Saudi Arabia: Anticipation of Hajj

Pilgrims are already arriving to Makkah in anticipation of performing hajj.  Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a desire of all Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime.

The pilgrims are full of anticipation for Hajj which will take place between 4 – 9 November.  Many Saudis are also full of anticipation for Hajj as it is one of the most lucrative and profitable periods.

While the performance of Hajj has remained the same, Makkah itself has undergone a significant face change.  There is the addition now of the Makkah clock tower which looms above the Haram and can be seen from all directions.  New sky rise hotels and apartment buildings are also dominating the landscape surrounding the Haram.  It’s not like the old days when the landscape was simple with the Haram the focus and landmark all eyes sought for.

Hajj has become much more commercialized too.  Many of the street vendors and small shops have disappeared.  Now a pilgrim can walk across the street from the Haram into the luxurious mall adjacent to the Hilton hotel.  There are other modern shopping malls which have cropped up in and around Makkah.  During Hajj the malls cater to pilgrims.

It is expected that there could be as many as 3 million pilgrims this year.  That also means there will be an increased need for taxi drivers, bus drivers, medical staff and other workers.

Interestingly, in spite of many young Saudi graduates unable to find jobs, the Kingdom is hiring 30,000 Egyptians to come and work during Hajj.

Saudi Arabia: Tabletop Pictorial Books

I’m a big fan of table top picture books and especially picture books whose photos encapsulate the essence and spirit of a place.  One such example is the book “Saudi Arabia” published by Desert Publisher.   The photos in the book are magnificent and accompanied by explanations which further enhance the knowledge of the subject photo and snapshot into the customs, culture and tradition of Saudi Arabia.

Desert Publisher has a series of photographic books about Saudi Arabia but the book “Saudi Arabia” itself is my recommended starting point.  This book focuses on the entire Kingdom from history, architecture, culture, crafts, traditions, agriculture, industry and even fascinating photos of the Kingdom from satellite.  Saudi Arabia gives the reader an overall understanding of the myriad which is Saudi Arabia.

Among the outstanding photos are close up photographs of the kiswah, the hand embroidered velvet covering of the Kaaba.  The versatile book further includes appetizing photos of traditional Saudi foods along with the explanations of the food, ingredients and regions from which the dishes originate.  Examples of typical sports, traditional dances and social activities are illustrated in detailed photos.

A photo can tell many stories about a place and Desert Publisher’s ‘Saudi Arabia’ is like a book of never-ending stories showcasing the contrasts and contradictions of what makes Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: Ramadan is Coming – Keep the Toilets Clean

I have always enjoyed traveling by car for the opportunities to see more and especially in Saudi Arabia which was a new territory for me.  However the first trip between Riyadh and Makkah I discovered that toilet facilities were abysmal.  I did not go further than the doorway at the toilet facilities provided by gas stations due to the stench emanating from inside.  Rest areas with private resting rooms where one can pay and have a room with a private toilet did not guarantee cleanliness either.  The other option was to use the toilet at the mosque which is always adjacent to a rest area.  Sadly even the toilet where one is to prepare themselves for absolution before prayers was probably among the worse.  I found in all public toilets that there would be inches of dirty water on the floor.  The “two stepper” toilets themselves would be covered with fecal matter, paper, sanitary napkins and sometimes dirty diapers.  A person is expected to situate themselves around this debris and conduct their private business.  Even the washing area for cleaning up afterwards would have dirty diapers floating atop the water.

After a few experiences of encountering such disgusting toilets I would have my husband stop in a more deserted area on the road with some privacy so I could go and relieve myself in the desert where it was much cleaner.  Either he or one of my stepdaughters would shield me from sight with a large blanket.  I was much more comfortable and less fearful of catching some kind of disease using the public toilets.

Arab news had a recent article also discussing the poor condition of the toilets at public washrooms during travel.  The article also includes the condition of toilets at shopping malls, train stations, airlines and on board flights.  It is true that the conditions of these toilets are just as deplorable.  I’m certain that individuals do not allow the toilets in their own room to be in such a condition so why do they overlook etiquette and cleanliness during travel?

