Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the expansion of the mataaf of the Grand Mosque in Mecca — the area in which pilgrims circumabulate the Kaaba — is nearly finished. Pilgrims will be able to walk around the Kaaba on three levels, greatly increasing the number who can partake in the ritual at the same time. The three levels will be finished by Ramadan, the report says, with only the roof needing completion. That will be done by next year.
Expanded mataaf to be ready for Haj
Khalid Al-Himaidi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
MAKKAH — The new mataaf (the circumambulation area) in the Grand Mosque will have a capacity to handle 105,000 pilgrims an hour, according to a senior official.
Sultan Al-Qurashi, General Director of Projects at the General Presidency of Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque Affairs, said the expansion of the Grand Mosque project is in its third and final stage.
“Once the project finishes, pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque will be able to circumambulate around the Kaaba on three floors: the basement, ground floor and first floor. These three floors will be ready by Ramadan. We are also opening the roof which will be ready by the next Haj season,” said Al-Qurashi.
An interesting op-ed in Saudi Gazette from Khaled Batarfi. He discusses Islamic banking, finance, etc. with Pr. Mohammed Al-Faisal and learns that while there are economic tools in use across the Islamic world, there is no underlying theory about an “Islamic economy.” Worth reading.
‘Islamic Economy is a baseless theory’
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
WHEN I asked Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal, the pioneer of Islamic Banking, about the concept, he explained: “What we have today is a baseless theory.
You can’t have a comprehensive economic theory devoid of social justice. The implied question here is: How can we build an economy to serve society?
“That is what I have been concentrating on lately, trying, without much success, to motivate economists and religious scholars to do due research,” the founder of Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal Award for Islamic Economy Research, complains.
“Some think Islamic Banking represent Islamic Economy. But we must realize the difference between a) the financial services and b) the general economic theories controlling them.
“I am not knowledgeable enough to conduct such research. Experts and scholars in economic and Islamic fields should gather to formulate a unified basis and set of principles defining the philosophies of Islamic Economy,” he recommends.
Following a change in law created family courts and that granted divorced women rights of guardianship over their children, among other things, the courts have been flooded with cases. Saudi Gazette reports that 84,000 cases have been filed in the seven months since the courts were established. Disputes over alimony and child custody seem to make up the largest number of cases.
Family courts looking into 84,000 alimony and custody lawsuits
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — Nearly 84,000 lawsuits concerning alimony and child custody have been filed since family courts were established in the Kingdom about seven months ago, the Justice Ministry announced.
It said 43,000 of these cases pertained to alimony claims and 41,000 were regarding child custody disputes between parents.
Riyadh, with 1,122 cases, topped all other cities in alimony lawsuits followed by Jeddah, which had 768 cases and then Makkah with 394 cases.
Riyadh also topped other cities in child custody cases with 1,046, followed by Jeddah’s 764 cases and Makkah with 473 cases.
A source at the Jeddah Family Affairs Court said most family lawsuits involved men who refused to pay alimony to their ex-wives or prevented them from visiting their children.
Saudi Arabia has a housing shortage. Part of this is due to the population boom the country has seen over the past decades. As more people mature and start up families, they want housing. But another factor is that many landowners prefer to hold their property until they see a maximum profit coming from it. A result of this is that there’s a lot of unproductive land, sitting vacant, that could be used to build housing.
To address this latter issue, the Saudi Cabinet of Ministers is proposing a tax on unused land. This would mean that it would become more expensive to just sit on an investment. Instead of accruing value, the unused land would end up costing the owner. For some, this would be sufficient incentive to sell the land to others who would put it to productive use. For some, it might encourage them to find productive uses on their own, including the building of housing.
Imposition of tax on vacant plots of land hailed
Fatima Muhammad |Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — The Cabinet decision to impose tax on vacant land plots, locally known as “white lands,” has won plaudits from several sections of the society.
The Cabinet, at its regular meeting on Monday, accepted the recommendation of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) and decided to impose the tax on vacant lands in urban areas in all cities.
The Cabinet also tasked the CEDA to prepare a mechanism to implement and organize the system. The CEDA will submit its proposals to the Council of Ministers which will then send it to the Shoura Council for approval.
Essam Al-Zamil, an economic columnist, who has been actively tweeting on the issue of “white lands” and their reflection on increased real estate prices said Monday that he believes that the Cabinet decision must be a happy news for all Saudis as their dream of owning a house could now be realized.
The Saudi justice system, often decried as harsh and even barbaric, has its elements of mercy as well, a story in The New York Times reports.
A serious issue with the system is that it is erratic. The same crime, adjudged in different courts by different judges, can result in widely varying sentences. Much depends on the sensibilities and sensitivities of the sitting judge. Uncodified laws and the lack of a requirement to rely on legal precedent can result in wide disparities in results.
This is a factor taken into consideration by appeals courts and, ultimately, the King who can issue pardons.
