Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season

Residents of Makkah have historically played a crucial role in hosting and supporting the millions of Muslims who come to perform Hajj. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 18 June 2024
Follow

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.

 


King Salman issues royal order to change name of Saudi housing ministry

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

King Salman issues royal order to change name of Saudi housing ministry

  • Bid to enhance overall performance of the ministry, affiliated bodies

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued an order on Sunday to change the name of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing to the Ministry of Municipalities and Housing, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Saudi Housing Minister Majid Al-Hogail expressed his gratitude to King Salman, and stressed that the name change was a progressive step reflecting the nation’s commitment to fostering an advanced urban environment in alignment with Vision 2030 objectives.

The change aims to enhance the overall performance of the ministry and its affiliated bodies, including secretariats and municipalities, to achieve sustainable urban development plans, the SPA added.

It also seeks to empower municipalities to improve the quality of life in cities and advance the housing sector by offering innovative services to beneficiaries.

Al-Hogail highlighted that the municipalities and housing sector were crucial components of the state, directly impacting the lives of citizens.
 


56th International Chemistry Olympiad begins in Riyadh

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

56th International Chemistry Olympiad begins in Riyadh

  • Some 333 students from 90 countries to attend

RIYADH: The 56th edition of the International Chemistry Olympiad got underway in Riyadh on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The annual event is renowned as one of the largest international chemistry competitions for students in general education.

The IChO 2024 will bring together 333 students from 90 countries, who will be judged by 260 chemistry experts.

The event has been organized by King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, known as Mawhiba, in strategic partnership with the Ministry of Education, and King Saud University. Saudi Basic Industries Corporation is the exclusive sponsor.

Competitors will challenge for 35 gold medals, 70 silvers and 110 bronzes, along with 10 honorary certificates. The final results will be announced on July 28.

Established in Prague in 1968, the event is hosted by a different country each year.

Saudi Arabia first attended as an observer in 2004 and 2005, and subsequently entered students in 2006 and 2007.

After observing again from 2008 to 2010, the Kingdom has been actively participating with students from 2011 to the present day.
 


Variety is the spice of life as Saudi Arabia ushers in dining renaissance

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Variety is the spice of life as Saudi Arabia ushers in dining renaissance

  • Local eateries are nurturing a sense of community, providing valuable job opportunities to Saudis

RIYADH: In the bustling heart of Saudi Arabia, a culinary revolution is unfolding. Restaurant entrepreneurs are launching new coffee shops and fast-food restaurants that are redefining the dining landscape by offering high-quality food and drinks at accessible prices. The cherry on top? They’re hiring local talent, bolstering both the community and the economy.

Imagine walking into a newly opened coffee shop or fast-food joint with modest expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised by the taste and quality of your order. This is the new norm sweeping across the nation. These establishments are quickly earning reputations for delivering great food and drinks without the hefty price tags.

As more restaurant entrepreneurs enter the market, the competition is driving everyone to elevate their game. (Instagram/sawada.ksa)

“Honestly, I always look for a fair price when it comes to my coffee, and this place fits the bill perfectly,” frequent customer Khalil Al-Azwari told Arab News. “This coffee shop is one of my favorites, and they serve the best V60 for only SR10 ($2.67). It’s great value for money.”

A cornerstone of this transformation is the focus on employing local workers. By prioritizing job opportunities for Saudis over expats, these businesses are not only boosting the economy but also fostering a stronger sense of community.

Establishing a new business requires a deep and thorough study of market needs, sound management, and dedication to the business.

Talat Hafiz, Financial analyst

“Working here has been an amazing experience,” said Ahmed Saleh, a barista at a prominent coffee shop in Riyadh. “I get to work with top-notch ingredients and learn new skills. Plus, it’s great to see familiar faces enjoying the coffee and food we prepare.”

The allure of these new dining spots extends beyond just offering great food and drinks. By prioritizing local hires, these businesses are nurturing a sense of community and providing valuable job opportunities. This approach represents a refreshing change in a country where the service industry has traditionally been dominated by foreign workers.

