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The fascinating history of Arab men’s apparel

Loia wedding in Jeddah

Traditional thobeshemagh and egal worn by friends attending Abdulhadi’s recent engagement party in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Dressing like a Saudi

Sam dressed in thobe and shemagh with egal at the national Saudi Janadriyah Festival.

Sam dressed in thobe and shemagh with egal at the Saudi National Janadriyah Festival.

I always wear the white Saudi thobe here in the Kingdom, and on very special occasions I wear the full Saudi attire. I don’t always get the shemagh positioned precisely correct, and sometimes I’m a bit embarrassed when my black egal falls off! (Hey! I have a great new idea! How about an egal with Velcro on the bottom to hold it in place?)

I recently wore this complete Saudi traditional outfit at the celebrated National Saudi Arabian Janadriyah Festival near Riyadh where I was the guest of the Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense. To my surprise, groups of Saudi young people recognized me as I walked through the grounds. Some would approach to practice their English and to shake my hand, and, on one occasion, there was a shout of appreciation in English, “Welcome, Uncle Sam! We love you!”

The white thobe

The thobe is a full-lenth garment commonly worn by men throughout the Arabian Peninsula. It is normally made of cotton, but heavier materials such as sheep’s wool can also be used, especially in the colder climates of Iraq and Syria. The most common color is pure white, but darker colors are sometimes worn during the cooler months.

The style of the thobe varies slightly from region to region. The long sleeves and the collar can be stiffened to give a more formal appearance.

Other names may be used for this garment. In Oman, dishdasha is the most common word used; in the UAE, the word kandura is used; in Jordan, it is called keffiyeh.

I always wear the thobe in Saudi Arabia. It fits the warm to very hot desert climate.

The shemagh head covering

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a white thobe is most often worn with a white skull cap and a head covering called a shemagh. All is generally considered essential clothing in every Saudi man’s wardrobe. The thobe and shemagh are generally requisite dress when visiting government buildings, attending formal gatherings like state functions, weddings, funerals, dinners or the weekly Friday jumah worship service at one’s local mosque.

The customary wearing of the shemagh began with the Bedouin tribes of old. Designs and colors have varied through the centuries. Like Scottish tartans with designs and colors for the various Scottish clans, colors and designs of the shemagh have often represented the various Arabian tribes. In Saudi Arabia the predominant design today is a red, checkered effect while an alternative solid white is also fashionable.

Friday jumah service at Tukwa Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Friday jumah service at Tukwa Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The shemagh historically has served many purposes. It is used to shade one’s head and neck from the desert sun, but it also many other practical uses, as I discovered when overnighting in the Arabian desert with friends. On windy nights it can be used to conceal the face from blowing desert sand and dust. It can also be worn as a neck scarf to retain heat during cold weather or rolled and worn in a turban style to absorb sweat during hotter, sunny days.

According to the English language daily Saudi Gazette, the shemagh has evolved into a symbol of manhood, particularly among Saudi teenagers who are sometimes expected to wait until they graduate from high school to wear an egal with their shemagh.

Thobes and shemaghs today brandish such names as Armani, Cardin, Gucci and other leading fashion houses. The very best handmade outfits sell for thousands of dollars. But, a custom made thobe in the Al Balad (Old Town) of Jeddah can be purchased for $100 or less, depending on material and quality.

A crowning touch–the Egal

The egal is the black, woven camel or sheep wool cord that is doubled and used to hold the shemagh in place. It has an interesting history, as I learned recently from a close friend in Riyadh. When milking or grooming a camel, Bedouin tribesmen used this black cord to pin the she-camel’s front right leg in order to keep her from moving. What more convenient place to keep the egal than on one’s head!

Today, not wearing the egal is considered by some of the more pious Muslims as a sign of humility, especially those who are devoted observers of the religious teachings of the sunnah; however,  most Saudis overcome their humility with pride of Arab tradition. In the short video below, an American tourist is instructed by a Jordanian in the many varied ways to wear his new shemagh.  