But there are also mechanisms through which the harshest penalties can be avoided. The story reports on just such a case, involving a clear case of murder, in which the miscreant’s life was spared by the daughter of the victim.
If nothing else, the article does a good job of portraying the complexity of a system based on tradition, custom, and religious law.
Saudi Justice, Harsh but Able to Spare the Sword
BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — The murder that almost cost Bandar al-Yehiya his head started with an old debt to a close friend.
Struggling to raise the cash, Mr. Yehiya invited the friend to his home and offered him a rifle as payment. But when the friend refused, Mr. Yehiya got angry and shot him in the chest, leaving him dead on the living room couch, the slain man’s brother, Faleh al-Homeidani, said.
Mr. Yehiya confessed to the murder, so under Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, he would face the punishment that has made Saudi justice notorious around the world: beheading in the public square.
But the execution never happened.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system is regularly condemned by human rights groups for violating due process, lacking transparency and applying punishments like beheading and amputation. Criticism has grown as Saudi cases have made news abroad: a liberal blogger caned for criticizing religious leaders; activists jailed for advocating reform; a woman held without charge for more than two months for driving a car.
The American Embassy and Consulates are back to work following their closure on security concerns over the past week. Arab News reports:
US missions resume consular services
RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN
The US diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia will resume full consular services on Sunday, following a weeklong closure amid reports of “heightened security concerns” against Western targets.
The opening of the US Embassy and its consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran was confirmed by Stewart Wight, a spokesman of the US Embassy, on Saturday.
Speaking to Arab News, Wight said: “The US Embassy and its consulates will offer regular consular services as of March 22.”
The embassy has announced that the consular section will resume services for American citizens and will be functioning as usual for both Americans and non-Americans.
In many conservative Muslim states, men do not talk to women other than their relatives. They may not even shake hands with them. Foreign male diplomats are taught to wait to see if a woman extends her hand for a shake before extending their own. Female diplomats are taught to not even bother if the interlocutor is male.
Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh in which the writer — a Saudi woman — points out to the patent unfairness and illegality of the way government officials (and others) refuse to deal directly with women, insisting that only males enter their offices (or office buildings). Some refuse to speak with women even on the phone. Or how some doctors will speak only to males in discussing medical concerns of patients… even if the woman is the patient.
It’s truly a backward approach to life and one the Saudis are going to have to come to terms with if they’re not going to continue leaving themselves open to complaints and criticisms like those made by the Swedish Foreign Minister.
‘Sorry, I don’t talk to women’
Dr. Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi | Al-Riyadh
I added the word “sorry” to the title of this article even though government officials do not normally bother to use this word. I have previously written regarding how women are not allowed to enter government buildings and are forced to stand outside on the street. I now intend to discuss how government officials treat women once they manage to enter government offices.
I know of a woman who went to a hospital with her husband. The hospital’s management subsequently asked her to leave because women are not allowed to stay the night with their husbands. Only male family members can do so. This woman asked the consultant to keep her posted on her husband’s health. He, however, refused to speak to her in person or over the phone, and said he would only talk with male family members. He insisted on dealing with her like this even though what he was doing was against the rights of patients.
Another example is that of a mother who called her son’s school to ask how well he was doing. The teacher refused to talk to her and said he would only to talk to the child’s father. What if this woman were widowed or divorced?
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that Saudi businesswomen are finding a place in Riyadh, with over 72,000 of them owning their own companies.
72,494 women-owned businesses in Riyadh
Hazim Al-Mutairi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — According to the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the number of registered businesses owned by women in the city reached 72,494.
The Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Women’s Committee, the British Embassy and the British Cultural Council organized the Women and Entrepreneurship Forum where foreign embassies and other committees at the chamber engaged in dialogue on the future and opportunities of women businesses in Riyadh.
An interesting op-ed in Asharq Alawsat from former Editor-in-Chief Tariq Alhomayed. In it, he complains about how media (and others) use names to identify both individuals and groups. It’s a problem of long standing, not just in today’s contexts. Do you use the name the subject uses for self-identification or do you use something else, perhaps assigned for political or other reasons? Who gets to do the naming? And what of the consequences of name that carry emotional or political baggage?
He doesn’t really offer any good solutions, but identifying the fact that names are not just some neutral tag is useful. It might help journalists (and others) to think about names, but it doesn’t offer any useful argument or conclusions on how to deal with the conundrum.
Opinion: Abu Who?
One can only be shocked and surprised by the way the Arab media has been reporting on terrorism and terrorists. Most recently we had the story of the Australian teenager Jake Bilardi, aged 18, who is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq’s central city of Ramadi on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
What is shocking to me is that the majority of Arab media used this teen’s chosen kunya (an Arabic teknonymic naming convention) of Abu Abdullah Al-Australi (meaning “Father of Abdullah the Australian” in Arabic) in their reports, rather than describing him as what he actually was, namely “the terrorist Jake Bilardi.” Here we must ask ourselves: Is it so important for the media to respect the protocols and naming conventions of terrorists and terrorist groups? Must we ensure that the chosen name of a terrorist is used and repeated again and again until it becomes infamous?