As more restaurant entrepreneurs enter the market, the competition is driving everyone to elevate their game. (Instagram/sawada.ksa)

Local customers are equally thrilled with the shift. “I love that these new places are hiring people from our own cities,” said Bashayer Mohammed, a regular patron. “It makes the experience feel more personal and connected to our community.”

However, not everyone is embracing this wave of new dining options. Some local business owners are feeling the heat as these large restaurant entrepreneurs gain popularity. Many local establishments, which often have higher prices, are struggling to compete.

“It’s tough,” said Saad, who used to own a coffee shop in Alkhobar. “We can’t match the prices of these big traders, and people are noticing. We’re losing customers, and it’s affecting our livelihood."

Saad opened his coffee shop in October 2021 with high hopes for success. “In the first month, the numbers were doing great,” he recalled. However, as the months went by, business began to decline steadily. Despite his efforts to adapt, the situation worsened. “It was surprising because it got way worse each month,” Saad said.

Determined to save his business, Saad tried everything. “We changed the menu, collaborated with coupon companies, and partnered with delivery apps. We even invested in advertising,” he explained. Despite trying every strategy he could think of, nothing seemed to work. “None of it made a difference,” he admitted.

On top of these challenges, Saad faced unexpected financial burdens. “The rent was much higher than I expected, and I didn’t fully account for staff salaries and insurance,” he said. These expenses quickly added up, straining his finances.

The increase in costs has led most merchants to reduce expenses, cut salaries, and lay off employees. “This is a sign of failure,” Saad added. “Successful merchants invest in the human element and intellect to create and innovate solutions for survival. The general public has a consumer mentality, not a problem-solving one.”

Desperate, Saad even tried to sell the coffee shop to investors. “It just didn’t work,” he said. Ultimately, the mounting losses forced him to close the coffee shop in 2023. “It was a huge loss for me,” Saad reflected.

As more restaurant entrepreneurs enter the market, the competition is driving everyone to elevate their game. Local businesses are starting to take notice and are striving to match the quality and affordability that these new players offer, although it remains a challenging transition.

In an interview with Arab News, financial analyst Talat Hafiz emphasized the crucial role that small and medium enterprises play in the Saudi economy: “SMEs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere around the world are the backbone of the economy and business activities.”

Recognizing this, the Saudi government has been proactive in fostering the growth of these enterprises. It has made significant efforts to facilitate the growth of SMEs and enhance their contribution to the Kingdom’s non-oil gross domestic product from 20 percent to 35 percent by 2030, Hafiz added.

The establishment of the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises, also known as Monshaat, in 2016 is a testament to these efforts. “Monshaat was created to regulate, support, and develop the SME sector in the Kingdom,” Hafiz said.

Additionally, the Loan Guarantee Program, established in 2006, aims to overcome financing obstacles for economically viable SMEs lacking the necessary guarantees. Despite these avenues of support, many SMEs still face significant challenges. “There are still some companies that fail to continue their businesses successfully and close their doors within the first year or by the third year of operation,” he said.

Hafiz has identified several reasons behind these failures. “Most complaints from SME owners are due to various fees imposed by the government, especially violation fees,” he said. However, he believes that the primary reasons for failure lie elsewhere.

“The main reasons behind the failure of SMEs, especially startups, include a lack of careful consideration of market needs and different consumer preferences, lack of management experience, technical and professional expertise, and the imitation of adding value to the market,” Hafiz added.  

He also highlighted the importance of management dedication and sufficient financial resources. “Establishing a new business requires a deep and thorough study of market needs, sound management, and dedication to the business. It also requires specific talents that allow the company to respond quickly and effectively to market and economic changes,” he noted.

