Historic Hima Well reveals the journeys of Arabia’s ancient caravans

Time: 10 April 2021

The site is made out of a series of seven fresh water wells, which includes more than 200 sites containing rock inscriptions, graves and stone circles. (Supplied)

Archaeological excavations carried out by SCTH discovered that the city of Najran is among the oldest inhabited places
The site contains numerous rock inscriptions and drawings that date back to before 3000 BC
MAKKAH: Hima Well, one of the most ancient and significant stops along the ancient trade routes of Arabia, untouched and unaltered, continues to fascinate researchers and archaeologists.

The site, about 140 km north of the city of Najran, is well preserved, and with its largely intact rock art depicting humans, animals, hunting tools, bows and spears and more, shows a picture of what was once an ancient route for caravans traveling from the southern regions of the Arabian Peninsula to its north.

Saleh Al-Muraih, a historical researcher specializing in the tourism and archaeology of Najran, told Arab News: “Hima Well is one of the most important historical sites in the Kingdom and contains numerous rock inscriptions and drawings that date back to before 3000 BC.”

“The site is made out of a series of seven fresh water wells covering an area of 30 km, which includes more than 200 sites containing rock inscriptions and drawings, graves, stone circles and historical wells,” he said.

Al-Muraih added: “Hima was the starting point for commercial caravans that gathered at the wells before taking one of two main roads. The firsts of these roads used to lead to Mesopotamia after passing through Al-Faw (also known as Qariah, an ancient city on the outskirts of the Empty Quarter), which is the archaeological site of the Kindah and Al-Yamama regions, known today as Najd. The second road used to lead to the Levant and Egypt after passing through the Hijaz region.”

FASTFACT
To date, 1,293 human drawings, 5,121 animal drawings, 3,616 Thamudic inscriptions, 2,775 Ancient South Arabian script inscriptions and three Nabataean inscriptions have been found in the region, while search and excavation operations are continuing in the Kingdom in general, and the region in particular, to uncover more monuments and historical cultural heritage.

Its dense rock art engravings are the legacy of the hundreds of caravans, departing from Al-Okhdood in the south, that passed by the well over the years. Ancient South Arabian script (Musnad), the South Arabian language or the Thamudic language can be found on these engravings alongside depictions of flora and fauna.

“The Saudi government took care of Hima Well, and there are fantastic fencing works taking place. This is coupled with continuous scientific research that has studied the site and we hope for the completion of the procedures that would see the addition of the site to UNESCO’s World Heritage List,” Al-Muraih said.

“There has been numerous land surveys and protection efforts exerted in the area. Fortunately, Hima does not have any violations or anything that could harm these monuments, while the people of the region are highly cultured when it comes to protecting these sites and therefore preserving these significant historical monuments,” he said.

As one of Najran’s 86 historical sites, Hima Well combines heritage and tourism in one area. Tour guides, a cooperative local community and cooperative government bodies are all on hand to speak about the historic significance of the well.

Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University, told Arab News: “The Kingdom has a great deal of archaeological sites and historical cities that have witnessed construction works over the course of thousands of years. They are truly worthy of preservation and development so that they can cope with the current requirements.”

She added: “Historical cities, regardless of their history and origins, are many. Among those worth mentioning is the southwestern city of Najran, which was mentioned by numerous classical historians such as Strabo, in his book ‘Geography,’ where he called it Negrana, as he talked about the Roman campaigns in the Arabian Peninsula in the years 24-25 BC, and Ptolemy, who referred to it as Negara Metropolis.”

“In his book, Yaqut Al-Hamawi, a Muslim historian, said that the city was named after the first person that inhabited it, Najran bin Zaydan bin Sabaa. What also confirms how old this city was is the mention of its name in the inscriptions of Sabaean rulers such as Karib’il, Samah Ali Yanuf and Yitha’amar Bayyin,” she said.

According to Dr. Hawsawi, the geographical importance of the Kingdom’s southwestern region stems from its location between Africa and Asia. This is coupled with the importance of the coastal region in terms of migration, and some settlements are found to date back from the first century BC to the Islamic era.

“Archaeological excavations carried out by SCTH discovered that the city of Najran is among the oldest inhabited places. It did so through archaeological evidence found at various sites belonging to different periods in history, starting with the ancient Stone Age to the Islamic era,” she said.

Hawsawi said: “Rock art and inscriptions are the elements that most distinguish the region’s monuments, as they provided us with a lot of information regarding clothes, accessories, weapons, stone stoves, rectangular and conical structures and tanks, especially around the Hima Well area.”

Most of the region’s rock drawings showcase camels, cows, goats and geese, along with some predatory animals such as lions and wolves, Dr. Hawsawi said. “Ostriches were given special attention in terms of their decoration and size, in addition to them being drawn in various positions, highlighting the significance of this animal.”

The drawings show horse battles, where knights used spears, and limited hunting scenes, where dogs were used to hunt goats, she said, noting that “there are drawings of humans that are larger than the normal size, while some of them had their heads covered. Men’s beards were shown clearly. Humans wore necklaces and collars, while some men wore anklets to produce sounds that suit the dance moves and music. Outfits were made out of short gowns that were wrapped around the middle. Other drawings showed people dancing with musical instruments that resemble the rebab.”

Dr. Hawsawi said: “Thamudic writings were found in the region in large quantities, followed by the Ancient South Arabian script and the Kufic script, which dates back to the Islamic era. The multiplicity of scripts found in the region sheds light on the succession of civilizations. In addition, Ancient South Arabian script inscriptions found engraved on top of Thamudic inscriptions highlights how old the Thamudic script really is.”

“Most of the inscriptions consist of names such as ‘Saad,’ ‘Awathat’ and ‘Rafadat,’ and of deities such as ‘Al’ and ‘Kahl,’ while inscriptions were usually found next to drawings of animals,” she said.

Dr. Hawsawi said that “among the long inscriptions is a 12-line one belonging to King ‘Dhu Nuwas,’ in which he described his victory over the Ethiopians in 512.”

