Thursday December 14, 2017

UNESCO declares Al ‘Ula as Saudi’s First World Heritage Site: The 2,000-year-old town is made of mud and stone

The Incense Route which helped in transportation of spices from India, ‘lapis lazuli’ from Afghanistan, gold from Nubia, myrrh and resins from Saba, now suffers erosion and decay

Al Ula, an old town in Saudi Arabia. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  • About 2,000 years ago, Al ‘Ula was once a flourishing city, bustling with life and activity
  • Al Ula or the ancient site of Al Hijr was the capital of the kingdom of Dedan, said an Saudi archaeologist
  • Dedanites were the lords of the land during the 6th and 7th century BC

Saudi Arabia might boast of a potpourri of architectural marvels and grand mosques, men and women dressed in modestly long gowns in the scorching heat of the desert, but going deeper inside the land of ‘Sheikhs’ might amaze one beyond measure.

Known for its stringent laws and moderated lifestyle, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rich in historical magnificence. Located 110 km southwest of the town of Tayma, surrounded by thick walls and narrow corridors is the ancient capital of Dedanites – Al ‘Ula. The old city, representing a maze-like construction has attracted archaeologists and historians for a long time.  Al ‘Ula, surrounded by Maid –ain Saleh, crowns the desert as the first Saudi World Heritage Site declared by the UNESCO, said a Altasobscura report.

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Charles Doughty in 1876, discovered the city while he was travelling with a caravan of travellers on their way to Mecca and Medina. He studied the inscriptions found at the site and came across “Al ‘Ula, the chief town of the area.”

Further research revealed that the Dedanites were the lords of the land during the 6th and 7th century BC. Nabonidus, the king of Babylonia had once raised a military campaign to the north of Arabia around 552 BC to conquer Tayma, Dedan and Yathrib (the present-day Medina). The Nabateans in 106 AD had lost the region to the Romans who gained the entire kingdom along with Petra.

According to a well known Saudi archaeologist, Abdel Rahman al Ansary, “Al Ula or the ancient site of Al Hijr was the capital of the kingdom of Dedan, one of the principal settlements of Arabia established around the 6th century BCE, and mentioned in the Old Testament and Assyrian inscriptions as DDN.”

The complete geography of the region comprised of ‘Al Khurayba’, ‘Al Hijr’ and ‘Mada-in Saleh’, which are ruins of Dedans, and those of the Qurh. While many Europeans surveyed the site, it was only properly brought into light after an expedition by the Institute of Archaeology of the University of London, in 1968.

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Al ‘Ula was once a flourishing city, bustling with life and activity, some 2000 years ago. Concretely built mud-houses and sand structures dotted the beautiful landscape of the oasis in the Arabian desert. Trading of silk, spices, luxury items thrived through this route between the Arabian nation and those in the Gulf, as far as India.

Al Sinya chariot and lion in Al Ula. Image source:
Al Sinya chariot and lion in Al Ula. Image source:

Once the hub of commerce and industry, Al ‘Ula also found mention in Islamic history as a city that the Last Prophet, Muhammad (S.A.W) had crossed in 630 AD en route to the Battle of Tabuk, fought between the Arabs and the Byzantines.

According to atlasobscura, most Arab writers have written accounts on how “in the 13th century with the fall of the Abbasid dynasty, and the spread of unrest throughout the peninsula, Qurh declined and eventually its name was forgotten.”

In  ‘Al-‘Ula (Saudi Arabia): A report on a Historical and Archaeological Survey’, Abdallah al-Nasif writes how “trade routes changed as dynasties grew and declined over the years.” The town, although it remained inhabited till the 1980s, is now decaying despite measures of reconstruction under the Royalty.  The last family to live here was in 1983 with the last mosque service in 1985.

The Incense Route which helped in transportation of spices from India, ‘lapis lazuli’ from Afghanistan, gold from Nubia, myrrh and resins from Saba, now suffers erosion and decay.

In spite of the huge popularity among tourists as a uniquely built Arab town, Al ‘Ula today lies in ruins under the brutally hot desert sun. Its’ structures that were once a major tourist attraction and its’ people who welcomed guests are now disappearing like the town itself.

-prepared by NewsGram team with assistance from Maariyah


  • Paras Vashisth

    This invention will be very helpful for understand many things.

  • AJ Krish

    These structures were once the pride of the nation and the center for culture. We not only need to preserve them but also make the people aware about its history .

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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women drivers; 7 more bans yet to be addressed for Saudi women

saudi women
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia, Oct. 22, 2013. VOA

Oct 2, 2017: The Sharia-ruled monarchy of the Middle-East, Saudi Arabia decided to lift the ban on women drivers on September 26, much to the elation of Women’s Rights Activists throughout the world. King Salman issued a royal decree on Tuesday granting Saudi women the right to drive thereby ending the kingdom’s notorious reputation of being the only country that prohibits women from driving. The law will come into effect on June 24, 2018.

While the pronouncement signifies a “positive step” towards women-empowerment, the conclusion of whether such laws can be turned into practice in a patriarchal society like Saudi Arabia can be drawn only with the unfolding of time.

Apart from relaxing the ban on women drivers, the Gulf Kingdom also terminated a series of interdicts forced upon the women. A handful of loosened bans included that women will no longer require approval from their guardian to work.

Another significant statute blessed upon women the freedom to enter the sports stadiums albeit exclusively for the Saudi National Day besides the compulsory edict of being seated only in a family section far away from single men.

The Government has also passed laws allowing girls in public schools to play sports and have access to physical education.

saudi women
UN Women political cartoon. Wikimedia

While everyone is busy celebrating women drivers in Saudi Arabia, there is still a myriad of bans inflicted on women. These are:

1. Following the divorce, Saudi women are permitted to keep their children with them only till they reach the age limit of 7years (for girls) and 9years (for boys).

2. Saudi women cannot marry and divorce without the due consent of their male guardian. The male head dominates everything in a Saudi family.

3. The women of Saudi Arabia do not have the permission to get a passport without the prior assent of their male guardian.

Also Read: A step forward: Saudi Women take up active roles in an All female Emergency Call Centre 

4. The approval of the male guardian is also required during any medical emergency. Women cannot take a voluntary decision regarding issues that concern the question of their life and death!

5. Women do not possess the right to socialize with men except for immediate family members. Consequently, all the restaurants and places of public entertainment in Saudi Arabia maintain two sections, one for the men where women cannot enter and the other for families.

6. Under Sharia laws, daughters can inherit property but only half of what is received by their male counterparts.

7. Saudi women cannot even start a work unless two male members testify about her character in a law court before she can be granted a loan or a license.

Prepared by Mohima Haque of Newsgram. Twitter @mohimahaque26

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10 Facts You Should Know About Raif Badawi, Victim Of Religious Persecution

Raif Badawi
Facts You Should Know About Raif Badawi – A Victim Of Religious Persecution Source: Wikimedia Common

Saudi Arabia, September 22, 2017: A Saudi writer, atheist, activist and the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website Raif Badawi, who has been a prey to brutal punishment of Saudi Arabia law, reveals his agony in a book “1000 Lashes, Because I Say What I Think”.

Badawi, through his book expressed one’s life in the autocratic Islamic state under ‘Sharia’, insights about freedom of expression, separation of religion and state, human and civil rights and tolerance.

Raif Badawi
People from Oslo protesting to Free Raif Badawi – A Victim Of Religious Persecution Source: Wikimedia Common

It was in 2012 when Badawi was taken into imprisonment in Saudi Arabia and was sentenced to 10 years torture with 1000 lashes. The reason stated for his imprisonment was his act of showing disrespect towards Islam and produced before the court charges including apostasy.

His punishment was partly enforced due to ‘parental disobedience’ when the debate over freedom of speech and Islam continued to rage. The punishment was in context to the disobedience shown towards one’s father, as follows in Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, Badawi’s father also renounced his son on television.

There are facts that left Raif Badawi to live a life of torture and trauma and you should know these.

  1. Raif Badawi had to face 50 lashes in his first session in front of the crowd gathering near the mosque in Jeddah on January 9, 2015.
  2. After his first session, the medical committee advised not to flog Raid Badawi as his wound had not healed sufficiently, because of high blood pressure. Whereas, another prison doctor objected to that and said that he is fine to take more lashes.
  3. Nevertheless, the flogs were not carried out due to some unknown reason.
  4. He was sentenced with seven years’ imprisonment and 600 lashes, but was extended to 10 years and 1000 lashes later.
  5. He was arrested against his rights to freedom of speech, expression, association and assembly. He was being suppressed with his rights to be democratic.
  6. The case was being dropped twice. The district court passed on the case to high court, saying “could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy.” Also, the higher court refused to hear the case and referred it to the lower court.
  7. His family said that they have learned of judicial attempts to have Badawi retried for apostasy and that it may end up beheading his head for renouncing his religion. Though the human rights are not sure of the claim.
  8. Raif’s wife, Ensaf Haidar was forced to leave Saudi Arabia and move to Canada along with her children after she received anonymous threats.
  9. Badawi expressed his sentiment towards living in a democratic society through his website Free Saudi Liberals until it was shut down by the Saudi authorities. He writes in one of his posts, “You have the right to express and think whatever you want as you have the right to declare what you think about it, it is your right to believe or think, have the right to love and to hate, from your right to be a liberal or Islamist.”
  10. There have been several international awards accorded to Badawi. He was a nominee for 2015 Nobel Peace Prize and for Human Rights and Democracy he was also awarded the Courage award in 2015 in Geneva Summit.

Many people around the world are showing their support to Raif Badawi through different campaigns and protest. The Canadian government also expressed him gratitude with their concern towards his wife and children.

ALSO READ: 2,384 Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Jailed for Minor and Major Offenses

It was not just Badawi, who was victimized for raising his voice. His lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, in July 2014 was also sentenced 15 years in prison for denouncing the human rights abuses of Saudi during his media interviews and in social media. Khair also had an organization that monitored the human rights in Saudi Arabia.

– Prepared by Abhishek Biswas of NewsGram Twitter: @Writing_Desire

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Snapchat blocks Al Jazeera in Saudi Arabia

Social media platform Snapchat has blocked access to Al Jazeera content in Saudi Arabia
Image: IANS

Riyadh, Sep 18 (IANS) Social media platform Snapchat has blocked access to Al Jazeera content in Saudi Arabia, the media reported on Monday.

The popular photo-sharing app said it was asked by the Saudi authorities to remove the Qatari-backed broadcaster’s Discover Publisher Channel because it violated local laws, reports the BBC.

“We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate,” a Snapchat spokesperson said in a statement.

Qatar is in an ongoing dispute with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The four countries cut ties with Qatar earlier this year, accusing the country of supporting terrorism.

After the start of the dispute, Saudi Arabia had also demanded the Qatari government to shut Al Jazeera altogether as one of 13 conditions to remove sanctions against the country.

However, those conditions were later withdrawn. (IANS)