Women don colorful robes at guardian-free Hajj

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Makkah on July 6, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2022

Women don colorful robes at guardian-free Hajj

  • Requirement of male guardian was shelved last year, bringing a whole new dimension to the annual pilgrimage
  • Many women abandoned black robes traditionally preferred by Hajj organizers, reds, greens, oranges, blues dotted crowds 

MAKKAH: With her husband back at home in Tunisia and draped in a national flag, Laila Al-Qarni urges all Muslim women to attend Saudi Arabia’s Hajj without a male guardian, after the requirement was shelved last year.

The Saudi authorities’ move has brought a whole new dimension to the annual pilgrimage.

“Why do women have to be accompanied by a male anyway? Why?” she said, speaking near the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, in western Saudi Arabia.

“Women are capable of handling themselves. I encourage every woman to come here without a male guardian,” the 60-year-old added.

Muslim pilgrims arrive outside the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Makkah on July 5, 2022. (AFP)

This year’s Hajj, the first large-scale edition since the guardian requirement was dropped in 2021 amid Covid-19, has taken on a different hue with thousands of unaccompanied women joining the rituals.

Many of them have abandoned the black robes traditionally preferred by Hajj organizers, adding a dash of color with reds, greens, oranges and blues dotted around the crowds.

Arab women should be “courageous and able to adapt” to different circumstances, said Al-Qarni’s sister, Hayat Abdul Malek.

“A woman is worth 100 men,” said the mother of three, who managed 1,400 employees at the company where she worked before retiring.

Last year, the Saudi Hajj ministry allowed women of all ages to make the pilgrimage without a male relative, known as a “mehrem,” on the condition that they go in a group.

emale Muslim pilgrims pray in the shade, to escape the heat, during the annual hajj pilgrimage in the Saudi holy city of Makkah, on July 6, 2022. (AFP)

Authorities previously stipulated a male guardian for any female pilgrim under the age of 45, preventing many women around the world from performing one of the five pillars of Islam.

Al-Qarni’s husband could not attend because he is over the maximum age of 65.

The new ruling has also encouraged women over 45 who had been hesitant to attend without their brothers, sons, fathers or husbands.

One million people, including 850,000 from abroad, are allowed at this year’s Hajj after just tens of thousands could attend over the last two years, due to pandemic restrictions.

On Saturday, the local women of Makkah are expected to celebrate the first day of Eid Al-Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj, in traditional, colorful Saudi dresses that were abandoned for decades before recent moves to modernize the conservative country.

The decision to drop the “mehrem” is part of the social reforms rolled out by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is trying to shake off the kingdom’s austere image and open up its oil-reliant economy.

Since his rise to power in 2017, women have been allowed to drive and to travel abroad without a male guardian.

Suhail Mohammed, an Egyptian pilgrim and mother of three, has worked as a manager in a department of the ministry of defense for more than three decades.

“Come and don’t be scared,” she said, encouraging other women to make the trip without male relatives.

“It gave me confidence... It empowered me and made me stronger,” she said of tackling the five-day pilgrimage.

“Women who stay at home are the ones who can feel afraid” of performing rituals such as the Hajj, which requires mental and physical resilience, she added.

A Muslim worshipper wearing a scarf showing the flag of Turkey waves at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Makkah on July 6, 2022. (AFP)

The Arab region ranks the “lowest in the world in terms of women’s rights, with a gender gap that needs 153 years to close,” a Middle East Institute study said in October.

But despite hardships, women in countries such as Tunisia and Lebanon enjoy more social freedoms than others.

Things are also changing in the Gulf region, with more women entering the workforce and some going into politics, holding cabinet positions in the United Arab Emirates and parliament seats in Kuwait.

In Makkah’s Grand Mosque, many women this week performed the opening Hajj rituals alone.

Some of them video-called their relatives back home, and others read long prayers from electronic tablets.

“For those (women) who are able to (perform the Hajj), don’t lose the opportunity,” even if it means going without a male guardian, said retired Egyptian financial expert Faten Abdel Moneim, 65.