Sources: The Saudi Gazette, wikipedia.com, A History of Saudi Arabia, Sam’s friend Sheikh Rayan

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Arab lifestyle, Arabian Desert, Jeddah History, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Jeddah’s awe-inspiring Al Makkiyah mansion

The Angawi mansion in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is a center for study and dialogue.

The Angawi family mansion in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is a center for friendship and learning.

Al Makkiyah Carter

Former US President Jimmy Carter and US consulate staff listen as Dr. Sami Angawi speaks about Islamic art, science and history at Al Makkiyah. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Leaders come to Al Makkiyah

One of the most interesting private residences in Saudi Arabia is the home of well-known architect and historian Dr. Sami Angawi. Al Makkiyah mansion attracts leaders and visitors from around the world.

Angawi is an expert in Islamic architecture and is also outspoken about his faith, Islam. The house serves as a meeting place for individuals and groups seeking to communicate Middle Eastern culture to peoples and groups on other continents. He believes, however, that extremists are attempting hijack Islam. He and other Muslim leaders hope to maintain Islam’s core roots—balanced and moderate and more tolerant of people’s differences.

Angawi is known for his activism–especially his strong views about historic preservation in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Many significant sites of Islam have been destroyed under direct orders from radical religious leaders in an effort, they claim, to prevent idolatry or because of what they consider to be,the veneration of gravesites or relics. (See my story “Grandmother Eve’s grave.”)

Public lectures and concerts

The Angawi house is a cultural haven in Jeddah where his family and friends regularly host lectures, concerts and timely discussions, often on a weekly basis.

The design of this residence combines modern construction techniques with traditional crafts such as Turkish mosaic and Moroccan zillij. Red Sea coral reef stone, desert sandstone, marbles and granite are utilized throughout the exterior and interior.

Old-style natural ventilation techniques minimize the need for air-conditioning even at the peak of hot Arabian summers. A computerized drip-watering system feeds thousands of hanging plants that are an integral feature of both the central internal courtyard and the exterior ground and roof gardens.

The Islamic principle of sitr (ensuring privacy for neighbors as well as inhabitants of the house) is accomplished by using traditional rawasheen bay windows and intricate hand-carved Hijazi woodwork over the openings.

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Al Makkiyah will serve as the main campus of the Al Makkiyah/Al Mediniyah Institute for cross cultural studies.

Bridging nations and faiths

For decades Saudi Arabia has been generally considered a somewhat closed society, eager to protect its own traditions from external cultural influences.

While preservation of traditions is of great concern to Dr. Sami Angawi, his desire is balanced with a passion for building bridges between nations, cultures and faiths.

His architectural designs assert the importance of his HIjazi heritage with the common cultural heritage shared by both western and Islamic societies; believing that a “clash of civilizations” need not lead to misunderstanding, but rather friendship, trust and peace.

This concept of balance, known in Arabic as mizan, is the essence of Islamic tradition and of many of the world’s religious beliefs. The aspiration of Angawi to reflect this historic principle in his life and work is important. It has made him a leader in building bridges between the Middle East and the rest of the world. “More balance can be achieved through respect for the past,” Angawi says. “In our Al Makkiyah mansion, modernity and tradition, privacy and openness, stability and dynamism are equally represented to generate harmony.”

Hijazi culture influences the modern world

Dr. Sami Angawi shows guests the expansive inner courtyard of Al Makkiyah.

Dr. Sami Angawi leads guests through the expansive inner courtyard of Al Makkiyah.

Angawi is the founder of the renowned Hajj Research Center in Mecca and also the Amar Center for Architectural Heritage. He has dedicated his life to preserving the history and architecture of Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina; encouraging dialogue about Islam and cross-cultural collaboration and understanding between institutions and universities worldwide.

Angawi’s Hijaz ancestry can be traced back to the Mecca region along the central Red Sea coast. It is his lineage, dating back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed, that has formed his religious thought. “The Hijaz,” he says, “is the site of Islam’s holy places and the melting pot of the Muslim world. Millions of pilgrims from all over the world have traveled  annually for centuries to the region, enriching it with their traditions and ideas.”

Respect and compassion

Angawi believes that respect, solidarity and compassion are human values and inspiring principles for every culture and all faiths. “Being aware of these intrinsic similarities and stressing them is the only antidote to fear, bigotry and ignorance.”