To date, 1,293 human drawings, 5,121 animal drawings, 3,616 Thamudic inscriptions, 2,775 Ancient South Arabian script inscriptions and three Nabataean inscriptions have been found in the region, while search and excavation operations are continuing in the Kingdom in general, and the region in particular, to uncover more monuments and historical cultural heritage.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Uncovering secrets hidden beneath the sands of the Arabian Peninsula

20/12/20

Ancient stone carvings and other discoveries in the peninsula show a land that once flourished with life. Archaeologists have found proof that the historical roots of the people of Arabia go back more than 120,000 years. (AFP)

A bas-relief decorated with a lion dating from the fifth to first century BC, is displayed during the exhibition AlUla: Wonder of Arabia at the l’Institut du monde arabe (IMA) in the French capital Paris on October 7, 2019.
  • New research shows the historical depth of the region, which was once home to primeval people

MAKKAH: Hidden beneath the sands of the Arabian Peninsula lie secrets dating back thousands of years that tell the story of the people of Arabia.

Ancient stone carvings and other discoveries in the peninsula show a land that once flourished with life and ancient civilizations. Like detectives, historians and archaeologists have found proof that the historical roots of the people of Arabia go back more than 120,000 years.
Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University, said in an interview with Arab News that the geographical location of the Arabian Peninsula, at the center of the ancient world — Asia, Africa, and Europe — provided ancient civilizations with an added advantage to connect East and West.
She explained that from the beginning of the first millennium BC, the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula witnessed the rise of several kingdoms and civilizations, such as Ma’in, Hadramout, Awsan, Qataban, Sheba, and Himyar. Due to their strategic locations, as trade flourished, so did the civilizations that controlled the land and sea trading routes.
The kingdoms of the north and northwest of the Arabian Peninsula such as Dadan, Lihyan, Nabatea, the Palmyrene Empire, Tayma, and Qedar flourished around the same period.
In the eastern region of the peninsula, the kingdoms of Dilmun and Magan, Gerrha and Thaj were active, while in the central region there was the Al-Magar civilization and Qaryat Al-Faw.

FASTFACTS
•The Kingdom, which occupies about a third of the Arabian Peninsula, is full of architectural and written proofs, from buildings to inscriptions and rock drawings.

• AlUla, in the northwest of the Kingdom, contains a large number of Dadanitic, Lihyan, and Thamudic inscriptions. • Scholars have found inscriptions and drawings dating back 10,000 years in AlUla and Hail.

Hawsawi pointed out that the Kingdom, which occupies about a third of the Arabian Peninsula, is full of architectural and written proof, from buildings to inscriptions and rock drawings.
She noted that rock drawings can be found in Hail, the ancient fort in Tabuk dating back to 3500 BC, Fadak’s palaces and Khaybar’s forts, the Marid Castle in Dumat Al-Jandal dating back to the first century AD and ancient cemeteries. She also mentioned statues, some still intact, dolls, bas-relief decorations and pottery. “If the above mentioned items are not enough, we have the Holy Kaaba, which is the oldest place of worship on earth.”
She said: “The Kingdom realized the importance of this cultural heritage, so it established the Ministry of Culture in 2018.”
She went on to say that the Saudi Arabia and international archaeological missions are still excavating and constantly announcing their findings, the latest of which was a joint discovery by the international and Saudi archaeological missions of human, elephant and predatory animal footprints around a dry lake in Tabuk, in the northwest of the Kingdom, dating back more than 120,000 years.

Archaeological studies have also revealed many archaeological areas within the Arabian Peninsula, for example Dumat Al-Jandal, which was mentioned in ancient biblical sources.

Dr. Marwan Shuaib

Dr. Marwan Shuaib, professor of Ancient History at King Abdul Aziz University, said: “The ancient Near East region is considered the home of mankind’s first civilizations. Western scholars have been interested in studying it for more than two centuries, since the arrival of the French under Napoleon in Egypt and the Levant (1798-1801 AD). The need to study and explore this important region increased with the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which made it easy for scientists to decipher hieroglyphics.”
The prevailing view was that the Nile River region and Mesopotamia were the oldest civilizations known to humanity, alongside the Chinese and Indian civilizations.
“Visits from Western travelers to the Arabian Peninsula increased: Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt who discovered Petra in 1812, the capital of the Nabataeans in southern Jordan, and English traveler Charles Doughty who visited the Arabian Peninsula between 1908 and 1909 and discovered the famous Tayma Stone, which contains important information about the stay of the Babylonian king, Nabonidus, in Tayma for 10 years. These discoveries have drawn the attention of scholars to the ancient history of the Arabian Peninsula.”
He said: “King Abdul Aziz led the way for Western scholars to study the archeology of the Arabian Peninsula. The English traveler John Philby, also known as Abdullah Philby later on, was friends with the founding king and was allowed to tour the lands of the Arabian Peninsula, where he visited the ancient village of Faw in 1949 AD, north of Najran. He mentioned in his writings that it is an archaeological area containing many important historical proofs. The Belgian scholar Ryckmans also visited the Arabian Peninsula in 1951-1952 and copied a large number of its inscriptions. Successive exploration campaigns, drillings and excavations later took place in the archaeological areas of the Arabian Peninsula.”
“Archaeological studies have also revealed many archaeological areas within the Arabian Peninsula, for example Dumat Al-Jandal, which was mentioned in ancient biblical sources as the fortress of Dumat Bin Ismail, meaning that it dates back to the 10th century BC.”
AlUla, in the northwest of the Kingdom, contains a large number of Dadanitic, Lihyan, and Thamudic inscriptions, in addition to a large number of residences with Nabataean features.
Scholars have found inscriptions and drawings dating back 10,000 years in AlUla and Hail, specifically in Jubbah and Al- Shuwaymis, which indicates that the people of the area developed a writing system earlier than archaeologists believed. He concluded by saying that these findings show the historical depth of the region.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Rare books provide insight into Saudi Arabia’s past

Time: 10 September 2020

The King Abdul Aziz Public Library in Riyadh has acquired a new collection of rare books that sheds important new light on the history of the Arabian Peninsula. (SPA)
  • The collection contains archaeological and linguistic information about ancient civilizations

JEDDAH: Books and libraries play a key role in nation building. For nations to prosper, it is necessary to delve deeper into the past to lay foundations of a stronger future.

