turkish roads and railways, that will be not only beneficial in terms of economy, but also it will become a significant factor of peace and stability in our region.”

Illustration map showing Armenia's proposed “Crossroads of Peace”.

Even beyond Armenia and the South Caucasus, the initiative could have global repercussions, said Mirzoyan.

“Several countries are interested in this implementation of this project of peace, the Crossroads of Peace, because the benefits are obvious and I spoke about this in terms of east-west connections, but also we should remember south-north or north-south connections. And that’s why it’s called a crossroads.”

He added: “It could be useful for connecting, for instance, the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, with the Black Sea region and beyond.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (C) hosts Armenia's FM Ararat Mirzoyan (L) and Azerbaijan's FM Jeyhun Bayramov (R) for peace talks in Berlin on February 28, 2024. (AFP/File)

Armenia is embarking on diplomatic ties with several nations and multilateral bodies, including the EU, as it shifts away from its historically strongest ally, Russia.

“It’s fair to note that the relations between Armenia and the Russian Federation are not at their brightest point, I would say,” said Mirzoyan. “Of course, there are complications, and we don’t … want to hide these complications.

This photo taken on Nov. 17, 2020, shows Russian peacekeepers' vehicles parked at a checkpoint on the road to Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on April 17, 2024 that Russian forces are being withdrawn from the Karabakh region, where they have been stationed as peacekeepers since the end of a war in 2020. (AP Photo/File)

“There are issues, there are questions within Armenian society, for instance, regarding the behavior of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also regarding the behavior of our Russian allies when our sovereign territories were being attacked in 2022, 2023, and before that. So indeed, there are some issues there. But we work on it.”

Armenia has had frozen relations with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) since autumn last year. Formed in 2002, the CSTO is a military alliance which consists of six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

Mirzoyan stated in an interview in March with Turkiye’s TRT World that Armenia’s application for EU candidacy was under discussion.

Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan, who was on a visit to the Kingdom this week, sat for an exclusive interview with Arab News' Deputy Editor in Chief Noor Nugali. (AN photo)

Addressing the issue with Arab News, Mirzoyan said: “The people of the Republic of Armenia do have European aspirations and it is becoming more and more strong on the background of the frustration that Armenian people had in terms of Armenian-Russian relations, but not limited to that.

“I mean, Armenia is really deepening, significantly deepening, its relations with the US, with the EU. They are our main partners in our democratic reform agenda. Now they show a strong willingness to support Armenia, to strengthen Armenia’s economic resilience.

“We are starting with the EU a new path of close partnership and, so far, none can say for sure where this path will lead the two sides.”

 


Saudi Arabia offers safe and serene escapes for solo female travelers

Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia offers safe and serene escapes for solo female travelers

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is emerging as a top destination for solo female travelers seeking a vibrant cultural scene, world-class events and regions rich in heritage.

The Kingdom has been ranked the safest G20 country based on international indicators, while the city of Madinah received the highest safety rating for female solo travel worldwide by InsureMyTrip for the third year in a row.

Rafah Shawoosh, a tour guide and founding member of Tour Guides Corporative, called on solo female travelers to “explore the world with an open heart and a curious mind, embrace new experiences, and always remember to respect and appreciate the rich cultural heritage of the places you visit.”

She added: “As a passionate traveler and one of the few female tour guides, I strive to represent my country with pride and showcase the best of Saudi Arabia to visitors.”

Thorough research, forging connections and immersing oneself in local traditions are important when traveling to the Kingdom, Shawoosh said. “Remember to embrace hospitality, dress modestly when visiting mosques and enjoy the warm welcome of the Saudi people,” she added.

A key reason for women to consider Saudi Arabia as a destination is the country’s commitment to women’s safety, she said.

With its cultural emphasis on hospitality, the Kingdom is renowned for its kind and generous people who are always willing to assist tourists. A warm Saudi welcome is sure to make solo female travelers feel safe during their visit.

Saudi Arabia offers wellness holidays for solo travelers looking to relax and rejuvenate. The country boasts diverse regions that champion bespoke wellness experiences, from pristine waters in the Red Sea to lush green mountains in Asir.

“From bustling cities to serene deserts, there’s something for every traveler to discover and cherish forever,” Shawoosh said.

Luxury retreats like Habitas AlUla and Six Senses Southern Dunes offer personalized spa treatments and wellness programs.

One female traveler, Rasha, said that solo travel is an opportunity to “immerse yourself in diverse cultures, discover newfound confidence and expand your perspectives.

“Each destination in Saudi Arabia offers safety, warmth, and rich insights into traditions and culinary delights, fostering empathy and respect,” she added.

“Through sharing our experiences, we become beacons of empowerment and inspiration, shaping our own narratives and encouraging others to embrace the transformative power of travel and cultural exploration. In the exploration of the world, you may just find yourself.”

Saudi Arabia is also home to inspiring women who are driving the country’s cultural transformation. Female entrepreneurs make up 45 percent of SMEs in Saudi Arabia, and women are leading the charge in the country’s tourism and fashion sectors.

Female artists, chefs and fashion designers make the Kingdom an exciting destination for solo female travelers looking to support women-led businesses.

With seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a rich heritage and culture, and bustling cities like Jeddah and Riyadh, the Kingdom offers something for every traveler.

Solo women travelers can also explore ancient ruins, wander through old towns, or enjoy outdoor activities like desert safaris and hot air balloon rides.

Dina, a marketing professional from Australia, has traveled to Saudi Arabia on multiple occasions, with two of those trips taken solo. As a self-proclaimed enthusiast for adventure, she finds herself drawn back time and again to satisfy her cravings for both relaxation and excitement.

Delighting in the warmth and vibrant cultural scene, she has explored AlUla, Diriyah, Jeddah and Abha.

“It’s such a joy to be out and about in Saudi Arabia. Never have I had to think twice about my safety here and I have never felt uncomfortable,” she said.

Visiting Saudi Arabia has never been easier, with visa initiatives being rolled out to make the country more accessible. The eVisa program now includes 63 countries and special administrative regions, and UK, US and Schengen visa holders are eligible for instant eVisas.