While the Saudi government has regulated fines to be more transparent, fair, and progressive, Hafiz stresses that the focus should not be limited to government fees. “The focus on business failures should also address the main and real causes of businesses’ failure. The government fines are transparent and progressive, and it is also not permissible to impose them the first time, as there is a warning that precedes the violation.”

 


Hail’s ancient crafts breathe new life into Saudi cultural festival

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Hail’s ancient crafts breathe new life into Saudi cultural festival

  • Abdullah Al-Khazzam highlighted the distinctive features of the Najdi door, which typically incorporates three crossbars, in contrast with the traditional Hail door’s four-crossbar design

RIYADH: The third Beit Hail heritage festival, themed “Your Home Away from Home,” is a vibrant display of Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural heritage, with traditional craftsmanship taking center stage.

At the heart of the festival is the “Hail Wooden Door Making and Plaster Engraving” exhibit, which has drawn crowds to the Aja Park Entertainment Center where the techniques and tools used in crafting intricate designs are on show.

Abdullah Al-Khazzam’s specialty lies in crafting the distinctive old Hail house door, traditionally made from tamarisk wood and other local timber varieties. (SPA)

Abdullah Al-Khazzam, a Hail native and registered artisan with the Saudi National Handicrafts Program “Bari,” began his journey into the world of intricate woodworking with a childhood fascination for mud construction, which evolved into a passionate pursuit of mastering the art of wooden door-making and engraving, Saudi Press Agency recently reported.

At the festival, Al-Khazzam showed his expertise, demonstrating the nuanced differences between regional door styles. His specialty lies in crafting the distinctive old Hail house door, traditionally made from tamarisk wood and other local timber varieties.

Abdullah Al-Khazzam’s specialty lies in crafting the distinctive old Hail house door, traditionally made from tamarisk wood and other local timber varieties. (SPA)

He highlighted the distinctive features of the Najdi door, which typically incorporates three crossbars, in contrast with the traditional Hail door’s four-crossbar design.

Festivalgoers seemed captivated by Al-Khazzam’s craftsmanship, marveling at the intricacy of his work, SPA reported.

Abdullah Al-Khazzam’s specialty lies in crafting the distinctive old Hail house door, traditionally made from tamarisk wood and other local timber varieties. (SPA)

Beyond door-making, the booth displays a range of related crafts. Islamic plaster engravings, integral to Najdi architecture, adorn mock-ups of building entrances and the majlis (reception rooms).

Visitors were drawn to the elaborate engravings, patterns and motifs that offer a glimpse into the social fabric of bygone eras. The festival has reported a surge in demand for these traditional designs, with many visitors expressing interest in buying replica doors and decorative pieces for their homes.

Al-Khazzam’s repertoire extends to other traditional items, such as replicas of historical water-raising devices, an ornate camel saddle that was once a common sight in the region, and recreations of the decorative elements that once adorned traditional mud houses.

Some of these designs incorporate Qur’anic verses, proverbs, and ornamental patterns while others incorporate motifs based on local flora.

 

 


Attempt to smuggle 160 kg of qat thwarted in Jazan

Saudi authorities have arrested individuals carrying illegal drugs in Jazan. (SPA)
Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Attempt to smuggle 160 kg of qat thwarted in Jazan

  • Three expatriates have been accused of fraud involving expired food products from unknown sources

JAZAN: Eight Yemeni nationals were arrested by Border Guard patrols in Al-Dair, Jazan for attempting to smuggle 160 kg of qat into the Kingdom.

The suspects, who were apprehended for violating border security regulations, have been processed according to initial legal procedures. Both the alleged smugglers and the seized substances have been handed over to the appropriate authorities for further investigation.

Separately, three expatriates have been accused of fraud involving expired food products from unknown sources. The investigation revealed that the suspects stored over 55 tonnes of expired chicken meat from unknown sources, changed their packaging, and placed false commercial data on them, providing inaccurate expiration dates and places of production.

The suspects have been arrested and referred to the criminal court to demand the penalties prescribed against them under the anti-commercial fraud and commercial data regulations.