Monday July 16, 2018

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


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  • 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 .

Next Story

Rampant Sexual Harassment of Children & Women in Islam

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place

How safe are Muslim women? Wikimedia

Gaurav Tyagi

  • Sexual harassment of women and children is a serious problem in Pakistan
  • Kidnapping of girl child is also very common
  • It is not only a problem in Pakistan but in all countries where Islam prevails

Khaled Ahmed a senior Pakistani journalist and the consulting editor of ‘Newsweek Pakistan’ stated that raping and killing of children is a serious problem in Pakistan.

According to him three incidents were reported on January 28 from different districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A girl child was also kidnapped, raped and killed in Quetta, Balochistan.

1300 applicants after the new rule came in. Wikimedia commons
Muslim women and children are subject to rampant sexual harassment. Wikimedia Commons

A 24 year old man was arrested for raping and killing seven year old girl, Zainab in a city called Kasur, which lies south of Lahore in the Punjab province. This pervert is a religious person and sings songs praising the so called holy prophet of Muslims for a living. He killed seven girls before sexually assaulting Zainab for four days then killing and throwing her dead body in a rubbish dump on January 9.

Police treated her abduction as a routine matter. As per an official count ten children, five of them girls were sexually assaulted and murdered in Kasur within a short span of time.

The first of such incident was reported way back in 2015. This reveals the incompetence of Police and administration in Kasur. Khalid says these sort of unfortunate incidents are rapidly rising all over Pakistan.

Also Reading: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Eight boys were murdered after criminal assaults in 2017. In Sargodha, the body of a violated 15 year old girl was dumped in the fields on January 11. In Pattoki, an 11 year old boy was strangled after being sexually assaulted. In Sheikhupura another eight year old girl was abducted, raped and strangled to death before being thrown in a dustbin.

In Kasur, the Police registered cases against the Plaintiffs for reporting the crime instead of arresting the offenders. The local judge incarcerated the poor parents.

The victims of a gang of rapists even went to Lahore and protested in front of the assembly, after which the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif heard their grievances for four hours. He promised to help the victims with lawyers and transportation but ultimately Sharif didn’t provide any assistance. (1)

Muslim women
Muslim women are being exploited in the name of religion.

‘Bacha bazi’ an old tradition of Afghanistan has been documented in the award winning film ‘The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan’ featuring journalist Najibullah Quraishi. The film depicts accounts of Afghan boys subjected to sexual slavery.

According to ‘The Guardian’; “The bacha (child) dancers are often abused children, whose families have rejected them. Their owners or masters can be single or married men, who keep them in a form of sexual slavery as concubines.”

An Afghan boy Omid says that he is paid approximately $2 for the night and often gang-raped. He mentioned that he cannot go to police for help because the perpetrators are powerful and rich men. The police cannot do anything against them.

The ‘New York Times’ wrote that American soldiers are ordered to ignore the screaming cries of young boys sexually abused by their Afghan allies. The Americans are told to turn a deaf ear to this aspect of ‘Afghan culture’.

‘Pakistan’s Hidden Shame’, a documentary directed by Mohammed Naqvi and produced by Jamie Doran tells deeply distressing stories of vulnerable children from Peshawar.

These unfortunate kids try to ease the pain of their lives by using narcotics or resorting to self-harm by cutting themselves. They get regularly raped as well as gang raped.

Children are being kidnapped and raped on almost daily basis.

According to one man, “Once there was a boy on the bus and everyone had sex with him”. This pervert boastfully admitted to raping 12 different children during his career as a bus conductor. (2)

More than 150 women filed criminal complaints, three quarters of them for sexual assault. Two cases of rape were reported in the infamous mass sex assault by Muslim asylum seekers on girls and women in the German city of Cologne on New Years Eve of 2016. (5)

David Spicer led a review in the wake of ‘Operation Sanctuary’, which saw 18 people jailed for the sexual abuse of young women groomed in Newcastle, U.K.

The exploitation was not recognized in adults. This operation identified approximately 700 victims across the Northumbria Police area, 108 in Newcastle.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Mr. Spicer carried out the serious case review for the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults and Children Boards. He said that “adults were being targeted, groomed and exploited besides children” but the authorities did not have the powers to intervene with adults to stop them from ‘making bad choices’ or forming ‘inappropriate relationships’.

The report also examined the exploitation of boys and men but said it was complex as well as hidden and operated differently to female victims.

Mr. Spicer stated, “The low incidence of identified cases is likely to be a significant under-representation of the abuse occurring”

One of Spicer’s 33 recommendations includes a need for research into the cultural background of abusers, majority of which are from a ‘predominantly Asian or British minority ethnic culture or background’.

Muslim women and children deserve greater justice. Wikimedia Commons

Most of these abusers are British born but came from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish Muslim communities.

The Quillam Foundation think tank, which focuses on counter-extremism said 84% of the 264 convicted offenders of gang grooming between 2005 and 2017 were of South Asian Muslim heritage.

David Spicer mentioned that the perpetrators he spoke to ‘displayed no regret and spoke in a derogatory manner about lack of morals in British girls”. (3)

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place.

Sabica says; “It’s sad to say that you are not even safe at holy places. I’ve been harassed, not once, not twice, but thrice. My entire experience at the holy city is overshadowed by this horrible incident”

As soon as Sabica’s post went viral on social media, a large number of Muslim women started sharing their sad experiences of sexual molestation at religious places with the hashtag #MosqueMeToo.

“Each time my mom and her sisters went to Hajj, they were groped-disgusting ppl w/no morals. Toxic patriarchy; keep doing what you’re doing, Mona”- Hassan Saleh.

Muslim women are not safe even in the place of their worship. Twitter

“Had to stop going for Taraweeh and Qiyam one Ramadan because of some gentlemen. Stayed mum because I thought no one’d believe me, or I’d be accused of having an overactive imagination. #MosqueMeToo is our skeleton in the closet”- Kali. (4)

It is quite clear from the above mentioned ghastly criminal acts that Islam has a chronic problem regarding sexual abuse of children and women.



(The author, Gaurav Tyagi, is a Master Degree holder in International Tourism & Leisure Studies from Netherlands and is based in China.)