Saudi Arabia is well on the path to preserving the remnants of its rich past — in the form of heritage sites and collections of rare manuscripts about the region’s past.

In this regard, a new collection of rare books which the King Abdul Aziz Public Library in Riyadh has acquired shed important new light on the history of the Arabian Peninsula. The collection contains archaeological and linguistic information about civilizations that once thrived in the northwest of the Kingdom.

Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Orabi, a professor of modern history and international relations at King Abdul Aziz University, said: “Many of these rare books are written by travelers of different nationalities: English, French and German. Their explorations led to many discoveries.”

Sean Foley, a professor of the Middle East/Islamic history at Middle Tennessee State University, told Arab News: “The new collection will help scholars around the world to further understand the Kingdom.”

“(It) will be welcomed by scholars like me, who focus on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and world history. It illustrates clearly that there has long been an interest in the history of the Kingdom — seen as a mysterious and distant land by audiences around the world,” he said.

The northwestern areas of the Kingdom have always been a destination for Western travelers, foreign missions, and orientalists, led by their passion and thirst for knowledge. Muslim travelers also wrote extensively about this region’s history and geography but their works, unfortunately, were never translated into Latin, which was then Europe’s lingua franca. This led to a knowledge gap, which motivated Westerners to explore this part of the world.

One of the books is “Travels in Arabia Deserta” by Charles M. Doughty, who visited the north of the peninsula between 1875 and 1877. He wrote about the archaeological treasures of Madain Saleh.

Around the same time, French traveler Charles Huber also undertook a scientific trip to the area accompanied by M. Euting, an expert in Semitic inscriptions, which they detailed in a book titled “Journal of a Journey to Arabia” in 1891.

FASTFACT

Most of the books were written by Western travelers and give an informative account of their journeys to regions that are part of Saudi Arabia today.

In 1907 and 1914, Jaussen and Savignac were sent to the same region to finish what Doughty, Huber, and Euting had started. Their detailed study was written up in the three-volume “Mission Archeologique en Arabie” in French.

The book mentioned that the inscriptions and antiquities found in the area reflected the site’s resemblance to Petra. Some inscriptions even mentioned the name of the sculptor.

“Their writings deal with the transcripts and civilizations of the Tayma, Tabuk and Madain Saleh regions. Their books were registered officially and preserved for generations,” Al-Orabi told Arab News.

The expeditions of Western travelers took place between the end of the 15th century and the first half of the 20th century, for individual, religious, political, scientific, or historical purposes.

“Recent years have seen a proliferation of new scholarly works on the Kingdom and its history. The new collection will undoubtedly help scholars better understand the Kingdom and its important place in the history of the Middle East and the world,” Foley said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Makkah museums tell story of holy city’s past and present

02/08/20

Each of the 10 museums has its own distinct exhibitions with specialties including Islamic currencies, Makkah crafts, regional folk heritage and displays documenting the Kingdom throughout its history. (Shutterstock)

Part of the historic door display at the Museum of Makkah. (Shutterstock)

Islamic currencies

Each of the 10 museums has its own distinct exhibitions with specialties including Islamic currencies, Makkah crafts, regional folk heritage and displays documenting the Kingdom throughout its history. (Shutterstock)

The historic center of Muslim pilgrimage is a treasure house of rare artifacts that showcases the striking culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia
Historic Makkah has welcomed pilgrims for thousands of years and detailed records of its past and present are contained in the holy city’s museums.

Ten museums housing many rare artifacts showcase the culture and heritage of the city through fascinating collections and displays.

Each center has its own unique exhibitions with specialties including Islamic currencies, crafts of Makkah, regional folk heritage and general displays documenting the Kingdom down the ages.

The Two Holy Mosques Architecture Exhibition is one of the most prominent museums in Saudi Arabia and is home to treasures and artifacts dating back more than 1,400 years.

Opened in 2000 during the reign of the late King Fahd, it contains seven main halls highlighting Islamic civilization.

Tourist guide, Eitimad Ghazzawi, said the exhibition contained treasures and relics from the era of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions. “The museum also houses in its corridors the art and history of the Kaaba and the Grand Mosque.”

Dr. Fahd Al-Malki, general supervisor of the museums department at Umm Al-Qura University. (Supplied)

In addition, it features paintings of the Two Holy Mosques and a maquette of the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah throughout the eras. The oldest item in the museum from the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s companion, Abdullah bin Al-Zubair, is a wooden column that was one of the inner pillars of the Kaaba and is almost 1,300 years old.

Ghazzawi added that there was also a copy of the Qur’an written during the reign of Caliph Uthman ibn Affan, containing drawings, letters, and elegant calligraphy.

Dr. Fahd Al-Maliki, the general supervisor of the museums department at Umm Al-Qura University, said: “Museums have a great mission no less important than other cultural bodies in terms of urban development and improving the public’s tastes.

“They are also a service that every member of society should enjoy to acquire knowledge and culture provided by any museum, which captures culture in a visual manner. For children and youth, a visit to the museum plays an important role in moving emotions and enlightening minds.”

He noted that the role of museums was not limited to preserving artistic riches but also deepening artistic culture. “Museums are places that help visitors, whether scholars or ordinary people, enjoy, study and benefit from their artistic and cultural components.

“The mission of these museums in Makkah is providing the opportunity to achieve artistic richness by contemplating its contents, which include excellent creations of its artistic value, because of its authenticity in conveying the emotions and thoughts of the people of Makkah, thus reflecting Saudi society and helping establish spiritual and cultural values.

“Museums in Makkah today are a cultural center reflecting the country’s culture and history, contributing to raising educational and cultural awareness, developing a sense of belonging among members of society, and conveying an educational and cultural message to visitors about the history of their ancestors,” he added.

“The importance of the museums in Makkah are due to it being the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad’s message. The prophet’s story took place in Makkah, and from it the light of truth traveled to the whole world.

“Makkah’s museums reflect the transformation in the museums industry today and their central roles, in addition to contributing to the enlightening of society. Moreover, museum activities are developed to fulfill their mission professionally,” Al-Maliki said.

Owners of private museums also showcase Makkah’s civilization and development.

The Museum of Human Heritage, owned by Majdoua Al-Ghamdi, tells the stories of the Kingdom’s leaders. Its exhibits include household appliances used in Makkah before electricity was introduced, a section on Saudi tribes, and displays on the role of the city’s residents in serving pilgrims and the history of the ancient Madrasah Al-Sawlatiyah, one of the oldest schools in the Arabian Peninsula.

Al-Ghamdi said that the museum included Byzantine and Roman coins of all kinds — gold and various metals — and the Islamic dinar, silver, and gold used during the Umayyad era, in addition to weapons such as cannons, knives, daggers, swords and guns.

“The private museums of the holy capital integrate with each other to provide knowledge and cultural diversity, in addition to being an important source reflecting the cultural and historical balance of Makkah, which God has blessed with great heritage ingredients during different ages,” he added.

He noted that the museums provided a knowledge portal that reflected the values of the present and the beauty of the past while immortalizing the stories, literature and lives of people through the ages. “They also provide inspiration for the cultural and knowledge depth that we have continuously experienced since the dawn of history and until the abundant Saudi era, which did its utmost to serve the Two Holy Mosques,” he added.

Al-Ghamdi pointed out that the exhibits of the private museums reflected visitor preferences. “This makes us more in harmony with their tastes, and we strive to simulate the visitors’ cultural vision and stimulate their creative passion.”

Sami Kurdi, another private museum owner, said that he spent 40 years collecting metal objects and his exhibits told the story of the struggle of Makkah’s ancestors and their great civilization.

Al-Kurdi Museum houses more than 100,000 artifacts, some of which are at least 200 years old. There are displays of old prints of the Holy Qur’an, manuscripts, books, coins and paper money from 140 countries, home utensils, ancient wooden artifacts, stamps, pictures, maps, newspapers and magazines.

The museum also contains various pavilions showcasing clothes, utensils, crafts, communication devices and audiovisual equipment, in addition to a number of old models of classic iron and wood cars of various shapes. There is also an area featuring weapons including rifles, pistols, swords, daggers, janbiyas, spears, gunpowder, knights’ clothes and belts of ammunition.

Kurdi said that he started his heritage museum project by collecting postage stamps from post offices, the Philatelic and Numismatic Society, and extracting them from letters. It then developed into collecting old coins and paper notes.

This article was first published in Arab News

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A history of the management of the Kaaba

Time: 30 July, 2020

Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal handing over the Kiswa. (Supplied)
  • The Bani Al-Shaiba family have held the keys to the Kaaba for 16 centuries — an honor through the ages

MAKKAH: More than 150 technicians and manufacturers replaced the Kaaba’s Kiswa (black cloth) with a new one on Wednesday.
Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, on behalf of King Salman, handed over the Kaaba Kiswa last week to the senior caretaker of the Kaaba, Saleh bin Zain Al-Abidin Al-Shaibi.
The cloth is manufactured at the King Abdul Aziz Complex for the Kaaba’s Kiswa in Makkah’s Umm Al-Joud neighborhood. It is made of a special natural silk that is dyed in black. The garment is 14 m tall. On its upper third is a belt which consists of 16 square pieces surrounded by a square of Islamic motifs. The belt is 95 cm wide and 47 m long.

The Kiswa consists of four pieces, each covering one of the faces of the honorable Kaaba and the fifth the curtain placed on its door. The making of the curtain is a multi-stage process, as the fabric is combined from the four sides of the Kiswa. The belt and curtain pieces are later added in preparation for its installation over the Kaaba.
More than 110 Kaaba caretakers have been honored through history with the caretaking of the Grand Mosque. The centuries-old tradition has been passed down for generations.
The caretakers have protected their historical God-given legacy and are supported by the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The Kaaba’s caretakers, Bani Shaiba, have had the honor of holding the keys to the Kaaba for 16 centuries.
Before Islam, the descendants of Qusai bin Kilab bin Murrah took care of the Kaaba, whose descendants Bani Shaiba are the current caretakers. They are the ones to whom the Prophet returned the key to the Kaaba after the conquest of Makkah.


Saleh Al-Shaibi, holder of the Kaaba key and its caretaker. (Supplied)

Kaaba caretaking is an old profession, which consists of opening, closing, cleaning, washing, cladding and repairing this cloth if it is damaged.
The washing of the Kaaba is done with Zamzam and rose water. Its four walls are wiped and washed with perfumed water and a prayer is performed.
“Our grandfather, Qusai bin Kilab, who was also the Prophet’s grandfather, was responsible for the caretaking of the Kaaba, who passed it on to his oldest son Abd Al-Dar, who in his turn passed it on to his children,” Anas Al-Shaibi, one of the Grand Mosque’s caretakers, told Arab News.
He added that since the beginning of time, the caretaking of the Kaaba is a God-given blessing until the final day. The keys of the Kaaba are preserved at the senior caretaker’s home.
“The commandments of the fathers to their children were the fear of God, in addition to preserving the great principles of Islam; honesty, humility and keeping the key in a dedicated bag made of green silk and gold, while moving it to open the Kaaba,” Al-Shaibi added.

As for the what traits make a good caretaker, Nizar Al-Shaibi said the job requires a head of a family who is responsible for the home’s caretaking. He must be honest and possess good morals.
Al-Shaibi said the Kaaba key’s character has not changed through time.
He said the reason behind a change in the key’s appearance is a failure to open the Kaaba, where it is then repaired or replaced.
The key has a unique appearance and does not resemble a normal key. Al-Shaibi said it must be different and contain a special character unique to the Kaaba. It is also designed in a unique artistic way so no one but the caretakers know how to use it.
Regarding the clothing of the Kaaba, Al-Shaibi said that the Yemeni King Tubba was the first to clothe it. People from all over the world visited him to obtain his consent and gifts. The Quraish tribe never visited King Tubba. When he asked about them, he was told about the Kaaba, so he secretly rode with his army and tore it down.
Al-Shaibi also said that during the king’s preparation of the army, he suffered from severe illness. They tried to treat it to no avail and he was told it was a disease from the heavens. A wise man told him he had bad intentions and to refrain from acting upon them. When he decided to back down from his plans, he miraculously recovered from the disease.
King Tubba sent countless gifts to the people of Makkah and was the first to cover the Kaaba in different colors, until founder of Saudi Arabia King Abdul Aziz established a Kiswa factory, where the cloth is delivered to the senior caretaker each year.

As for the family traditions and whether disputes arise regarding caretaking practices, Al-Shaibi said that the head of the family is the one who takes charge of the duty, adding that his family is cohesive and that any difference is resolved internally.
According to the Prophet, “Only an oppressor will take caretaking away from the Al-Shaibi family.”
God chose this family to be the caretakers of the Grand Mosque 16 centuries ago and the duty is a divine role for which this blessed family has been chosen.
The number of Kaaba caretakers who assumed the honor of caring for the Kaaba is 110.
Before caretaking of the Kaaba was passed down through the Bani Shaiba family for generations to the present day, the tasks of caretakers consisted of opening and closing the door of the Kaaba, supervising its clothing, maintaining what needed to be repaired, built or assembled, using incense, in addition to washing, cleaning and guarding the shrine of Ibrahim.
Now the caretaker’s tasks are restricted to opening and closing the Kaaba. Al-Shaibi is also contacted if the Kaaba must be opened for visits by the Kingdom’s guests.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The history of Makkah Grand Mosque’s expansion

Time: 29 July, 2020

  • The incredible achievements of the Saudi kings have taken the custodianship of the holiest site in the Islamic world to a new level

JEDDAH: Throughout history, Muslim caliphs and rulers responsible for Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, have gone to great lengths to guard, expand and care for the Grand Mosque.
“The Grand Mosque is the place to which Muslims all over the world turn their faces when starting their prayers, so it was the focus of interest of sultans, kings, princes, leaders and even wealthy Muslim people,” said Dr. Aminah Jalal, a professor of history at Umm Al-Qura University.
“They provided all financial support for the restoration and renovation of the mosque. Religious sentiments motivated them to send donations throughout the Islamic ages, as well as providing the workers and building materials necessary to take care of this blessed mosque.”
In days gone by, leaders also ordered wells to be dug and roads paved to make the journey to the holy sites easier for pilgrims, she added, but in the Saudi era, their efforts have reached a new level.
“The contributions of Saudi leaders in expanding and taking care of the mosque are beyond any comparison,” said Jalal.
Rashidun caliphate
According to a report by the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, the Grand Mosque was surrounded by houses from the time of Prophet Ibrahim until the rule of the second Muslim caliph, Umar ibn Al-Khattab. He bought the neighboring properties so that the circumambulation area could be expanded. He also ordered a nearly 2-meter high wall to be built around the space.
As the number of worshippers increased, more space was needed, and the mosque was extended during the reign of Uthman ibn Affan, the third Muslim caliph, in 647. The number of people using the mosque continued to grow, and 38 years later it was expanded again by Caliph Abdullah ibn Al-Zubayr. He also rebuilt the Kaaba after the structure was damaged.

Umayyad caliphate
Two further expansions took place during the rules of the fifth Umayyad caliph, Abdul-Malik bin Marwan, and his son, Al-Waleed bin Abdul-Malik.

Abbasid caliphate
According to the General Presidency report: “The mosque also (underwent) expansions during the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, as the Muslims’ 20th caliph, Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour, ordered a little enlargement to the north side. A minaret on the eastern side of the mosque was also built.”
The largest expansion project of this era was ordered sometime around the year 783 by third Abbasid caliph, Mohammed Al-Mahdi, who expanded the Grand Mosque after acquiring neighboring houses and demolishing them.
He died in 785, before the project was completed, so his son and successor as caliph, Musa, took over supervision of the project, which increased the size of the mosque by 12,512 square meters.
For the next 810 years, the Grand Mosque remained largely unchanged, with only restoration work taking place.

Ottoman reign
In the early 1570s, Ottoman caliphs Sultan Selim Khan and his son, Murad Khan, oversaw renovation and restoration works that included the replacement of the mosque’s flat, wooden roof with domes. They also installed additional columns to support the roof, and a stone arcade was added. The size of the mosque grew to 28,003 square meters.

Saudi era
Despite the impressive work of rulers throughout history to expand and care for the Grand Mosque, the incredible achievements of the Saudi kings took the custodianship of the holiest site in the Islamic world to a new level.
When King Abdul Aziz united the country and founded Saudi Arabia, he made the Two Holy Mosques a top priority and ensured they received special attention.
In 1926, he ordered a complete renovation to the Grand Mosque, including a directive to cover the entire floor with marble. A year later, according to the General Presidency, he ordered marquees to be erected at the Mataf (circumambulation space) to protect worshippers from the heat of the sun. He also ordered the Masa (the area between Safa and Marwah along which pilgrims walk in what is known as Saee) to be paved with stone for the first time.
In 1928, he ordered the establishment of a Kiswah factory to manufacture the cloth that covers the Kaaba. He even made it a condition in his will that his sons continue to expand the Grand Mosque in anticipation of the increasing numbers of pilgrims.
When his son, King Saud became monarch, the Grand Mosque covered approximately 28,000 square meters. In 1955, he launched a long-term expansion project that continued for nearly 10 years. The size of the Masa was increased, and an underground area and another floor were added.

Saud’s successor, King Faisal continued the expansion and development work. The building surrounding the Maqam Ibrahim was removed to provide more space for worshippers while circumambulating the Kaaba.
After King Khalid took over in 1975, the Mataf area was expanded and the stone pavement of the Masa was replaced with Greek, heat-resistant marble so that worshippers could circle the Kaaba more comfortably, especially at noon.
On Sept. 14, 1988, King Fahd laid the foundation stone for the largest expansion of the Grand Mosque in 14 centuries. The project increased its size to 356,000 square meters, enough space for up to 1.5 million worshippers to comfortably perform their rituals. In addition, two minarets were added to the existing seven.
The sixth Saudi leader, King Abdullah, who took the throne in 2005, initiated another major expansion project, which included architectural, technical and security improvements. The capacity of the Mataf area was increased from about 50,000 people an hour to more than 130,000 to cope with the growing numbers of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.
The total space covered by the Grand Mosque and its open areas and facilities increased to 750,000 square meters, at a total cost of more than SR80 billion ($21.3 billion).
In 2015, King Salman launched five major projects designed to allow the mosque to accommodate nearly 2 million worshippers on a 1.5-million-square-meter site. Neighboring properties worth billions of dollars were acquired to provide the land that was needed.
The projects included expansions of the main building, squares, pedestrian tunnels, central service station and the first ring road.
Directives were also issued to take advantage of space on all floors of the mosque to accommodate more worshippers at the Grand Mosque and enable them to perform Tawaf (circumambulation) conveniently.
The capacity of toilets and places for ablution was increased to 16,300.
Technological improvements to the Grand Mosque include escalators and lifts that operate around the clock, air conditioning, lighting, a sound system, video surveillance and a fire control system.
A report by the Ministry of Finance revealed that projects within the most recent, third Saudi expansion of the Grand Mosque, which began in 2008, included the development of the main building, Masa and Mataf, external squares, bridges, terraces, central services, service tunnels, hospital and pedestrian tunnels, transit stations and bridges, the ring road surrounding the mosque, and infrastructures such as power stations and water reservoirs.
In Aug. 2019, the Saudi Press Agency reported that a project to add more than 3,000 square meters of courtyard space near to the Grand Mosque was nearing completion. It was designed to increase the capacity of the mosque and its courtyards to provide the best possible service to Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, assist with crowd control and ensure the safety of visitors.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Hajj 2020: Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel runs solo this year for the first time in history

26/07/20

A Miqat Mosque in Dhul Hulayfa. (SPA)

  • The number of pilgrims performing this year’s annual pilgrimage is low given the exceptional circumstances brought about by the coronavirus disease pandemic

MAKKAH: For the first time in history, pilgrims performing this year’s Hajj are to pass through just one Miqat (pilgrim station).
Miqat is a term that refers to the boundary from which pilgrims must adorn the Ihram garments, two pieces of white unseamed sheets, in order to perform the annual Hajj or Umrah. Four boundaries were chosen by the Prophet Muhammad for pilgrims arriving from different areas of the world to perform the Hajj and Umrah rituals, while the fifth was chosen by the second Islamic caliph, Omar bin Al-Khattab.
The five boundaries, or Mawaqeet, represent the first ritual of the Hajj pilgrimage. Located northeast of Makkah, Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel, considered by historians as the Miqat of the people of Najd, is also usually a Miqat for pilgrims traveling from Gulf countries and East Asia today. The term refers to a small mountain that extends to the north and the south with water running on both sides, the reason why it is also known as Al-Sail Al-Kabir (the great flood).
The number of pilgrims performing this year’s annual pilgrimage is low given the exceptional circumstances brought about by the coronavirus disease pandemic. The pilgrims are expected to head to Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel as it is the nearest Miqat to Makkah.

FASTFACT

Located northeast of Makkah, Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel, considered by historians as the Miqat of the people of Najd, is also usually a Miqat for pilgrims traveling from Gulf countries and East Asia today.

Al-Sail Al-Kabir Mosque inside Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel is considered one of the biggest in the Kingdom, equipped with modern services for pilgrims.
Dr. Adnan Al-Sharif, professor of history and civilization at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, said of the Miqat: “The place was linked to the Prophet’s life, as the Prophet passed by it during the Siege of Taif. According to several historical novels, the Prophet passed by ‘Qarn’ which means Qarn Al-Manazel.”
Al-Sharif said the Saudi state had taken good care of Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel, and provided it with facilities for pilgrims who visit it to perform Umrah and Hajj.
Throughout history, different meanings were behind the naming of Qarn Al-Manazel, according to journalist and historian Hamad Al-Salimi.  It was said that Al-Asmai, a philologist and one of three Arabic grammarians of the Basra school in Iraq, described the Miqat as a mountain in Arafat.
Meanwhile, historians believed that it had also served people coming from other directions throughout history. Al-Ghuri, the 45th sultan of the Mamluk dynasty, said it was the Miqat of the people of Yemen and Taif, while Qadi Ayyad, a famous scholar of Maliki law in the Islamic Golden Age (800-1258) said it was Qarn Al-Thaalib that served as the Miqat of the people of Najd. Some people pronounce it “Qaran”, which is wrong, as Qaran is a tribe in Yemen, according to Al-Salimi.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Then and now: the shifting role of the pilgrims’ guide in Makkah

Time: 22 July, 2020

  • While the services guides provide are as important as ever, the nature of their relationship with pilgrims has, by necessity, changed

MAKKAH: When the pilgrimage season begins, pilgrims’ guides temporarily leave behind their regular jobs and professional titles to serve visitors of all nationalities. It is a solemn and blessed role that many Makkans inherited from their parents and grandparents.

The male and female guides find comfort and pleasure in serving pilgrims, despite the lack of financial reward. They consider their service an honor they are granted each year.

Dr. Talal Qutub, for example, normally works as an internal medicine consultant. He said that he has been blessed to serve pilgrims since early childhood, inheriting the job from his family. They cultivated within him the love of pilgrims and caring for them, from the moment they arrive in Makkah until they depart.

He said that there is a mutual love, appreciation and respect between pilgrims and their guides, and to the guides those feelings are like the oxygen they breathe.

Qutub stated started out in 1973 as an independent guide, before becoming a member of the board of directors of the Institution of Iranian Pilgrims’ Guides and then serving as its president for many years.

“I became the head of the coordinating body of the institutions of the sects’ leaders, during which I was able to complete my studies in medicine and obtain my Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree in Pakistan without interruption to the service of pilgrims,” he said. “Then I joined Saudi Airlines as a doctor in medical services and became general manager of the medical services.

“I was practicing my profession as a doctor and obtained a doctorate in the field of the digestive system and liver while studying Austria, but continued serving pilgrims during my studies there by coming to the Kingdom during the pilgrimage season.”

He said that serving pilgrims is an important part of his life and he could not give it up. It is also a calling that he has passed on to the next generation.