“This is a spiritual joy that cannot be described. You are in the house of God, what more could you ask for?“

Saudi Arabia launches ‘Nusuk’ platform to facilitate pilgrims visiting Makkah, Madinah

Updated 48 min 37 sec ago

Saudi Arabia launches ‘Nusuk’ platform to facilitate pilgrims visiting Makkah, Madinah

  • Nusuk will organize the entire process, from applying for an eVisa to booking hotels and flights
  • Maqam platform will continue to operate until all services are transferred to Nusuk at a later stage

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched a new unified government platform on Monday through which pilgrims can plan and book their visits to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

With Nusuk, travelers from all over the world can easily organize their entire visit to the Kingdom, from applying for an eVisa to booking hotels and flights.

The platform provides a wide range of services and information for pilgrims and visitors that enable them to perform their Umrah rituals easily. It is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives to better the quality of services provided and enrich the religious and cultural experience of pilgrims.

Nusuk is being launched in cooperation with the Saudi Tourism Authority, and is linked to the services provided by the Kingdom’s official tourism website “Visit Saudi Arabia” with the aim of enriching pilgrim experiences and facilitating reservation and communication procedures to provide them with various packages and programs.

Those wishing to perform Umrah will be able to use Nusuk to obtain the necessary visas and permits and book packages and programs electronically.

A range of other services will be added to the platform at a later stage and these will include interactive maps, a calendar for offers and activities, a digital instruction guide in several languages, and health information and services.

The Maqam platform will continue to operate until all services are transferred to Nusuk at a later stage.

The Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah explained that the Nusuk platform is an extension of continuous efforts to improve the quality of services provided to pilgrims using the latest technology.

He added that the platform is a result of several government agencies coming together to facilitate pilgrim procedures with the aim of enriching their spiritual journey.

Saudi FM: Yemen truce ‘must be extended’ but signs not positive

Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi FM: Yemen truce ‘must be extended’ but signs not positive

  • ‘The indications we are seeing from the Houthis are that they do not intend to cooperate’: Prince Faisal bin Farhan
  • ‘We are of course committed to a resolution of this conflict, but if we have to defend ourselves we will’

RIYADH: The truce in Yemen must be extended, but the actions of the Houthi militia seem to indicate they do not want to lengthen the ceasefire beyond its expiry, the Saudi foreign minister said on Friday.

“We think it must be extended. However, the signs are not positive at this point,” said Prince Faisal bin Farhan. “Unfortunately, the indications we are seeing from the Houthis are that they do not intend to cooperate in an extension.”

He said the Iran-backed militia had failed to fulfil the commitments of the current agreement, and have now put forward demands that are unreasonable.

“I am very concerned by these developments because we will lose the momentum,” he added. “We are fully engaged with the UN representative and with others who are trying to convince the Houthis to extend the truce. Right now, the indications are worrying.”

A truce between the Houthis and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen was brokered by the UN in April and is set to end on Oct. 2. 

The truce has brought a semblance of normality for Yemenis, and has enabled the government to begin providing more services to the public.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, chairman of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, said diplomacy has been wasted on the Houthis, who have repeatedly disregarded their treaty commitments.

Prince Faisal said the truce had created the possibility for wider peace in Yemen. “We have an opportunity here to build on a truce to work towards a permanent ceasefire, towards political dialogue. It is hard for me to understand why the Houthis would turn this down,” he said, adding that the militia’s proposals indicate “that they are looking for an excuse.”

The build-up of armaments as well as probing attacks on the frontlines by Houthi fighters indicate that they are seriously considering not renewing the truce, he told France 24 in New York.

When asked if war was back on the horizon in Yemen, he said: “Unfortunately, this seems to be what the Houthis want.”

The foreign minister reiterated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to finding a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, but said his country will do what is needed to defend its people if the Houthis return to hostilities.

“We are of course committed to a resolution of this conflict. We are committed primarily to a truce but, of course, if we have to defend ourselves we will,” he said.


Saudi crown prince, US officials discuss energy security

Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi crown prince, US officials discuss energy security

  • US officials thanked the crown prince for his mediation efforts that resulted in the release of two Americans captured by Russia

RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US officials discussed energy security on Friday.