Ramadan will be coming soon and there will be an influx of travelers to Makkah to perform umrah.  To keep down the risk of germs and disease the people should be cognizant and make an effort to clean up after themselves.  It would also be prudent to have attendants on hand whose duty is to ensure the washrooms are clean and usable.  The condition of the toilets does not enhance the image of Saudi Arabia.

 

Saudi Arabia: An Introduction to Desert Publisher

It  gives American Bedu joy to share with readers that one of her favorite publishers specializing exclusively in photo books of Saudi Arabia is now online – Desert Publisher.  The books produced by Desert Publisher are exclusive photo books with illustrations featuring the Hidden Treasures and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  These books are ideal for anyone who is planning to come to the Kingdom and wants to capture the essence of the culture, traditions and customs before arrival.  The books also make the perfect gift for expatriates and Saudis alike.  Noone should be without their own edition of Desert Publisher books.

Presently one can purchase Desert Publisher books about:

  •  Janadriah – Saudis annual cultural festival which showcases the diverse crafts, art, music and traditions throughout the Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

  •  Mada’in Saleh – Mada’in Saleh is the “Little Petra” found in Saudi Arabia’s Hijaz region where the ancient Nabateans had made a home in the Kingdom.  Mada’in Saleh is known for its tombs, the origin of the Hijaz Railway and historic Al Ula.  The book is full of captivating photos and narrative to match. (available in English, Arabic, French, Dutch and Spanish)
  • Saudi Arabia:  This is an exclusive table top book filled with breathtaking photos giving one an introduction to all corners of the majestic Kingdom.  It provides contrasts between the modern cities and beudion villages, the sea and the desert, it’s cultural history and use of high technology.  This book breaks the barriers of pre-existing stereotypes propagated by media.  (Available in English, French, German, Spanish, Asian languages, Arabic and Russian)
  •  Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) – This book is one of American Bedu’s personal favorites.  The Empty Quarter is generally believed to be a lifeless stretch of desert however this book shatters those beliefs with the photos that show an Empty Quarter bursting with life and activity.  One of the most magnificent photos of a herd of Ibyx can be seen in this magnificent book.

 

 

  •  Sand Whispers – This small book is packed with special photos and accompanied by Arab proverbs and classic poetry.  (Available in English, German and French)

 

 

 

 

  •  Windows – The types of windows installed in various homes throughout the Kingdom over the years tell a history unto themselves.  This book showcases and illustrates some of the unique windows found in buildings and homes throughout the Kingdom.  (Available in English, German and French)

 

 

  •  Doors – If only a door could talk about the residents who lived in a house or visited through the doors, imagine how much more we could learn about the history of Saudi Arabia.  Doors, as the title implies, are a compilation of photos of the many different types of doors one will see on homes and buildings in the Kingdom.  Many of these doors have lasted for centuries due to the unique way they were crafted.  Illustrations accompany each photo to give the reader greater understanding for the type of door, structure and area in which it is located.  (Available in English, German and French)
  •  Visitors Guide to Maidan Saleh – This guide is a must-have for anyone planning to travel to the history area of Maidan Saleh, whether unaccompanied or with a tour group.  This guide walks a visitor step-by-step on what to see and do and bring with them on their trip.  This guide will enhance ones trip to Maidan Saleh.

 

 

  •  Facts about Swine Flu (H1N1) – Since millions of pilgrims converge from around the world each year to Makkah for the Hajj pilgrimage, this book is an extensive book about the threat and precautions of H1N1.  (Arabic only)

 

 

 

  •  Maid’an Saleh Post Cards – Twenty of the finest photographs from Maid’an Saleh have been incorporated into post cards making this a lovely keepsake or special card to send greetings from Saudi Arabia.

 

 

  •  Holy Mosque Post Cards – Twenty of the finest photographs taken of the Holy Mosque during the annual pilgrimage of Hajj making this collection a special keepsake.

 

 

  •  Saudi Arabia Post Cards – Twenty of the finest photographs showcasing the Hidden Treasures across the Magical Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Ideal as a special memento or to send from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: It is Okay to Deface Makkah but Don’t Let Women Drive

When you ask a Saudi about Makkah many will talk about the way Makkah was…before the day of the Clocktower.  I used to believe that the Clocktower in Makkah was a welcoming beacon but I have changed my view.  I now see it as part of the ‘extreme commercialism’ that keeps gaining momentum in Makkah.  Only last week Marriott Corporation announced that by 2014 three new hotels will be built in Makkah adding more than 1500 rooms.  These hotels will also overlook the Haram.  Among these three hotels will be a landmark J W Marriott which is described as “…unique environments, spacious guest rooms with luxurious amenities, imaginative dining experiences and an overall heightened level of sophistication without pretense.”  Sophistication without pretense?  Is this necessary for a hotel at the Haram where the majority of visitors come for Umrah or Hajj?

Then the Makkah Hilton which is where the Makkah Clocktower is located advertises on its web site that guests can “Pray with views over the Holy Haram in the 2 air-conditioned and carpeted 10,000-seater prayer halls.”  As early as 10 years ago there were no such luxury facilities available which want to encourage its visitors to stay in rather than follow the footsteps of so many millions before them.

These luxury facilities do not come without a price to the people of Makkah.  In order to make room for the “luxury hajj and umrah” facilities, residents have been displaced and small businesses have had to relocate.  Such expansion has also resulted in rising costs for those who either live in or visit Makkah.  Is Hajj or umrah becoming cost prohibitive because of these ‘luxury enhancements?’

Performing Hajj or Umrah has always been about simplicity.  All who enter the Haram (Grand Mosque) are dressed the same and perform the same ritual.  They follow in the footsteps of the Prophet (PBUH).

I am surprised that the religious police, the muttaween, have not spoken out about the “defacing of Makkah” yet en masse they have denounced and arrested Saudi woman, Manal Al-Sherif, for daring to drive.

Saudi Arabia: Who are the REAL Muslims?

An earlier post I wrote about the perceptions of Muslims in America continues to generate a dialogue of conflicting and emotional discussion.  What the comments from that post have highlighted is that there is not only fear, confusion and disagreement about Muslims in America but there is a lack of consensus or agreement on the definition of a Muslim!  The definition of a Muslim is not to be confused with a definition of Islam.

From Wikipedia a Muslim is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Qur’an, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. “Muslim” is the Arabic term for “one who submits to God”.

According to TurntoIslam a Muslim is someone who submits to Allah’s will. A person upon true monotheism, who worships God alone without associating any partners with him. A Muslim is someone who Bears witness that None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. A Muslim can be of any background, race, country and gender.

Ask.com identifies a Muslim as a person who believes in and consciously follows Islam is called a Muslim, also from the same root word. So, the religion is called “Islam,” and a person who believes in and follows it is a “Muslim.”

So in the most “generic” of terms a Muslim is a follower of Islam and submits to Allah (God).  Most Muslims will likely agree that a Muslim believes Muhammad as the Messenger of Allah (God).  The disagreements begin when sects and/or categories are applied to Muslims.

The majority of Muslims are either Sunni or Shiia.  Sunni Muslims are further broken down and categorized by which school of law is followed. The four most popular schools are:

Hanafi:  followed by Muslims of Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Muslim areas of Southern Russia, the Caucasus, most of the Muslim areas of the Balkans and Turkey and parts of Iraq, all follow this school of jurisprudence. It is also the dominant school of Muslims in the United Kingdom and Germany.

Maliki: adopted by most North African and West African countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Nigeria and others except Egypt, Horn of Africa and Sudan. Also, the Maliki madhab is the official state madhhab of Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Shafi’i: Muslims in Indonesia, Lower Egypt, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Coastal Maharashtra/Konkan and Kerala in India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Palestine, Yemen and Kurds in the Kurdish regions follow the Shafi’i school.