“My son, Dr. Hadi, has inherited the profession from me,” he said. “He is a digestive and liver disease consultant, and a member of the board of directors of the Institution of the Iranian Pilgrims’ Guides.”

Guide Ahmed Halabi, a journalist who specializes in pilgrimage services, said: “Pilgrimage guidance has been linked since its inception in 683 AH/1284 AD to providing special services to the pilgrims of the sacred house of God, including reception, circumambulation and supplications.

“This is what Al-Qasim Bin Youssef Al-Sabti refers to in his book ‘The Beneficiary of Expedition and Expatriation.’ He quotes the traveler Ibn Rashid, who performed pilgrimage in 683 AH/1284 AD: ‘The people of Makkah and their children receive pilgrims and teach them rituals. They train their boys on that, so they teach pilgrims prayers and supplications.’”

Halabi added: “We find many guides who have inherited the profession from their fathers and grandfathers, and are proud of it because it was limited to the judges and scholars in the beginning.”

He said that beautiful words of praise and gratitude increase the sense of pride that guides take in their work. Swiss traveler and historian Jean Louis Burckhardt, for example, said: “The guides are the leaders of the pilgrims during the rituals of pilgrimage and while visiting the holy places in the Prophet’s city.”

In his book ‘The Gentle Pleasures in the Mind of the Pilgrim to the Holiest Place,’ Shakib Arslan wrote: “There are two groups in the honorable Hejaz that visitors of Hijaz need and must have a relationship with: Guides in Makkah and Madinah.”

Lady Evelyn Cobbold, a convert to Islam who in 1933 became the first British Muslim woman to perform Hajj, describes in her book “Pilgrimage to Mecca” the details of her visit.

“Time will not erase from my mind and my memory the scenes that I saw in Mecca and Medina, and the strength of faith, beauty of loyalty, and love of good, for both people and enemies alike, which I felt in the Holy Land,” she wrote.

A number of prominent people have served as guides through the years.

“There are many personalities,” said Halabi. “Perhaps the most prominent of them is Dr. Hamid Al-Harsani, who held the position of Minister of Health during the period from (1961 to 1962). He was not only a guide but a leader of guides.

“There was also the late Sheikh Saleh Kamel. His family worked in guidance and his father worked in the Cabinet Office, but he was keen to attend the pilgrimage season to serve the pilgrims coming from Africa. Their office was located in Al-Shabika.”

Faten Hussein, a reporter and specialist in pilgrimage guidance, said the job of guide is inherited by many Makkans by virtue of their proximity to the Holy Sites, their close relationship with the pilgrims, and knowledge of their languages and culture.

She that many begin their work as guides at a very young age, and that the most important thing that distinguishes them is their moral values. A spirit of sacrifice and unlimited benevolence in serving the needs of pilgrims have instilled in them a unique religious identity built on strong belief. They are religious role models for pilgrims, she added.

However, as times have changed, and the number of pilgrims has increased dramatically, so too has the nature of the relationship between guide and pilgrim. What was once a close, almost familial relationship, is now, by necessity, more businesslike.

“Pilgrimage guidance was initially an individual profession, in the sense that the individual and his family carried the burdens and responsibilities of guidance, from the pilgrims’ arrival in Makkah until they departed,” said Hussein.

“But the increase in the number of pilgrims (created a lot of challenges) in performing the profession as it was based on randomness and personal diligence and the individual’s ability to perform all tasks with the required accuracy. This situation led to the emergence of the guidance institutions in (1982), which are based on organized, collective work to intensify efforts and unify procedures to upgrade the services provided to the pilgrims.

“But this in turn led to a cooling in the relationship between pilgrims and guides because pilgrims were placed in distant residences completely separate from the residences of guides and their families, which formed barriers in communication and human relations and led to the shrinking or fading of the close relationship that used to exist between them in the past.”

In the old days, Hussein said, pilgrims and their families used to spend six months or more in Makkah. Female guides worked in roles such as reception and hospitality, preparing locations, accompanying female pilgrims to the holy places, looking after their valuables, providing health care or religious awareness, and even caring for their children.

“In recent years, female guides have worked in a more advanced way and performed high-quality services for female pilgrims,” she said. “Cultural- and religious-awareness meetings are provided for female pilgrims, the content of which is determined according to the needs of the targeted groups. Female guides are also trained in the art of dealing with female pilgrims, the art of speech, and in first aid and other courses.”

Sami Al-Muabber, the chief of Russeifa neighborhood in Makkah, recalled the relationship that developed between guides and pilgrims in years gone by, from their arrival on ships until their departure after spending six or seven months among Makkans. He compared the moment of parting with saying farewell to close family members.

He also highlighted the important role played by the women of Makkah, even many years ago, who went to extraordinary lengths to provide first-class hospitality, from preparing delicious meals to sewing clothes.

Al-Muabber said that pilgrims in the past would spend more time in Makkah and Madinah than in their home countries. As a result, they learned Arabic and taught others their mother tongues. This had a social impact on the way of life of Makkans, who treated the pilgrims as part of their families and essential partners in the social life of the city.

Pilgrims used to arrive at the beginning of the month of Rajab by “Babur” (ship), he added, and stay until Safar, seven months later, which gave plenty of time for them to integrate with Makkans. Pilgrims lived in the homes of their guides. The owner would vacate most of the house, keeping only a room on the roof for himself and his family, with a space in front of it.

The joy of the pilgrims’ arrival was similar to the arrival of Eid, said Al-Muabber. A great feast, called hospitality, was laid on for them, to which all the people of the neighborhood were invited. He added that Makkans would compete with each other to offer hospitality to pilgrims, who would stay, eat and drink as guests of God.

Makkan women shared the same divine rewards as male guides, he said, because they took care of their visitors, accompanied female pilgrims to textile stores and bought them what they needed, and sewed their clothes. Female pilgrims would also buy eyeliners, incense and framed pictures of Makkah and Madinah. Makkan women used to help female pilgrims choose their clothes and prayer mat. Such was the closeness of the relationship that developed over many months between pilgrim and guide, saying goodbye was painful.

“It was like saying goodbye to a family member,” said Al-Muabber. The visitors, he added, became part of the family, sharing moments of happiness and sadness.

Nowadays, the high number of pilgrims and the ways in which the wider world has changed mean that they do not get to know the Makkans in such a deep and meaningful way. Some pilgrims now arrive on the Day of Arafah and leave soon after. They no longer have the opportunity to share with the people of Makkah the beauty of meeting and getting to know each other, or create memories together that will last a lifetime.

Al-Muabber pointed out that at the beginning of the reign of King Saud the number of pilgrims was about 200,000; now there more than two million each year, and they spend much less time in Saudi Arabia. With such sweeping changes, the days when pilgrims and locals could meet, spend time together and form deep bonds that lasted a lifetime are long gone.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Makkah’s historical mountains hold stories of past and present

28/06/20

The mountains in the holy city of Makkah provide perfect locations for guides, tell stories from historical times and have been associated with many events, in addition to their mention in Prophet Muhammad’s history. (AN photos by Abdulmohsen Duman)

A cultural center will be set up at the bottom of Jabal Al-Nour so that visitors can access information about Makkah and Hira cave
MAKKAH: Makkah’s historical mountains are a window into the holy city’s beauty and grandeur as they overlook all aspects of the Grand Mosque, while also providing perfect locations for guides, photographers and researchers to document, present or learn more about Makkah’s stories from Prophet Muhammad’s era to the present day.
Saudi photojournalist Abdulmohsen Doman told Arab News that the media and international agencies use the mountains’ vantage points to get the best shots of Makkah, especially during the Hajj season, when millions of Muslims from around the world visit the holy city to perform the annual pilgrimage.
Mahdi Nafaa Al-Qurashi, who is a Saudi historical researcher and tour guide, said that Makkah is located in the Arabian Shield geological formation.
“It is one of the oldest formations in the region and is formed from granite rocks interspersed with reefs and valleys, the most important of which is Ibrahim Al-Khalil Valley,” he told Arab News.
Al-Qurashi said that the foundations of the Grand Mosque were built from these mountains, especially Kaaba Mountain.
These mountains told stories from historical times and were associated with many events, in addition to their association with the Prophet’s history, he explained.
He said that the Prophet announced his prophethood from the tops of Al-Safa Hill and Mounts Abu Qubays and Quaiqian, which together were referred to as Al-Akhshabayn.
The Prophet worshipped God in the cave of Hira in Jabal Al-Nour (Mountain of Light) and stayed in Thawr Mountain for three days. Khadija bint Khuwaylid was buried at the bottom of the Mount of Mercy (Jabal Al-Rahma).
All these mountains had great historical stories and connotations, added Al-Qurashi.

HIGHLIGHTS
• Saudi photojournalist Abdulmohsen Doman told Arab News that the media and international agencies use the mountains’ vantage points to get the best shots of Makkah, especially during the Hajj season.

• A cultural center will be set up at the bottom of Jabal Al-Nour so that visitors can access information about Makkah and Hira Cave.

Mansour Al-Dajani, who is a researcher on the history of Makkah, said that one of the most famous mountains in Makkah was Abu Qubays, which was one of the Al-Akhshabayn and is referred to in the Hadith.
“It is located east of the Grand Mosque and is said to have been the first mountain laid on earth,” he told Arab News.
“It overlooks the Kaaba and was known as Al-Amin in the Jahiliyyah (the pre-Islamic period also known as the age of ignorance) because the black corner (the black stone in the Kaaba) was stored in it in the Year of the Flood.”
Another famous mountain was Mount Quaiqian, which is also one of the Al-Akhshabayn. It was known as Jabal Hindi.
It is located west of the Grand Mosque and was called Quaiqian due to the clattering sound of weapons. Jabal Khendama is also one of Makkah’s most famous mountains and is located behind Mount Abu Qubays.
Al-Dajani said that other important mountains in Makkah included Jabal Al-Nour, which is located in the northeast at the top of Makkah, to the left of the one leading to Mina.
This is the mountain where the Prophet first received the revelation.
Thawr Mountain, located in the south, is about 3 km from the Grand Mosque.
“The Prophet and (his companion) Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq hid in this mountain when they migrated to Madinah,” he added.
Jabal Omar was also a famous mountain, he said. It was located west of the Grand Mosque and extended from Al-Shabika to Al-Mesfala, both famous areas in Makkah.
There was also Mount Thubair in the east, opposite Jabal Al-Nour.
It is where the animal that Abraham sacrificed instead of his son Ismail is said to have landed.
“There have been changes in our time to make things easier for Muslims, and this includes the expansion of the Grand Mosque,” Al-Dajani said.
“Mount Quaiqian was removed for the sake of the Al-Shamiya Expansion Project, the third Saudi expansion. In addition, Jabal Omar was replaced by the Jabal Omar project. Abu Qubays now houses royal palaces, and tunnels were established through Jabal Khendama to clear traffic jams, and a health, residential and hotel project will be established on it.”
A cultural center will be set up at the bottom of Jabal Al-Nour so that visitors can access information about Makkah and Hira cave.
The site will also be prepared for the mountain to be restored as a natural landmark due to its historical significance.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Masmak Fort, an important historical destination in Riyadh

13/06/20

The fort is home to a museum that has become an important historical destination and focal point for state guests as well as foreign visitors and local residents
Masmak Fort, located in the center of Riyadh, was constructed in the 19th century. Covering an area of 4,500 square meters, the fort today hosts folk festivals and other activities.
The mosque adjacent to the fort was rebuilt to reflect traditional local architecture. Date palms shade the southern end of the fort, which features several passageways paved with limestone.
“Masmak” in Arabic means the high, fortified, thick and huge — important qualities for a fort that witnessed King Abdul Aziz’s major initiatives in consolidating the Kingdom.
The fort is home to a museum that has become an important historical destination and focal point for state guests as well as foreign visitors and local residents. The museum contains photographs, maps, models, display cabinets, old weapons, traditional and heritage objects, exhibition and audiovisual halls.
This photograph was taken by Hisham Shamma as part of the Colors of Saudi Arabia competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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