Brett McGurk, US National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, and Amos Hochstein, senior advisor for energy security, met the crown prince in Jeddah.
They also discussed “investment in the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
They and US Special Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking also discussed the latest developments in Yemen.
The US officials thanked the crown prince for his mediation efforts that resulted in the release of two Americans captured by Russia during the war in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, mediation sponsored by the crown prince led to the release of 10 prisoners from various countries as part of an exchange of captives.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the mediation was part of the crown prince’s efforts to adopt humanitarian initiatives toward the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan confirmed on Friday that the crown prince had engaged directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure the prisoners’ release.

Saudi Arabia celebrates National Day with arts, theater, air shows and music

Updated 23 September 2022

Saudi Arabia celebrates National Day with arts, theater, air shows and music

  • Traditional dress encouraged for music, folklore shows
  • Popular local and Arab singers to perform live

The marking of Saudi Arabia’s 92nd National Day comes at a momentous time in the nation’s history because of its remarkable journey of transformation and development.

Citizens and residents alike will be celebrating over the course of the week to come, with events paying homage to the Kingdom’s heritage, art and culture.


Riyadh is set to celebrate Saudi National Day with a range of events and activities including music, theater and a specially designed Cirque du Soleil show.

Night view of the national capital, Riyadh. (SPA)

In preparation, the capital city’s main roads have been bedecked with hundreds of green national flags.

The sky will light up with fireworks in front of Al-Thaghr Plaza on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m.

The Royal Saudi Air Force will have an acrobatics display with jets and civilian aircraft that can be viewed from Um Ajlan Park on Sept. 22 and 23 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Royal Guard will conduct a parade at Riyadh Front to the tune of the national anthem played by a military band, ahead of a procession of classic cars on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Admission is free to the fireworks display, airshow and Royal Guard parade.

The Saudi Hawks rehearse for the 92nd Saudi National Day celebrations in Riyadh. (SPA)

In addition, Jump Saudi will host a two-day showjumping competition. Tickets are SR57.50 ($15.30) and can be obtained online through Riyadh Platinum or Enjoy Saudi via the General Entertainment Authority website. The event will take place on Sept. 22 and 23 from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

This year, the national circus is presenting a specially designed Cirque du Soleil show entitled “The Wealth of a Nation” at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University theater from Sept. 21 to 24 from 8 p.m. to 12 midnight.

Arab musicians Ahlam and Abady Al-Johar will perform on Sept. 23 at Abo Baker Salim stage from 9 p.m. to 12 midnight.

The Ministry of Interior is organizing its own festivities under the slogan “The Pride of The Nation” at Riyadh Front from Sept. 21 to 24. The event will also feature a live orchestra and 12 interactive pavilions.

A festival will be held at the Diplomatic Quarter’s Grassy Park from Sept. 21 to 24, which will include heritage shows, handicrafts displays, a dancing fountain, action games for children and food stalls.

The AMC-2 theater auditorium is set to feature a live 90-minute stand-up comedy show on Sept. 22 from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with three international acts alongside a Saudi performer.


The General Entertainment Authority has organized several events for Jeddah’s citizens and residents to mark the country’s 92nd National Day celebrations, including fireworks, air and marine military shows, music concerts, and interactive festivals.

The city’s coastline will be lit up with a massive, seven-minute fireworks show on Sept. 23 at the Jeddah Season carpark area, which is expected to be seen from any location in the city. This show will coincide with 17 other similar displays around the country.

For three days, from Sept. 18 to 20, Jeddah residents can enjoy an airshow near the Hilton Hotel on the corniche, beginning from 4:30 p.m. This will also be the location for a marine show on Sept. 23.

Jeddawis can also enjoy a military parade at 5 p.m. on national day organized by the Ministry of Interior at the Jeddah Art Promenade. The venue will also see fireworks displays from 9 p.m. on Sept. 22, 23 and 24.

In addition, the Jeddah Art Promenade area will feature a light-and-sound display on Sept. 23. There will also be a Saudi folklore show from 6 p.m. to midnight on Sept. 22, 23 and 24. Moreover, there will be “Layali Watan” events and activities held over the same period.

In addition, the Jeddah Art Promenade will feature a Mosaic Wall with various pieces of art on Sept. 22, 23 and 24, showcasing the history of the Kingdom.

The promenade will also have a National Day Corner, with a Photography Kiosk and an exclusive show for children on Sept. 22, 23 and 24.

The venue will have several music concerts, with Saud Sanan performing on Thursday Sept. 23, female singer Dukhuon on the same day, and Ahmed Ashour on Sept. 24.

Egyptian singer Angham and her compatriot Ahmed Saad will perform at Benchmark Theatre on King’s Road at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 24. According to the Ticketing Box Office website, all VVIP tickets have been sold.

There will also be festivals held from 5 p.m. to midnight at the city’s Prince Majed Park, from Sept. 21 to 24.

Eastern Province

The Eastern Province has a series of fun events for all ages to celebrate the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day including live performances, fireworks, and marine and air shows.

King Abdullah Park in Dammam is set to host a four-day celebration from Sept. 21 to 24 from 5 p.m. to midnight, featuring a variety of festivities including folkloric dances and fountain shows.

During the celebrations, performers will roam through the park dressed in traditional attire. There will be several action games and giveaways for families. The event is free and open to children of all ages.

Families are encouraged to dress up in traditional attire for the events throughout the week.

Dammam will host the annual fireworks show that will be visible from the corniche on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m. Admission is free and open to all ages.

Eighteen cities across the Kingdom will feature fireworks displays simultaneously with Dammam including Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha, Tabuk and Al-Ahsa.

Nearby Alkhobar will also be hosting a marine show led by the Royal Naval Forces. The show will take place on Sept. 23 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the corniche.

Following the marine show, the corniche seafront will hold an airshow from Sept. 25 to 26 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

In addition, King Abdullah Cultural Center in Jubail will hold live concerts featuring some of the most popular regional performers including Moudi Alshamrani, Sultan Khalifa, Shamma Hamdan and Khadijah Moath, from Sept. 21 to 24.

Children will not be allowed to attend the concerts. Tickets are available on the Enjoy Saudi website.

Southern and Northern regions

The southern and northern regions of the Kingdom are preparing to celebrate the 92nd National Day on Sept. 23 with various shows and concerts including “A Homeland Salute” by the Royal Saudi Air Force.

On Sept. 23 from 9 p.m., a massive five-minute fireworks display will be held across several cities.

In Jouf, north of the Kingdom, Sakaka’s residents will be able to gather at King Abdullah Cultural Center to watch the show.

In the Northern Borders region, spectators in Arar can see it at the city’s Water Tower Park.

In the southwest, it can be enjoyed in Al-Nahdah district in Najran, while in Abha in Asir they can do so at Sama Abha Park.

The activities include air and marine shows.

The Royal Saudi Air Force will perform for 10 days with Typhoon, F-15, Tornado, and F-15C fighter jets across 14 cities. The show is titled “A Homeland Salute,” to celebrate the country’s achievements under its leadership.

In Abha, the airshow will be held at Abha Airport Park on Sept. 22 and 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Various festivals with folklore dances, games and handicrafts will be held at several public parks from Sept. 21 to 24 from 5 p.m. to midnight.

People in the north can celebrate at Al-Nakheel Park in Sakaka, and in Al-Refa District in Arar.

Those commemorating the day in the south can participate at Sama Abha Park in Abha, and Aba Al-Rashash Park in Najran.

Prominent artists are set to perform on the occasion. In Abha, a concert by Mohamed Abdo, led by Maestro Walid Fayed, will be held at Talal Maddah Theatre on Sept. 24.

Saudi, Indonesian ministers discuss trade relations

Updated 22 September 2022

Saudi, Indonesian ministers discuss trade relations

BALI: Saudi Commerce Minister Majid Al-Qasabi met Indonesia’s Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan on Thursday on the sidelines of the G-20 trade, investment and industry working group meeting in Bali.

The two sides agreed on a road map, with periodic follow-ups, for boosting trade exchanges between the two countries, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The ministers also discussed ways to enhance and support the business sector to aid the development of trade relations, and ways to take advantage of the opportunities available in the two countries and turn them into tangible partnerships.