In a 2011 interview with Arab News, Angawi said, “Al Makkiah represents a seed. I wish that one day we could have thousands Al Makkiyahs and establish a ‘United Nations of people,’ regardless of their race, color or beliefs.”

When Arab News challenged his concept as being Utopian, Angawi said he finds inspiration in water. “It is a powerful element, stronger than rocks, steel and diamonds. If it doesn’t reach the sea, water changes its status and comes back in other forms to achieve the goal.”

Al Makkiyah/Al Mediniyah Institute

Dr. Sami Angawi is now gathering an international board of intellectuals, activists and businessmen to create his legacy–an international institute offering degrees in Islamic history and science, the Al Makkiyah / Al Mediniyah Institute will provide courses in Islamic history, architecture and science.

The institute at Al Makkiyah will house Angawi’s more than 100 thousand photographs, drawings and writings about Islam and the two holy cities Mecca and Medina. The school will be a collaborative educational experience, providing American, Canadian and European students the opportunity to research Islam on location in the Hijaz–right where the faith has advanced over the past 1400 years.

Here’s a short video describing the Al Makkiyah mansion:

Sources: Arab News, wikipedia.com, Saudi Airlines, CNN, History of Architecture, BBC, Harun Yahya TV

August 25, 2013 Posted by | Archeology, Human Rights, Jeddah History, Music, Religious architecture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ascending the minaret–a childhood dream

Minarets tower over the world's mosques as powerful symbols of Islam's daily calls to prayer.

Minarets tower over the world’s mosques as powerful symbols of Islam’s five daily calls to prayer.

Dream come true

Today my friend Aidarous Al Mashhour drove me to the Khalil Mosque here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. After we prayed together at the mosque, Aidarous told the imam about my childhood dream—to climb to the top of a minaret.

The imam directed us to the caretaker of the mosque who was more than happy to unlock the door to the inner stairway of the minaret. After some ten minutes of climbing through very narrow openings I arrived at a balcony which encircles the upper section of the minaret. I was so happy to be able to look out over the city of Jeddah and to consider the hundreds of years of Islamic history that minaret represented..

Sam stands atop Jeddah's Khlil Mosque minaret.

Sam stands atop Jeddah’s Khalil Mosque minaret. (Click photos to enlarge.)

The history of this marvelous structure

The minaret is one of the most distinctive features of a mosque. It’s history is interesting, not just to Muslims, but also in the annals of architecture.

Remarkably, there are very few references to the minaret in Arabic literature.

The name itself is somewhat strange, and in no way represents the purpose for which these towers are built. The word in Arabic means “an object that gives light” ((Arabic nur, meaning “light”; hence mi-nur-rat or minaret). So, from the name itself one could wrongly conclude the minaret to be a type of “light house” or tower with a light on top.

Some suggest that the minaret gets its name from the light that the muadhin (“caller to prayer”) would hold as he recited the adhan (call to prayer). Others indicate that in some of the oldest mosques, such as the Great Mosque of Damascus, minarets doubled as illuminated watchtowers.

The earliest Islamic mosques had no minarets. The mosques built in the days of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca and Medina were very simple. There was nothing like a tower associated with these early houses of prayer and worship.

The call to prayer

Sam's friend Muadhin Shafik Zubir calls the faithful to prayer five times a day at Tuqwa Mosque near the Red Sea Promenade in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Sam’s friend Muadhin Shafik Zubir calls the faithful to prayer five times a day at Taqwa Mosque near the Red Sea promenade in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. The adhan is, for sure, one of the most characteristic, powerfully evocative symbols of Islam. This Arabic call to prayer, dramatically intoned by a muadhin from high atop a lofty minaret—once heard—it can never be forgotten!

The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, and is mentioned only once in the Qur’an, in connection with the Friday assembly:

“O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], leave your business and proceed to the remembrance of God. That is better for you, if you only knew” (Sura 62:9).

Muslim tradition explains how the adhan came to be used to announce the times of the five daily prayers.

After the emigration of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina (known as the Hijra) a believer named Abd Allah ibn Zaid had a vision in which he tried to buy a wooden clapper to summon people to prayer, as was the tradition of Christians living in Medina at that time. But the man who had the clapper advised him to call out to the people instead and to cry:

God is the greatest! God is the greatest!

I testify that there is no god but God.

I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.

Come to prayer! Come to prayer!

Come to salvation! Come to salvation!

God is the greatest! God is the greatest!

There is no god but God!

The Qutub Minor Mosque in New Delhi, India, has the world's  tallest brick minaret.

The Qutub Minor Mosque in New Delhi, India, has the world’s tallest brick minaret.

Bilal, Islam’s first “caller to prayer”

According to Ibn Ishaq, the eighth-century biographer of Prophet Mohammed, Ibn Zaid went to the Prophet with his story and Mohammed, having had a similar dream, agreed. He told Ibn Zaid to ask an Ethiopian believer named Bilal, who had a marvelous voice, to call the Muslims to prayer.

Early traditions indicate that Bilal made his call to prayer from the rooftop of the Prophet’s house, which doubled as a residence and a place for prayer and worship.

Indeed, no towers were used or mentioned. The ancient poet al Farazdak spoke of the adhan as being prounounced “on the wall of every city.” In the later hadiths it was said “the muadhin, if he is on the road, may make the call to prayer while riding; he need not halt.”

(Note: Below, I have put a short, stirring video of the call to prayer being made from the minarets of Jeddah. Listen to it.)

First mentions of minarets

The first time a minaret is referenced in connection with the mosque was in Medina–some 80 years after the Prophet Mohammed’s passing.

The massive minaret of the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia is the oldest standing minaret. Its construction began during the early 8th century and was completed in 836 CE. Its imposing square-plan tower consists of three sections of decreasing size reaching 31.5 meters (103 feet). Considered as the prototype for minarets of the western Islamic world, it served as a model for many minarets to come.

The tallest minaret, at 210 metres (689 ft), is located adjacent the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. The tallest brick minaret is the Qutub Minar in Delhi, India.

Perhaps you heard recently about the 12th-century Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. It was a UN World Heritage Site. Sadly, its ancient minaret was completely obliterated a few months ago during a battle of the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

The minaret’s design

Minarets basically consist of three parts: a base, shaft, and the tower gallery. For the base, the ground is excavated until a hard foundation is reached. Gravel and other supporting materials may be used as a foundation.

The crescent moon adorns the tops of many mosques.

The crescent moon adorns the tops of many mosques.

Minarets may generally tapered upward, square, cylindrical, or polygonal (faceted). Stairs circle the shaft in a counter-clockwise fashion, providing the necessary structural support to the decidedly elongated shaft.

The gallery is a balcony which encircles the upper sections from which the muadhin may give the call to prayer. It is usually covered by a roof-like canopy and adorned with ornamentation, such as decorative brick and tile work, cornices, arches and inscriptions, with the transition from the shaft to the gallery typically sporting muqarnas (collections of small corbels that form a transition from one plane to another). Formerly plain in style, a minaret’s place in time can be determined by its level of embellishment.

The symbolic moon

The crescent moon, sometimes combined with a star, often tops the minaret. This symbol was often used by the late Turkish Ottoman Empire; however, its not the official symbol of Islam.

In many nations; however, it remains a generally accepted symbol of Islam in much the same way the Star of David represents Judaism or as the cross is representative of Christianity.

The crescent moon points to God’s awesome creation. We read in the Qur’an, “Surely your Lord is none other than God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then ascended His Throne; Who causes the night to cover the day and then the day swiftly pursues the night; Who created the sun and the moon and the stars making them all subservient to His command. Lo! His is the creation and His is the command. Blessed is God, the Lord of the universe” (Qur’an 7:54-58). A similar sentiment is echoed by the prophet King David in the Psalms, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-5).

The crescent moon is not, as some Islamophobic individuals continue to wrongly assert, a “secret Muslim moon god”! The Qur’an forbids the worship of idols of any kind. “And from among His signs are the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. Do not bow down (prostrate) to the sun nor to the moon, but only bow down (prostrate) to God Who created them, if you (really) worship Him” (Qur’an 41:37).