Hanbali: This school of jurisprudence is followed predominantly in the Arabian Peninsula.

Shia majority countries are Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain.[64] They also constitute 36.3% of entire local population and 38.6% of local Muslim population of Middle East.[65]

 

There are other minority Muslim groups known as Sufi, Ahmadi, Salafi or Submitters.  A Sufi, Ahmadi, Salafi or Submitter considers himself/herself a Muslim the same as a Sunni or Shiia.

The purpose of this post is to identify the definition of Muslim and some of the ancillary names/groups associated in conjunction with a Muslim.  Saudi Arabia is the home of Islam’s two holiest sites and each year issues millions of visas for Muslims to perform the rites of Umrah and Hajj.  Are any Muslims turned away or prohibited from performing these pillars?

Saudi Arabia: Gorgeous Blogger Award

I received this blog award from Aisha Al-Hajjar at the “Saudi Birth Story” blog!  I feel very special for her to choose me as an awesome blogger!

“The Gorgeous Blogger award is awarded to all awesome bloggers. You must answer the five questions regarding your blog and then pass the award on to five others you think deserve this award.

I hope you’ll enjoy my nominees and if not familiar with their blogs, I encourage you to visit them.  Now on to the details…The Gorgeous Blogger Award!…

1. When did you start your blog?

I began American Bedu blog with its daily posts back in September 2006.  It made its debut from MySpace and then I transitioned it over to WordPress.com

2. What do you write about?

I write about experiences and observations on the customs, cultures, traditions and practices of daily life in Saudi Arabia.

3. What makes your blog special?

I like to leave that question for readers to answer instead!

4. What made you want to start writing a blog?

I’ve always enjoyed writing.  When it became time for my (late) Saudi husband and I to depart from the United States where we were residing at the time to return to his home country, it was natural to begin American Bedu blog and sharing experiences, perceptions and observations.

5. What would you like to change in your blog?

I’m pleased by the global exposure and readership my blog receives.  I’d love to see American Bedu syndicated (as I’m dreaming here…) or compiled into a book.  Candidly, I’d like to see less bickering in comments and more constructive dialogues where we learn from each other even if we may agree to disagree.

I think the following five bloggers should receive the Gorgeous Blogger award:

Eman from Saudi Woman Blog
Susie from Susie’s Big Adventure

Aafke from Clouddragon

Saudi Mom from Ya Maamaa

Coolred from Coolreds Rant

USA/Saudi Arabia: New Book Explores Lives of American-Born Muslim Women

AB comment: The timing of this upcoming book release is very pertinent when taking into account the evolving events around the Muslim world.  This book provides insights into the lives of AMERICAN born Muslim women and perhaps can help bridge the gap of misunderstanding in the United States towards Muslims.

 

WASHINGTON D.C. USA – February 28, 2011 – Islam has become one of the hottest of hot button topics in America. Time Magazine featured the rise of Islamophobia on its cover (August 30, 2010) and attacks on Muslims and mosques are taking place regularly across the United States. Pundits and politicians raise the stakes by questioning whether it is possible for an American to be both a good Muslim and a good citizen. Muslim American women are the subject of endless discussions regarding their role in society, their veils as symbols of oppression or of freedom, their identity and their patriotism.

 

In this polarized climate, a new book challenges stereotypes about being Muslim in America through the stories of forty women. I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim (May 2, 2011, White Cloud Press) brings together a diverse group of women, all born and raised in the United States, telling their stories of faith, family, and country.

 

The book editors are Maria Ebrahimji, executive editorial producer at CNN in Atlanta, and Zahra Suratwala, a writer and editor who owns Zahra Ink, a writing firm in Chicago. The editors want to fill a gap in current literature on American Islam by bringing out the stories of American-born Muslim women between the ages of 20 and 40. Ebrahimji notes that “As a member of the mainstream media, I am frequently exposed to the stereotyping of my faith, and this book was created to present the public with more candid, realistic portraits of a diverse group of women who are proud of their faith and their country.”

