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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

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

Israel and Palestine: Is there any hope for peace?

Israeli soldier confronts man during routine patrols in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

An Israeli soldier confronts a Palestinian man during routine patrols in the occupied West Bank.

(last updated 20 August 2013)

Is peace possible?

Israelis pound Gaza during recent fighting

Israeli rockets targeted Hamas fighters in Gaza during recent fighting. The killed and injured, though, included more than 100 civilians. Among them were many Palestinian children.

Given the most recent crisis between Gaza (Palestine) and Israel in which hundreds of men, women and children were either terrorized, wounded or killed, and given the fact that just last week official United Nations observer status was granted to a newly recognized state of Palestine, I consider this the most important blog post I’ve written since moving to the Middle East one year ago.

As wars and violence intensify in the Middle East, the search for an evenhanded settlement of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is all important. However, over the past more than 60 years of war, many of us have become unaware of the original root cause of the struggle.

Today, many believe, even if both sides are at fault, the Palestinians are irrational “terrorists” who have no point of view worth considering. But having met with numerous “stateless” Palestinians living in the Middle East, I believe that the Palestinians actually have wide-ranging grievances. Many Jews also agree. (Watch the short video by Jewish Voice for Peace at the bottom of this post.)

Principles of peace

The Geneva Initiative , also known as the Geneva Accord, is considered a “model permanent status agreement” to end the Israeli – Palestinian conflict based on previous official negotiations, international resolutions, the Quartet Roadmap, the Clinton Parameters, and the eventual Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 (endorsed by the Arab League and then Saudi Crown-Prince Abdullah).

Israeli citizen carries a sign calling for peace.

Israeli citizen carries a sign calling for peace.

Parameters of the accord were negotiated in secret for over 2 years before the 50-page document was officially publicly launched on December 1, 2003, at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland. The Geneva Initiative was perceived as a model permanent status agreement between the nation of Israel and Palestine. It also enjoyed, as well, the strong support of many non-government and interfaith organizations.

The accord was deemed a “comprehensive and unequivocal solution to all issues vital to ensuring the end of the conflict.” It was hoped that by adopting the agreement and implementing it there would be a resolution to the decades-old strife.

Among the principles included in the accord were:

  • End of conflict. End of all claims.
  • Mutual recognition of Israeli and Palestinian right to two separate states.
  • A final, agreed upon border.
  • A comprehensive solution to the refugee problem.
  • Large settlement blocks and most of the settlers are annexed to Israel, as part of a 1:1 land swap.
  • Recognition of the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and recognition of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
  • A demilitarized Palestinian state.
  • A comprehensive and complete Palestinian commitment to fighting terrorism and incitement.
  • An international verification group to oversee implementation.

Several US presidents, most notably Jimmy Carter (1978 Camp David Accord) and Bill Clinton (2000 Middle East Peace Summit), have sought to bolster the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. While progress has been made, none, however, have been ultimately successful.

Abass and Olmert shake hands as Bush

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (right) greets Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abass at the 2007 Annapolis Peace Conference.

Annapolis Peace Conference of 2007

In the final year of his eight years in office, then President George W. Bush sought to leave his mark on the Middle East peace process. On November 20, 2007, plans for the Annapolis Peace Conference were announced, and nations were invited to meet in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the peace process. The conference marked the first time both sides came to negotiations to agree upon a two-state solution. It was also the first time that a number of Arab states were invited to attend such a meeting.

The Annapolis Peace Conference was held on November 27, 2007, hosted by the United States Naval Academy. The goal of this peace conference was to produce a substantive document on resolving the ongoing Israeli – Palestinian conflict along the lines of the Bush administration’s Roadmap For Peace, eventually leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. A joint statement agreed upon by all parties was issued at the conclusion of the conference.

Within the next year, though, both Israel and Palestine would end the peace process as fighting ensued between Gaza and Israel.

A grassroots citizens’ initiative

During the Annapolis peace talks, as a member of the Annapolis City Council, I gave my support to an independent meeting of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists enjoined by Peace Action, the Annapolis Friends Peace & Justice Center and Annapolis mayor Ellen Moyer. We invited citizen representatives of Ramallah, Palestine, and Israeli citizens from Tel Aviv to help us develop a means of continuing a people-to-people dialogue for peace, using the principles of the Geneva Initiative as a framework and guide.

More and more Jews around the world are speaking up for the Palestinian people. Jews, too, are demanding freedom and democracy for the men, women and children of the Palestinian state.

More and more Jews around the world are speaking up for the Palestinian people. Jews, too, are demanding freedom and democracy for the men, women and children of the Palestinian state.

While these independent efforts have also not been successful, they have led to a revived effort by the Annapolis Friends Peace & Justice Center to establish a “tri-sister-city” relationship between Annapolis, Ramallah and a yet-to-be-decided Israeli city. This relationship, as envisioned, would lead to cultural interactions and student educational exchanges between the three cities in hopes of fostering greater understanding and discussions outside the entrapments of a political process.

The history of Israeli – Palestinian aggression

During the 1947 creation of the state of Israel, the homeland of the Palestinian people for more than a thousand years was taken from them by force. All subsequent crimes–on both sides–inevitably follow from this original injustice. Yet a peace process in the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued over the years despite the ongoing violence which has prevailed since the very beginning.

A new history entitled Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel, contains twenty-four chapters, offering an unprecedented set of biographies of members of the two communities. It tells the stories of construction workers, journalists, Holocaust survivors and others who have called the land home during the late Ottoman Empire, post-1948 and contemporary periods. The everyday lives and struggles, not merely of elites, but even more so of the “ordinary” people whose lives are rarely captured by scholars, opens new understandings of the history that has brought us to this point in the history of the agression on both sides.

By studying the past we better understand what might lead to co-existence with equal freedom, dignity and political, economic and social possibilities for both peoples.

Please take just a few minutes to watch the following short video recently produced by my friends at Jewish Voice for Peace. This documentary shows how the Israeli – Palestinian struggle has evolved over a period of 65 years.

If you have any concern about what’s happening in the Middle East, you owe it to yourself to watch and learn from this excellent production. Please share this blog post with your friends.

Sources: Jewish Voice for Peace, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, wikipedia.com, the United Nations

December 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments