Hana Abdullah Alomair, Saudi film director

30/05/20

Hana Abdullah Alomair

Hana Abdullah Alomair is the director of Netflix’s first Saudi thriller original series, titled “Whispers,” which is due to begin streaming in 190 countries on June 11.

A Saudi writer, filmmaker, and movie critic, Alomair won the Silver Palm Tree Award for best script at the Saudi Film Competition in 2008.

She gained a bachelor’s degree in Arabic-English translation from King Saud University in 1992 and four years later a master’s degree in the same field of study from Heriot-Watt University, in Scotland.

Her documentary “Beyond Words” was screened during the Gulf Film Festival in 2019 and was selected for the main competition in this year’s Muscat International Film Festival.

A member of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, she has worked as a head writer in writing workshops for several TV series. She was a jury member at the Saudi Film Festival held by Rotana in 2013. Her second
flick, “The Complaint,” was selected in the main competition of Tessa’s Festival for Asian and African Films in Morocco in 2014 and it won the Golden Palm
Tree Award for best short fiction film in the Saudi Film Competition in 2015.

In 2016, Alomair, together with Hind Al-Fahhad, scooped the prize for best script for the short film “Peddlers” at the King Fahd Center Short Film Competition.

She recently published a book about the Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, and in 2017 wrote a play called “Qat Oqat.”

Last year, she wrote and directed her latest short film “Swan Song,” which won the Golden Palm Tree Award for best actor in the Saudi Film Festival.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Julnar Osama Al-Bitar, Saudi news anchor

25/05/20

Julnar Osama Al-Bitar

Julnar Osama Al-Bitar is a successful political news anchor, an honorary member of the International Union of Economists and Managers in the European Union (IUEMEU), and a member of the woman and family committee at the Arab Road Safety Organization.

Al-Bitar received her bachelor’s degree in public administration from King Abdul Aziz University in 2012. Five years later, she joined the Al-Ekhbariya satellite TV channel. She progressed in her career from a correspondent covering the Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab and Islamic summits to program host in 2016. She became a news bulletin reader in 2017.

She has participated in training courses from leading industry bodies such as the Dubai-based Focus Academy for Consulting, Training & Media Development.

She has also been coached by renowned Arab broadcasters such as Al-Arabiya’s Hasan Muawad who, in 2019, trained her on how to conduct political interviews.

Al-Bitar took part in the launch of the Arab Women Charter Project and the naming of Arab family ambassadors, held in Dubai in 2017. She has been a member of the organizing and preparatory committee in different workshops aiming to promote road safety.

Al-Bitar has overseen a number of discussion sessions, including her participation at Diriyah Season as well as the fourth conference for Arab youth initiatives and social responsibility held last November in Unaizah, Qasim.

Al-Bitar, who is also a member of the Regional Network for Social Responsibility, has received awards for her media contributions, including one from the IUEMEU and the Sheikha Lamia bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa’s award for her distinctive humanitarian contributions.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Regional CSR Network selects Princess Hind as global ambassador

25/05/20

Princess Hind bint Abdulrahman Al-Saud. (Social media)

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Tolerance for Judaism and Christianity at the heart of Islam, MWL chief says

23/05/20

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL d)uring his visit to the Church of Notre Dame in Paris. (Supplied)
  • Sheikh Mohammed Al-Issa, MWL secretary-general, discusses Islam’s relationship with other faiths
  • Al-Issa says Islam respects other religions and guarantees the rights of all people to religious choice

NEW YORK CITY: “The Qur’an instructed Muslims to be righteous and benevolent to non-Muslims as long as they are peaceful and do not attack you or fight you. Muslims treated well the Jews who refused to enter Islam, starting with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, until our time,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), a leading religious Muslim nongovernmental organization based in Makkah.

Sheikh Al-Issa has been leading by example since taking up that position in 2016, tirelessly traveling the world, forging relationships — with governments, religious institutions (including the Vatican) and NGOs (including the American Sephardi Federation and the American Jewish Committee) — and announcing historic initiatives to counter extremism, guarantee religious freedom and improve human welfare.