 

Readers of I Speak for Myself are presented with a kaleidoscope of deeply personal stories. A common theme linking these intimate self-portraits is the way each woman uniquely defies labeling, simply by defining for herself what it means to be American and Muslim and female. Each story is a contribution to the larger narrative of life stories and life work of a new generation of Muslim women.

Though the book’s official release date is May 2, it is currently available now for pre-order on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and White Cloud Press. The suggested retail price is $16.95.

 

The book has already caught the attention of thought leaders who are calling the book an important addition to the literature on religious pluralism

in America.

 

Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners magazine and faith community calls I Speak for Myself “a very important contribution to the growing interfaith dialogue in this country.”

Her Majesty Queen Noor notes that “By telling their stories they offer us new perspectives that are vital to the peace building process, and through their honesty and courage they are making a lasting contribution to the search for cross-cultural understanding.”

Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International says that this is “a must read for anyone curious to understand Islam from a woman’s and an American-Muslim perspective. I Speak for Myself is the story of every woman embodied in voices of today’s American Muslim woman.”

Bestselling author and school builder Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) feels that “this collection of essays . . . is empowering and inspiring, and a vital part of any education.”

“In an era where women’s empowerment is essential, these are women who have the ability, through their stories and their work, to empower women all over the world to truly speak for themselves.” Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Winner & Founder, Grameen Bank

For more information and dialogue on our book and American Muslim women, please join us at www.facebook.com/ispeakformyself, www.twitter.com/ispeakformyself and our website, www.ispeakformyself.com.

 

Media Contact: Lisa Mabe, Hewar Social Communications, +1 202.834.4498 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +1 202.834.4498      end_of_the_skype_highlighting, lisa@hewarcommunications.com

 

Saudi Arabia: November 2010 Saudi Fun Quiz Available!

 

Hey American Bedu trivia fans…the November 2010 Saudi Fun Quiz is now available for your enjoyment!  Go ahead and try your luck.   You may want to review November’s daily blog posts in order to have the best score!

 

Have fun and Enjoy!

Saudi Arabia: What Makes a Good Expatriate?

Expatriates generally come to Saudi Arabia for an employment opportunity.  A smaller percentage of expatriates find themselves in Saudi Arabia either as dependents of another expatriate or as the foreign spouse of a Saudi man.  I am not factoring in those expatriates who come to the Kingdom each year to perform umrah or Hajj.  This post focuses on those who have come to the Kingdom to take up residency for a period of time.

Each expatriate in the Kingdom by virtue of being a foreigner becomes an automatic “goodwill ambassador” of their own respective country.  To the Saudis who have not had the experience of traveling outside of the Kingdom, the expatriate will be the representative of his or her respective country to them.  Therefore what makes a good expatriate?

The question should be a “no-brainer” yet in actuality as I am sure this post will illustrate, the answer may differ depending on who responds and whether a respondent is a Saudi or an expatriate within Saudi Arabia.

Making my own short list of criteria, a good expatriate will:

  • Arrive with their best foot forward.
  • Be cognizant of customs, culture and tradition.
  • Will not expect their own customs, cultures and traditions to supersede those of Saudi Arabia.
  • Want to know and learn more about Saudi Arabia and its people.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Disagree with dignity.
  • Comply with the laws.
  • Explore Saudi Arabia as opportunities allow.
  • Do not remain within an “expatriate bubble” such as contained to a compound.
  • Not purposely associate only with other expatriates.
  • Remember that he or she can leave a lasting impression on Saudis about expatriates.

 

What do YOU believe makes an individual a good expatriate in Saudi Arabia?  Better yet, share your experiences of someone you believe is or has been an excellent exemplar of an expatriate in Saudi Arabia.  A generic description rather than identifying an individual by name is acceptable.

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