Should we allow terrorists and terrorist groups to promote themselves in our media in this manner? Doesn’t the media have a duty to take a position on this issue? The media, by its very nature, is biased to one degree or another—regardless of claims to neutrality. So a killer must be described as a killer; a criminal as a criminal; and the same applies to a terrorist, even a teenage one.
Today, for example, we find some media outlets describing ISIS as the “Islamic State” or the “Islamic State group.” While other news outlets describe them in the same manner, but make sure to add the term “militant” or “radical” to the mix. But, by adding this description—or shall we say classification—do these latter media outlets inadvertently stumble into the realm of propaganda?
What about the media outlets or governments that insist on using the Arabic acronym of the group and call them “Daesh”? Is this better or worse, particularly when we know that ISIS itself does not approve of this name?
Arab News reports that Saudis are getting married at a slower rate and older ages. While the article focuses on women, it notes that men, too, are delaying marriage until they can afford it. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but there’s concern that this delay may affect the reproduction rate as women pass their most fertile years.
Poor job prospects and unemployment, coupled with the grotesque costs involved in marriage ceremonies are cited as major causes for the delays.
As delaying the age of marriage for both young men and women in the Kingdom has become more common, experts say the number of unmarried women has increased in recent years.
The number has grown 15 times in comparison to 1995, according to official statistics. The Kingdom is thus in second place among countries in which the percentage of single people has increased over the past two decades.
Delaying the age of marriage and the growing number of single women are undoubtedly closely linked, experts say. While many young people choose to delay marriage until they are socially and psychologically ready, many women find themselves in situations where their chances of marriage have significantly narrowed.
Among the several reasons that lead to a delay in marriage are the higher costs of living and greater financial responsibilities, says economist Dr. Salem Bajajah. Many young men are unable to afford property and meet household costs and so choose to work longer and accumulate more money.
Arab News reports that Saudi society is starting to look at names, naming, and the way some parents take out their emotions through giving their children obnoxious names. While it often seems that Saudis are working from a limited list of names — so few names show up so often — there are actually many. Some are family names; others come from various periods of Islamic history. But some are given to children because they’re born the wrong sex (i.e., female) or because their fathers, who are usually responsible for naming, are acting out some personal drama.
The article says that the Saudi government is seeking to make it easy for people to change awkward or embarrassing names or those that would leave them open to mockery and ridicule.
The names of newborns in Saudi Arabia has changed greatly in recent years due to increased cultural openness and the spread of knowledge within society. Unusual or rare names have been reduced due to the work of authorities across the Kingdom who have enacted regulations to curb exotic or strange names.
The most circulated names in the Kingdom include Mohammad, Fahd, Abdullah, Abdulrahman, Turki, Bandar, Omar, Ali, Fatima, Aisha, Nora, Hessa, Sheikha, and Maha.
Parents are no longer calling their children a variety of odd names, including Rashash (a gun machine), Zaqam (to do with the mouth) and Najar for boys, as well as Faziah (one who is afraid) and Mureibah (fearful) for girls.
Nowadays parents can find dictionaries for names in most bookshops and libraries in order to help them choose good names that suit their preferences.
The Saudi government is pushing its efforts to get more Saudi into jobs. Now, according to this Arab News report, it is seeking to “Saudize” jobs in the public transport system, from spare parts to the manufacturing of of buses and trains.
The Saudi preference for white-collar jobs, behind a desk, is well-known. Of course, it’s not just Saudis who hold this preference: Americans, too, share it and parents do not urge their children to take jobs where their hands might get dirty. This is reflected in the explosion of universities and the decline of technical and trade schools. The Saudi government is trying to fight against this, however, by barring foreign workers from entire categories of labor. The transitions don’t always go smoothly (an attempt some ten years ago to have only Saudis working in the gold souks didn’t pan out well, for instance). But by showering governmental approval on manual labor, there’s hope that attitudes can be changed.
Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who is also the chairman of the ministerial supervisory committee on public transport, has ordered all contracts for the public transport system (including metro and buses) in Makkah, Jeddah and Taif to incorporate a clause for the Saudization of the public transport industries, all the way from spare parts workers through to the manufacturing phase.
The governor directed a meeting with members of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) in Jeddah, calling for the establishment of spare part factories in the province.
“The sector should provide job opportunities to Saudi youth, enabling the province and its population to benefit from all major projects. These should also serve as a source of income for them and their families, especially as the national work force is a major pillar of the comprehensive and sustainable development of any country,” he said.
SAGIA members gave a presentation to the prince on the Saudization of the public transport industry, emphasizing the construction of transportation equipment and operating machinery by Saudi people.