Most recently, Al-Issa called on members of different religions to unite against the COVID-19 pandemic, stating: “We want Muslims and all other citizens to be aiding one another in this time of common challenge, without discrimination for religion or race, for gender or ethnicity.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL). (AN Photo/Ziyad Alarfaj)

MWL today is drastically different than the organization it was even five years ago, when it was still an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite Al-Issa’s exemplary humanitarian, educational and outreach efforts all over the world, including with Jewish communities, some remain skeptical about MWL’s agenda and Islam’s doctrinal teachings concerning other religions.

They variously claim that the essence of the religion eschews equal treatment for non-converts and that any attempts to disassociate from controversial interpretations is merely whitewashing, and they have tried to tie MWL’s actions to regional politics. Such criticisms are sorely mistaken.

In an exclusive interview, Al-Issa addressed these issues and other controversial topics forthrightly.

The question of how a religion that proselytizes can be respectful of other religions and their members who do not convert is nothing new. Christian missionaries used to convert Jews under duress.

Today, non-violent groups such as “Jews for Jesus” use persuasion, not torture, but concerns linger about the targeting and manipulation of vulnerable individuals who lack Jewish education.

Does Islam have some unique issues that Christianity does not? Concerns are understandably compounded by the images of Islamist and terrorist organizations indoctrinating their followers and converts through deception or force.

Al-Issa responded that most religions except Judaism practice proselytization. That fact does not inherently signify a lack of respect, nor mean that practitioners of various religions should be locked in an illogical and endless struggle.

“We, as Muslims, respect, love, understand, cooperate, coexist and tolerate everyone. Our historically documented and verified actions demonstrate this, and in the Muslim World League we have played a major role in this aspect, pursuant to our Islamic values,” said Al-Issa.

Dr. Al-Issa during his European tour. (Supplied)

“With our Jewish brothers, we concluded agreements and mutual cooperation, and we love them and respect them greatly, far from the problems of politics, as our principle is not to interfere in politics.”

Al-Issa emphasized that it is permissible to engage in normal business and friendly relations with members of other faiths, including Jews, as was the case in the Prophet Muhammad’s time.

Political disagreements are separate from religious precepts. Moreover, he added, Islam considers Jews and Christians to be Peoples of the Book who are accorded privileges in jurisprudential proceedings.

At the same time, Islam respects other religions and guarantees the rights of all people to religious choice.

But what about the Qu’ranic quotes, as well as hadiths and alleged accounts, that point to a conflict between Islam’s prophet and the Jews of Arabia?

Most modern-day discussions feature claims of enmity, persecution and even a massacre resulting from the Jews’ refusal to convert to Islam.

Dr. Al-Issa among with numbers of students in Indonesia. (Supplied)

Nothing could be farther from the truth, according to Al-Issa.

The Qu’ranic references criticizing Jews that some have taken to mean a generalized attack on all Jews actually admonish specific followers of Judaism who went “off the derech” – strayed from the faithful commitment to the letter and spirit of their own Abrahamic tradition, he said.

To illustrate his point, he presented two seemingly paradoxical quotations: The Qur’an differentiates between the types of people, as the Almighty says: “They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer].”

The Almighty also said: “And among the People of the Scripture is he who, if you entrust him with a great amount [of wealth], he will return it to you. And among them is he who, if you entrust him with a [single] silver coin, he will not return it to you unless you are constantly standing over him [demanding it].”

God says: “Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.”

The Qur’an instructed Muslims to be righteous and benevolent to non-Muslims as long as they are peaceful and do not attack you or fight you.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL)

The Qu’ran speaks to different categories of people, but due to historical misinterpretations, mistranslations and, at times deliberate distortions, there is an appearance of a contradiction.

Those who focus on the allegedly anti-Jews passages ignore how Muslims engaged in wrongdoing are castigated in a similar vein. Additionally, even when critical of specific Jews, the Qu’ran speaks positively of the legacy of Jacob and calls on the Jewish community not to depart from their historic mission.

Al-Issa said: “The Qur’an admonished a group of Jews, not all Jews, and reminded them of the honor of affiliating with the Prophet Jacob, peace be upon him: ‘O Children of Israel! Remember My favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I favored you over all nations.’”