Watch this short BBC report on Jeddah’s mosques and the call to prayer:

Sources: The Oxford History, wikipedia.com , Saudi Aramco World, BBC, CNN, Architectural History

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Jeddah History, Religious architecture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grandmother Eve — buried in Saudi Arabia?

Sam stands at the old entrance to Ummuna Hawwa (Eve's Cemetery).

Sam stands at the old entrance to Maqbara Ummuna Hawwa (Mother Eve’s Cemetery) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Eve’s tomb in Jeddah

It is believed by some Muslims that Eve, the Mother of Humanity, was buried in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While there is no absolute archaeological evidence old enough to authenticate the story of Eve’s burial here, the legend persists.

Some say that the city’s name, when pronounced as “Jaddah” — an Arabic word that means grandmother — is a reference to Eve. No one really knows how the story originated, and some in this Red Sea port city dismiss it as merely a myth. However, there is empirical evidence (references) dating back at least 1,200 years.

“It’s a legend, but it is one mentioned by many scholars,” says Sami Nawar, Jeddah’s general director for the city’s Culture and Tourism Department. Nawar, an expert on the history of Old Jeddah, likes to lace a bit of the legend into his presentations on the city to visiting foreign dignitaries and journalists.

The creation story

All Abrahamic holy books (the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an) say that Adam and Eve were the first members of the human race–created by God to dwell on earth.

In the first book of the Bible one reads, “And God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:25-28).

Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that Adam and Eve lived in Paradise (the Garden of Eden or heaven) before their fall from grace. After Eve ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree and gave some of the fruit to Adam, who also ate it, then the story goes that “their eyes were opened” so they immediately understood the difference between good and evil. God then banished them from Paradise.

In the Qur’an we read, “And We said, ‘O Adam, dwell you and your wife in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.’ But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said ‘Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time’” (Al-Baqarah 35 and 36).

Early origins of the legend

Eve's tomb as drawn by 1984.

Tomb of Eve, drawing found in Pélerinage á la Mecque et á Medine by Saleh Soubhi, Cairo, 1894.

It appears that the earliest documented mention of Eve’s tomb being in Jeddah is by the Arab historian and astronomer Abū Muḥammad Al Hamdani (c. 893-945) who states it had been related that Adam was in Mina Valley, to the east of Jeddah, when he felt a yearning to visit Eve–that Eve had come from Jeddah, and that he found her to the East of Mina Valley on Mt. Arafat.

The renowned British explorer, geographer and ethnologist Sir Richard Francis Burton  (1821 – 1890) makes mention of Eve’s Jeddah burial site in his English translation of the classic work One Thousand and One Nights (in English most commonly known as The Arabian Nights).  

Conservative Islamic influence

Many non-Muslims, especially Jews and Christians, fail to appreciate just how diverse and varied Islam can be. Just as with Christianity or Judaism, there are things you can say that apply to all or most adherents of Islam, but there are many more things which only apply to a particular group of Muslims. This is especially true when it comes to Muslim fundamentalism; because Wahhabi Islam, the primary religious movement behind fundamentalist Islam, includes beliefs and doctrines not found elsewhere.

It would be a mistake and unethical to be critical of all Muslims on the basis of doctrines particular to Wahhabi Muslims. Modern Islamic fundamentalism and movements cannot be explained or understood without looking at the history and influence of Wahhabi Islamic teaching. This means that it’s important from an academic perspective to understand what Wahhabi Islam teaches and why those teachings differ from other branches of Islam.

Eve's tomb c. 1908.

A photograph of Eve’s tomb c. 1908. The tomb attracted historians and tourists from around the world.

The First Saudi State was founded in 1744. This period was marked by conquest of neighboring areas and by religious zeal. At its height, the First Saudi State included most of the territory of modern-day Saudi Arabia, and raids by Al Saud’s allies and followers reached into Yemen, Oman, Syria, and Iraq. Islamic Scholars, particularly Muhammad ibn Abdul Al Wahhab (1703 to 1792) and his descendants, are believed to have played a significant role in Saudi rule during this period. The Saudis and their allies referred to themselves during this period as the Muwahhidun (“the unitarians”) or Ahl al-Tawhid (“the monotheists”).

The fundamentalist teachings taught by Al Wahhab positioned him in history as the first modern Islamic fundamentalist. I’m told that Al Wahhab made the central point of his reformation movement the principle that just about every idea added to Islam after the third century of the Muslim era (about 950 AD) was false and should be eliminated. Al Wahhab and his followers taught that Muslims must adhere solely and strictly to the original beliefs set forth by the Prophet Muhammad.

The reason for this extremist stance and the focus of Al Wahhab’s reform efforts, was a number of popular practices which he believed represented a regression to pre-Islamic idol worship. These included praying to saints, making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques, venerating trees, certain caves and stone monuments and establishing certain forms of ritual worship.

Eve tomb today

Still named Mother Eve’s Cemetery, nothing remains of Eve’s tomb. Today only unmarked graves exist.

The destruction of Eve’s tomb

The February 27, 1928, issue of Time magazine, describes how Eve’s tomb was destroyed: “To His Majesty Ibn Saud, warlike Sultan of Nejd and King of the Hejaz, came tidings last week of his flourishing son the Amir Faisal, 19-year-old Viceroy of the Hejaz. The tidings were conveyed 500 miles by motor caravan from the Red Sea town of Jidda in the Hejaz, to the Sultan’s inland capital, Riyadh, in Nejd.”

It was announced in the 19-year-old’s “tidings,” “There was it made known that the enlightened son & Viceroy had finally caused to be obliterated that notorious imposture, ‘The Tomb of Mother Eve,’ at Jidda (Jeddah).”

By 1975 even the ground of Eve’s legendary burial site was sealed in concrete to prevent pilgrims from paying homage or praying there.

Today, the cemetery is a row of unmarked tombs, and there’s nothing to indicate Eve’s tomb has been there. Wahhabi beliefs forbid the marking of tombs and graves.

William Dever, a professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at the University of Arizona and a prominent U.S. archaeologist, was asked about  Eve’s tomb by the Associated Press a few years ago. He said there just is not any archaeological evidence going back far enough to back up the legend of Eve’s burial site.

“There are lots of traditional tombs of saints of various kinds in the Middle East,” he added. “But they are never excavated or investigated scientifically.”

Asked if he had heard of any other final resting place for Eve in the Middle East, Dever said, “No. There are tombs of Abraham all over the place, but I don’t honestly know in Israel or the West Bank or Jordan of any Eve tomb in these places.”

A few pilgrims still come

Thousands of tourists and religious pilgrims still come to see what's left of Mother Eve's Cemetery.

Thousands of tourists and religious pilgrims still come to see what’s left of Mother Eve’s Cemetery.

Pilgrims from around the world continue to visit the graveyard named Ammuna Hawwa (Arabic for “Our Mother Eve”).

As I was standing at the entrance of the cemetery yesterday, two tourist buses pulled up. Tour guides made brief speeches about Eve’s burial place, and the buses pulled away.

Dr. Sami Angawi, an architect and historian in Saudi Arabia who has been a long-standing critic of the lack of preservation of historic artifacts and monuments, says, “Tombs are not preserved in Saudi Arabia, and visiting graves is not encouraged as Wahhabists believe that they could lead to Bedaa – a frowned upon invention that undermines the orthodoxy of Islam.” Dr. Angawi says, during the past 80 years historic artifacts and sites have been dug up and thrown out, not only in Jeddah, but also in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

“Eve’s tomb,” he says, “is now just a flat hole among a graveyard of unmarked tombs.”

“All we have left is the legend,” he says with disappointment.  “But that legend will live on and be passed on to future generations.”

In the following short CNN video, Dr. Angawi says all eyes remain on the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina that are constantly under assault:

Sources:  The Bible, The Qur’an, Arab News, Time Magazine, Wikipedia.com, Sir Richard Burton’s English translation of One Thousand One Nights, the Associated Press, The National (UAE), USA Today, CNN International News

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Jeddah History, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saudi Arabian falconry–an amazing UN World Heritage Sport

Falconry has a long history stretching from ancient Mongolia to Europe and the Middle East.