But what to make of the alleged massacres of the Jews that have become so closely associated with the extremist outcries of “Khybar, khybar ya yahood?”

They, too, should be viewed in their proper context. Al-Issa pointed out that there was no mass extermination of Jews qua Jews. On the contrary, the issues that led to tribal violence were purely political, not religious.

Indeed, he continued, affiliation with a religion does not preclude criticism for errors.

Contemporary audiences should look to the example of the prophet himself, Al-Issa said.

“The prophet, peace be upon him, stood out of respect to a passing Jewish funeral, lived next to a Jew, and married Safiya, the daughter of Hayy bin Akhtab from Bani Al-Nadir. He told her: ‘You are the daughter of a prophet, your uncle is a prophet, and you are the wife of a prophet.’” Muhammad was referring to the fact that his wife was descended from Aaron and  Moses, peace be upon them.

From this quote it follows that Muhammad not only respected Safiya’s Jewish heritage, but encouraged her to take pride and inspiration in her lineage.

Al-Issa also emphasized Muhammad’s signature achievement, the Madinah Charter, as an example of Islam’s position on religious existence put into practice: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, has signed the most important Islamic constitutional document, which is the Madinah Charter, which preserved religious and civil rights, as well as provided for Jews and others to live within Madinah in dignity as part of the ummah (community).”

What about the idea that Muhammad and his followers slaughtered the Jews who refused to convert?

Due to misinterpretations and politicized stories by later clergy, many now believe there is inherent enmity towards Jews who do not become Muslims, and all outreach efforts by Muslims is, therefore, “fake news.”

Dr. Al-Issa During his visit to Mauritania. (Supplied)

Al-Issa firmly rejected this criticism: “Islam gives freedom to everyone in accepting or rejecting Islam, and there is an explicit verse considered one of the most important constitutional texts in Islam that says: ‘There shall be no compulsion in religion.’ And the position of Islam on the Jews who refuse to enter Islam, according to the Qur’an, is respecting their choice while preserving their dignity and their religious and civil rights, and living with them in peace.”

The conflicts that followed in subsequent generations, he affirmed, were entirely political, even though both the contemporaneous parties and future scholars frequently attribute clashes and persecutions to religion.

Religion is an expedient cover for power grabs and there is also “often confusion in terms and translations, or by the misunderstanding of Islamic religious texts. When the Qur’an discusses a topic related to a specific situation or religious group, some people will mistakenly interpret that as an attack on everyone or as a position against the existence of that religion.”

Islam’s original intent concerning the relations between Muslims and Jews is clear from the treatment of non-converts.

As Al-Issa puts it: “Muslims treated the Jews who refused to enter Islam well, starting with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, until our time.

“The neighbor of the prophet was a Jew, whom he visited and accepted his hospitality, and considered all the food of the Jews permissible for Muslims, permitted marriage to them, and built a family from a Jewish mother, and the Jewish community lived with Muslims in Madinah in peace.

Surveying thousands of years of Jewish life in the lands of Islam, it is easy and nevertheless wrong to present a single narrative.

There were periods of incredible coexistence, when Muslims and Jews worked together to make great advances in trade, science, philosophy, and other fields.

At different times, there are instances of conflicts and persecutions. Al-Issa rejects any basis for bigotry in Islam, instead asserting that such instances were caused by motives divorced from religion.

Al-Issa went on to explain how Muslims have been prime targets of Islamist extremists throughout time. “What happened in the past is still being done by some extremists (that are present in all religions) who, by their misunderstanding of the teachings of Islam, do not represent the majority of Muslims or Islam at all. They only represent themselves, and with their extremist ideas they offend us as moderate Muslims and Islam more than they offend other religions.

“Muslims have suffered more violence and terror from extremists than non-Muslims have.”

Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord.

Dr. Al-Issa

The source of much falsehood is attributable to the Ottomans, who were behind mistranslations and misapplications of the Qu’ran.

Distribution of questionable hadiths by clerics of different backgrounds likewise led to confusion and divisive views.

Later, political movements, using theology as a cudgel, deliberately came to distribute inaccurate information. And, in non-Arab Muslim communities, understanding was severely skewed by the lack of access to original source material.

Poorly educated or ignorant self-proclaimed imams would use populist rhetoric and sensationalist sounding quotations out of context to fire up the public.

The Muslim Brotherhood came to rely on these combinations of factors to push an intolerant and violent interpretation of Islam that was mainstreamed with the help of media, governments, political organizations, and other allies and fellow travelers.

Al-Issa compared the Muslim Brotherhood to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in a recently launched Ramadan program on Saudi Arabia’s best-known channel, MBC.

Dr. Al-Issa supervises the work of a charity hospital of the Association in Africa. (Supplied)

The Muslim Brotherhood ideology, which incorporated the religious rhetoric of some Ottoman Sufi sects, and of Bolshevik, Nazi, Jacobin, and later extremist Salafi teachings, has managed to become a source of discord among Muslim communities.

The inflammatory pulpit imams and Brotherhood ideology are the gateway drug leading students to join Al-Qaeda, Daesh, Hamas and other terrorist organizations, who hunt down and punish Muslims deemed insufficiently subservient.

Within the Brotherhood camp, there is remarkable flexibility in making alliances with seemingly divergent schools of thought, such as with the Iranian Khomeinists.

The Brotherhood conveniently claimed to no longer engage in violent direct action but, as the appreciation for Islamism is dying out in the Arab world, thanks in part to reforms instituted by Arab governments, it now appears to acknowledge direct involvement in terrorist activity.

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READ MORE: Responsible leadership key to ‘justice, harmony’, Muslim World League chief tells conference at UN

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So what effect, if any, has MWL’s activity had on the discourse in the Muslim world? To start with, Al-Issa practices what he preaches in Arabic and uses the substantial soft power of the MWL to advance his campaign to assert the true, inclusive and benevolent nature of Islam.

Anyone in doubt can refer to the Charter of Makkah, a historic statement drafted by Al-Issa, who then convened a meeting of 1,200 pre-eminent Islamic scholars near Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba, to debate and sign the document.

The Charter of Makkah answers those, who deny or distort the truth, both within Islam and without.

In one episode of his MBC program, Al-Issa discusses how all religious places of worship should be protected — in other words, the attacks on Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and other places of worship by terrorists have no basis in religious teachings or practices, but are the result of politics and distortions.

In another episode, he discusses the empowerment of Muslim women throughout history, which is contrasted with the limited public role and the presumable marital subjugation accorded to them in various communities and contexts based on cultural, rather than religious, traditions or erroneous (perhaps deliberately so) readings of texts.

Al-Issa is working to undo decades of denial about women’s influence in Arab and Muslim societies.

Dr. Al-Issa in a visit to an orphanage of Haurishima. (Supplied)

There is no question that this shift in the intellectual discourse is having an effect as more Middle Eastern countries are opening their media to portraying positive roles for the Jewish communities that once lived in their countries.

One Saudi columnist, impressed by MWL’s position and Al-Issa’s visit to Auschwitz, calls for wider recognition of the “Jewish tragedy” (the Holocaust) in the process of bridge-building.

Another example is the MBC Ramadan drama “Um Haroun.” Based loosely on true stories of the Bahraini Jewish community, the series, which had a Kuwaiti director and star, aired in Saudi Arabia.

There is a desire to undo the damage of decades of politicization of Jewish life that led to attacks, expulsions and fear.

Egypt, too, in addition to its recent restoration of synagogues, has just as importantly opened up to a more sympathetic portrayal of Jews in a Ramadan series.

The acceptance of this portrayal by the public is just as much of a breakthrough and an example of “positive soft power” of religious institutions as the political determination that made such moves permissible to the media.

At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. Religions are a combination of doctrinal teachings and practices.

Al-Issa’s hard work is leading the way in showing that a combination of correct beliefs and righteous actions can withstand even centuries of obscurantism and political hijackings.

It is up to each generation to return to its roots and to use history and knowledge as an inspiration for the building of tolerant, humane, respectful, and intellectually open societies.

—————-

Irina Tsukerman is a New York-based human-rights lawyer and national security analyst  @irinatsukerman

This article was first published in Arab News

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Nourah Alzaid, general manager of the secretariat of the National Committee of Digital Transformation in KSA

Time: 19 May, 2020

Nourah Alzaid

Nourah Alzaid has been general manager of the secretariat of the National Committee of Digital Transformation since May 2019.

Her expertise is in finance, digital transformation, commercial operations and customer relationships.

Alzaid obtained a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature at King Saud University in 2010. After her graduation, she joined GE Healthcare, a global medical technology and digital solutions innovator.

Within two years of joining the company, she became a business operations specialist. She also served as business operations leader and in July 2014, she was promoted to commercial operations leader.

In October 2015, Alzaid became manager of GE’s center in Saudi Arabia for global operations. One of her main responsibilities was to improve the productivity of the Saudi team so as to meet the company’s global standards. Eight months later, she became a senior program manager.

In May 2018, she served as government affairs and policy leader for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where she worked as a liaison between the company and the two government entities.

In October 2018, Alzaid joined Baker Hughes as government affairs and policy director. After eight months, she joined the National Digital Transformation Unit.

On Sunday, Alzaid participated in a virtual meeting organized by the Communications and Information Technology Commission to mark World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. She highlighted the importance of encouraging partnership between government bodies and the private sector to achieve desired national goals.

This article was first published in Arab News

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No tolerance for extremism, says Saudi education minister

12/05/20

Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh

Al-Asheikh: “We reiterate our stand that we will not allow our educational institutions to be used to promote deviant ideas”
JEDDAH: There is no tolerance in Saudi schools and universities for extremist thought, literature or teaching, Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh said on Monday.

The minister said he would not permit educational institutions to be exploited for the promotion of extremist views, or policies that contradicted those of the state.

Offenders would be dealt with firmly and without leniency, he told a virtual university forum.

“We reiterate our stand that we will not allow our educational institutions to be used to promote deviant ideas,” Al-Asheikh said.

“We stress firmness in dealing with deviant thought. Universities should play a major role in enforcing nationalism as well as enhancing loyalty to the country, and enhancing self-immunity of all their employees.”

He insisted that libraries in educational institutes, curriculum descriptions, postgraduate theses and research for publication should include no deviant thoughts, or references to books related to terrorist movements and groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and others.

The minister said the high level of community awareness in the Kingdom was evident from the response by both students and staff to the need to close universities because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“They proved their sense of responsibility through continuing to remotely give regular lectures and take exams,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Ramadan drama ‘Um Haroun’ conjures up a religiously harmonious Middle East

02/05/20

Um Haroun’s director Mohamad Al-Adel. (Supplied/MBC)
  • MBC series features character of a Jewish nurse who is respected by her Arab neighbors in 1940s Kuwait
  • Drama harks back to a time when Arabs, Jews and Christians lived and worked together in the Gulf region

LONDON: If the very best drama seeks not only to entertain but also to educate and provoke debate on the pressing issues of the day, then MBC’s hit Ramadan series “Um Haroun” must surely be in the running for multiple awards.

Before even a single episode had aired, controversy had flared over the series, in which a central character is a Jewish nurse living in harmony with her Arab neighbors in 1940s Kuwait.

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Hamas group told Reuters that portraying Jewish people in a sympathetic light was “cultural aggression and brainwashing,” while a group of organizations opposed to normalizing ties with the state of Israel took to social media to urge viewers to boycott what it condemned as the “wicked drama.”

The program-makers insist that, while “Um Haroun” promotes themes of tolerance and coexistence, it is nevertheless a work of fiction and not a docudrama. Yet it is no coincidence that the series is set in the early 1940s, a time when Jews and Arabs lived in harmony throughout the Gulf states.

Action shot from the MBC drama Um Haroun. (Supplied/MBC)

In fact, main character Um Haroun, after whom the series takes its name, is loosely based on real-life Jewish midwife Um Jan, who moved to Bahrain from Iraq in the 1930s, a time when Arabs, Jews and Christians lived and worked together throughout the region.

All that changed, however, on November 29, 1947, with the passing of UN Resolution 181, which called for the partition of the British-ruled Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state and envisaged Jerusalem as a “corpus separatum,” under a special international regime to be administered by the UN.

Thirty-three countries voted in favor of the resolution but, unsurprisingly, not a single Arab state did so. Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen were among the 13 nations that voted against it.

The outcome, compounded on May 14 the following year with the foundation of the state of Israel, undid centuries of peaceful Arab-Jewish relations. The day after the UN vote, Palestine erupted in civil war. On May 15, 1948, a coalition of Arab forces invaded Palestine.

In the Arab world the consequences of what followed — Al-Nakba, or the “Catastrophe,” in which three-quarters of a million Arabs were driven from their homes in Palestine — have never been forgotten.

Action shot from the MBC drama Um Haroun. (Supplied/MBC)

Less well known, however, is the fate of a similar number of Jews who after 1948 were either driven out or who chose to migrate from the Arab countries they had once called home, in many cases leaving behind all of their property.

One of those refugees was 16-year-old Ada Aharoni, an Egyptian-born Jew of French descent whose father, a flour merchant in Cairo, had his business and assets seized by the Egyptian government in 1949. The family fled first to France and then to Israel.

Aharoni grew up to be a writer, sociologist and peace campaigner, credited with coining the phrase “the second exodus” to describe the forced migration of Jews from Arab countries after 1948.

In her work, however, her purpose has always been to seek a resolution between Jews and Arabs through mutual understanding.

The motivation of a paper she published in the journal Peace Review in 2010, she wrote, was to “placate both the Palestinians and the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries by pointing out that their sufferings, problems and feelings of victimization have many common points, and that both sides share them.”

Before and after the rise of Islam in the Middle East, Jews had “enjoyed well-being and a degree of tolerance and protection under the law and in some instances even rose to prominence under Arab rule.”

This harmonious state of affairs came to an abrupt end in 1948, to be replaced by “intolerance, discrimination, degrading civil codes and often cruel persecutions which were meted out to members of the Jewish faith by their host countries.”

Until the foundation of Israel in 1948, there were an esimated 800,000 Jews living throughout the Arab world in the Middle East and North Africa.

According to regional censuses, by 1976 most of these communities had all but disappeared. Between 1948 and 1976 the Jewish population in Egypt fell from 100,000 to about 200. Iraq’s Jewish population dwindled from over 130,000 to just 400.

“These historic facts,” Aharoni argued, “could be used to advance the peace process in the Middle East today if they are presented and used in a positive way.”

Now there is evidence of a positive change in the decades-old blanket rejection of Israel among Arab states and, while no one at MBC is claiming that “Um Haroun” is anything but dramatic fiction, there is little doubt that the program’s themes have caught the mood of change.

In 2019, the UAE declared the “Year of Tolerance,” appointing a senior member of the royal family as Minister of Tolerance and reinforcing its commitment to being “a bridge of communication between the people of the world and their various cultures in an environment of openness and respect that rejects extremism and promotes coexistence.”

That same year US rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and special adviser to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post celebrating the “blossoming of Jewish life in the Gulf as part of an overall positive trajectory of Israel-Gulf relations.”

It is, of course, no secret that while Bahrain has the only remaining indigenous Jewish population in the Gulf, for the past decade Dubai has been home to a synagogue serving the emirate’s small Jewish community.

Now, wrote Schneier, Gulf leaders are “very optimistic about the opportunities that will present themselves once they have diplomatic relations with Israel.”

Their desire to move that process forward is informed, he believes, in part by political realities — economic benefits and the fact that “both Israel and the Gulf are facing the common threat of Iran” — but are not exclusively pragmatic.

There is a “genuine interest from Gulf leaders in bringing together Muslims and Jews.”

There have been other recent signs that the mutual enmities created in 1948 may finally be running out of steam.

In February this year, Dr. Muhammad al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, became the most senior Islamic figure to visit the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

His historic visit — on the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in 1945 — was followed by a tweet from the foreign minister of the UAE, declaring that “in memory of the Holocaust, we stand on the side of humanity against racism, hatred, and extremism.”

Such is the changing mood in the Gulf that “Um Haroun” has translated to the screen. The sentiment, however, has not attracted instant universal support, as a mix of angry and supportive posts on social media testified.

Mazen Hayek, MBC Group’s director of PR, stressed that the series was pure fiction and not a docudrama.

Members of the Um Haroun team sitting down for a chat. (Supplied/MBC)

“We are not worried by controversy,” he added. “We look at it as a healthy debate about issues, conceptions and conflict, which is necessary for any society to advance.

“How can any society move forward and embark on advancement and gradual change if it does not debate preconceived ideas and concepts?”

The Middle East, he says, “has for the past three or four decades been stereotyped, been portrayed by hardliners, extremists and terrorist networks as a region of hatred, fear, atrocities and blood.

“This is the ugly face of the Middle East that has been projected, and we consider it a positive thing to be able to show the other face.

“If with this show we are showing how Middle East societies had, and still have, tolerance, cross-cultural dialogue and cross-religious coexistence, then that is positive and that is MBC being true to its mission.”

* * * * * * *

UM HAROUN’S MESSAGE AS EXPLAINED BY MBC

The MBC drama “Um Haroun” has topped the list of Ramadan series for 2020 for two main reasons: its depiction of a time before sectarianism and its controversial nature.

Set in 1940s Kuwait, the show’s main message is coexistence in a village where tolerance, moderation and openness is the norm.

Written by Ali and Mohammed Shams and directed by Mohamed El Adl, “Um Haroun” follows a series of fictional events in a community composed of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and tells the story of a greatly respected and admired Jewish physician.

The show’s all-Arab cast includes Kuwaiti actress Hayat Al-Fahad, Abdulmohsen Alnemr, Fatima Al-Safi, Rawan Mahdi and Ahmed Al-Jasmi among others.

Al-Fahad’s character Um Haroun, which translates to “mother of Haroun,” plays the role of a midwife and nurse who assists women in giving birth and helps others across the village with their problems, with no regard to religion or background.

Representing the true meaning of “loving one’s neighbor,” the show’s main character takes viewers back to a time when Jewish communities existed in the Gulf.

“This is a first in Gulf drama, and so it’s something quite different for our audiences and something interesting to explore,” Al-Fahad said.

“Umm Haroun possesses kindness, honesty, charisma and a genuine love for her people, which makes her easy to trust and a pillar of the community.”

The plot could not be more relevant in the time of the coronavirus disease pandemic, when people across the world are realizing the importance of community and collective well-being.

Much like the character of Um Haroun, millions of health workers are selflessly putting themselves on the line for the greater good, proving that humanity is stronger when united.

“Um Haroun” demonstrates the importance of differentiating between what drives politics and what should drive humanity.

Tolerance and hope are far more powerful than hate, fear and divisiveness.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Young Saudis take part in contest to promote tolerance

Time: 21 April, 2020

Photo: KACND/Twitter
  • The results of the competition will be announced on Wednesday through the KACND website

RIYADH: Ninety-six young men and women from throughout the Kingdom participated remotely in the “Hawer” competition to promote the values of dialogue, coexistence, tolerance and national cohesion.

The competition, organized by the Dialogue Academy for Training of the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue (KACND), aims to enable youth to master dialogue and analogy skills using scientific methods and to help them objectively evaluate and criticize ideas. It encouraged them to master research and investigation skills to gather information.

The center will distribute cash awards worth SR48,000 ($12,792) among the winners. The first winner in the boys’ team will receive SR12,000, the second runner-up will be awarded SR8,000, and the third runner-up will receive SR4,000. The same applied to winners in the girls’ team.

The competition’s management team met remotely on April 18 to discuss the mechanisms for the conduct of the competition.

On Monday, a remote training course was held on dialogue and analogy skills for all participants. Instructions on the competition were given to the teams and they were provided with a competition guide and specific topics for each team.

The competition included the following topics: Investing time in self-development, adherence to national regulations and decisions, volunteering and its motivations, and home quarantine and its role in self-development.

The competition took place via videoconferencing. The results of the competition will be announced on Wednesday through the KACND website.

This article was first published in Arab News

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