Falconry has a long history stretching from ancient Mongolia to Europe and the Middle East.

Sam is introduced to "Sushan," a Bedouin hunting falcon.

Sam is introduced to “Shuja,” a Bedouin hunting falcon.

“Shuja” pays me a visit

Abdulla Al Ghamdi and two of my Saudi Bedouin military friends, brothers Majed and Fahad Olayan, dropped by my office a couple of days ago for a surprise visit with their Saker falcon “Shuja” (Arabic for courageous or brave).  “Shuja” is being trained for hunting rabbits in the nearby deserts.

The falcon, among birds known as “raptors” or “birds of prey,” has amazingly acute vision and can identify prey at a distance of several kilometres. It can fly at speeds of over 100 km per hour, approaching 200 km per hour during dives.

The art of falconry is a big deal here in Saudi Arabia, with well-trained birds selling for thousands of dollars.

Hunting with birds of prey

Falconry has been practiced in many forms for thousands of years by many cultures.  Some specialists place falconry’s origins somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 BC in the plains of Mongolia. Other historians believe that the practice could be much older, with its beginnings in the deserts of the Middle East, particularly here on the Arabian Peninsula.

Wherever it began, falconry, which was originally used for subsistence and not sport, was well established in both Asia and the Middle East by 2,000 BC, and gradually made its way westward to Greece, Italy and eventually to Medieval Europe.

European falconry

Beginning in the early 6th century and extending through the Middle Ages, the popularity of falconry (or “hawking”) surged in Europe. It was the sport of royalty for centuries. The possession of falcons and other birds of prey was considered a status symbol.

And talking about regulation, get this! By the 17th century in England, falconry came to be governed by a strict set of customs called the Laws of Ownership, which dictated the birds of prey that were permitted to be flown by citizens of various social ranks. For example, a king could fly a gyrfalcon; a duke, a rock falcon; an earl, a peregrine; a yeoman, a goshawk; and a servant, a kestrel.

During the reign of Edward III, 1327-77, stealing a trained raptor was punishable by death.

Falconry is believed by many to have been a part of Arabian Bedouin life for thousands of years. These ancient birds of prey are still used for hunting rabbits and desert quail.

Saudi falconry today

Once the pastime of the rich, falconry now continues as a highly structured sport that demands a lot of time and serious commitment. For some Bedouins it remains a primary method of hunting rabbits and other desert animals.

Saudi birds are generally bred in captivity and when hunting, often have a small radio transmitter attached under the tail for tracking.

Training a falcon is time-consuming and requires enormous patience since the falconer must carry the bird on his arm for several hours each day. That might be possible for the Bedouin, but try fitting that into a regular 21st century work schedule!

The falcon hunting season here in Saudi Arabia is from October to March. The two most popular falcons are the Saker and the Peregrine. The Saker is valued both for its outstanding beauty and for its ability to withstand adverse weather conditions. Because the Saker completes its annual moult early, it can start hunting in October, while the Peregrine may not have sufficient feathers until January.

Nothing compares to God’s falcon

In the Old Testament (Torah) book of Job there is a reference to the keen sight of this wondrous raptor, “No bird of prey knows that hidden path, no falcon’s eye has seen it.”

The celebrated 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, in his work “Mathnawi,” wrote, “The falcon made the king’s hand his joy, and became indifferent to the search for carrion. All animals from the gnat to the elephant are of the family of God and depend on Him for sustenance. What a sustainer is God!”

The motion picture industry has championed films like The Maltese Falcon and Day of the Falcon. And in America we have our Atlanta Falcons football team. Oregon has it’s Falcon Cove. The US Air Force has its Falcon F-16 and Raptor F-22 fighter jets. But certainly no man-made imaginary compares to God’s incredible creation of this eagle-eyed, warp-speed hunter of the Arabian Peninsula.

The United Nations has proclaimed falconry a World Heritage Sport. Watch this short video I found on YouTube about this popular Saudi sport:

November 13, 2012 Posted by | Animal Rights, Arabian Desert, Geography, Jeddah History, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments