Saudi Islamic Affairs Ministry launches new service

24/03/20

Photo/SPA
  • The service aims to integrate all communication channels provided by the ministry

RIYADH: The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has launched a new service to communicate with people through its portal linked to a unified call center system 1933.
The service aims to integrate all communication channels provided by the ministry. It is a new channel of communication enabling the public to reach various departments of the ministry through the portal by filling out a communication form and selecting the type of service (complaint, proposal or inquiry) required.
The request is then automatically directed to the unified call center system to process the application. The individual then receives a message containing a number allowing them to follow up the status of their application.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Hajj Ministry announces insurance for pilgrims

Time: December 12, 2019 

Hajj and Umrah Minister Mohammed Salih Bentin and Tawuniya Chairman Sulaiman Al-Humaid signed an agreement on Wednesday to provide insurance for pilgrims coming from outside Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
  • Comes as part of the Vision 2030 reform plan
  • Supported by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah

JEDDAH: Hajj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten and Tawuniya Chairman Sulaiman Al-Humaid signed an agreement on Wednesday to provide insurance for pilgrims coming from outside Saudi Arabia.

The signing took place at the Hajj and Umrah Ministry’s headquarters in Makkah. As part of the agreement, the ministry will provide health and other insurance services to pilgrims from the time they arrive in the Kingdom until they leave.

The insurance scheme comes as part of the Vision 2030 reform plan, which aims to enhance pilgrims’ experiences, said Minister Benten.

Tawuniya was tapped by the Hajj and Umrah Ministry in consultation with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) and the Health Insurance Council, he added.

The insurance will be linked to the visa as soon as the pilgrim arrives in Saudi Arabia, he said. There will be a hotline, and pilgrims will be served by teams who speak multiple languages.

Ayman Al-Arfaj, general supervisor of the ministry’s media center, said the insurance will cost SR189 per person, which will be paid to the insurance company and will cover 30 days, the total stay of the pilgrim in Saudi Arabia.

He said that insurance will be unified for all pilgrims and will cover emergency cases, accidents and repatriation of the remains of pilgrims who die in Saudi Arabia. A pilgrim automatically gets insurance once the visa is issued.

Pilgrims in need of health assistance can avail themselves of the insurance benefit by presenting their passports at any hospital or clinic under the Saudi Ministry of Health or any private hospital and clinic accredited by the Health Insurance Council, Al-Arfaj said.

Abdulaziz bin Hadsan Al-Bouq, CEO of Tawuniya, which has been awarded the contract for four years, said the Kingdom is developing innovative methods to provide health services and reduce accidents at holy sites.

This project, he added, is supported by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and each insurance covers an amount of SR100,000 ($26,665) per person.

Al-Arfaj noted that since the start of the Umrah season in October, a total of 1,518,649 pilgrims have arrived in the Kingdom.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Arab Strategy Forum: Saudi reforms positive for 1.8 billion Muslims

10/12/19

Arab Strategy Forum session in Dubai on Monday chaired by Faisal J. Abbas and featuring Ed Husain, center, and Omar Saif Ghobash, right. (AN)

From left: Zeina Soufan of Dubai TV, Alain Bejjani of the International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Hamidy of the Arab Monetary Fund, Dr. Abdulmonem Said of The Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, and international oil economist Dr. Mamdouh Salameh. (AN)

From left: Former US vice president Dick Cheney, former foreign minister of China Li Zhaoxing, and the Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. (WAM)
From left: Becky Anderson of CNN, Karim Sadjadpour, Chief Iran Expert and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dr. Elena Suponina, Advisor at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Sager, Founder and Chairman of the Gulf Research Center, and Huseyin Bagci, Deputy Director of Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara. (WAM)
  • Author Ed Husain says Kingdom’s reforms are not just about Saudi Arabia but the whole Islamic world
  • UAE Minister Omar Saif Ghobash says Arab states would be better off if they separated economic problems from religious ones

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia came in for high praise at the Arab Strategy Forum, an annual event in Dubai attended by prominent scholars, diplomats, strategists and media professionals with the aim to forecast the events and trends for the next 10 years.

Taking part in a panel discussion on Monday with the theme “Future of Islamism in the Next Decade,” Ed Husain, a co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, drew attention to the ongoing reforms in the Kingdom.

Describing the changes as positive yet “unanticipated,” he praised the Kingdom’s efforts.

“These reforms are not just about Saudi Arabia, they affect the whole region: 1.8 billion Muslims look in that direction several times a day,” he said.

“We are looking to the future of Saudi Arabia as it affects all Muslims around the world,” he said, adding that with these changes, “Muslims and the rest of the world are better for it.”

Since the announcement of the Vision 2030 reform plans in 2016, Saudi Arabia has witnessed steady progress in women’s empowerment.

The most prominent examples are the lifting of the driving ban on women and the removal of a guardianship system that now enables Saudi women to travel or obtain a passport without male consent.

Other advances include the enactment of an anti-harassment law and changes to laws regarding custody and alimony. Women have been allowed to enter new fields such as aviation, state security, economy, entrepreneurship, tourism and entertainment.

Besides praising Saudi Arabia, Husain described the UAE as a country with “an almost ideal model,” where people are “privately pious and realise it is the state and not the mosque that is responsible for solving your social and economic issues.”

In his comments on “mosque and state,” Omar Saif Ghobash, assistant minister for cultural affairs at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said there is a need to redefine what it means to be a Muslim Arab today.

Ghobash, who served as UAE’s ambassador to France and Russia and is the author of “Letters to a Young Muslim,” said the definition is needed because it is no longer exceptional in the region to be creative, progressive and economically driven.

If one looks at history, the religious class carried a great deal of authority in how cities operated, he  said. But with advances in knowledge and the creation of various specializations, “the clerical class” can no longer claim to have the ability to answer all questions that may fall under topics such as transport policies, logistics and demographic challenges.

According to Ghobash, “the new generation fortunately does not have a deep understanding of their own history, and maybe that’s a way for them to be more positive of the future — unburdened by their forefather’s baggage.”

The findings of a poll developed by Arab News as part of an ongoing collaboration with the ASF, “Mosque and state: How Arabs see the next 10 years,” were revealed during the panel discussion.

Moderating the session, Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News, cited YouGov poll data suggesting that the Arab world remains religious despite reforms and changes in different fields.

The survey suggests that 51 percent of Arabs are in favor of places of worship for other religions but fear a secular state model.

Husain ascribed the stigma connected with secularism in the region to the absence of a native, authentic and relevant definition that Arabs could identity with.

Under the circumstance, “the failure to articulate a strong Arab identity will create a vacuum for extreme Islamism,” said Husain, whose 2007 book “The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left” has been described as “as much a memoir of personal struggle and inner growth as it is a report on a new type of extremism.”

Criticizing political parties and organizations with an extremist agenda, he asked: “What has Hamas done for Gaza? What has Hezbollah done for Lebanon? What has the Muslim Brotherhood done for the Egyptians? The uprisings led to instability.”

He suggested “progress” as the best model for Arab states to adopt, pointing out that a desire to overthrow the government — as seen in the Arab Spring revolts since 2011— does not result in a “utopian” system.

“We are still suffering from the revolutions since 2011 but what we have seen is a strong response to them … and that the overthrowing of a governments didn’t work, doesn’t work and will not work.”

Echoing Husain’s views, Ghobash said the sheer scale of social and economic problems across the Arab world is a result of power being used to drive an extremist agenda.

In his view, Arab states would be better off it they correctly identified and separated economic problems from religious ones.

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘Smart Hajj’: More services planned to improve pilgrims’ experience

Time: October 09, 2019  

Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat, deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah, left, and Dr. AbdulRahman Aljadhai, CEO of Elm company, sign two memorandums of understanding to develop and operate an electronic platform for subsistence, health, environment, and to establish and operate the Qualifying and Licensing Center for Employees of Hajj and Umrah Sectors. (Photos/Supplied)

  • The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is one of the participants in GITEX 2019, an annual technological event in Dubai

JEDDAH: The first phase of “Smart Hajj” helped the movement, transportation and safety of pilgrims this year, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced.
Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat, deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah, and Dr. AbdulRahman Aljadhai, CEO of Elm Co., signed two memorandums of understanding to develop and operate the electronic platform for subsistence, health, environment, and to establish and operate the Qualifying and Licensing Center for Employees of Hajj and Umrah Sectors.
“The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is undergoing digital transformation in cooperation with leading technology companies to promote the concepts of using smart solutions to provide high-quality services for the Guests of Allah, which will contribute to improving and enriching pilgrims’ experience in the Kingdom as well as achieve one of the main goals of Saudi Vision 2030,” Dr. Mashat said during a press statement at GITEX 2019.
“The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in accordance with the instructions and guidance of the Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammad Salih Bentin, has made many strategic partnerships with the private sector to improve the quality of services and the development of ‘Smart Hajj’ solutions, including the signing of memorandums of understanding last year with SAP in the field of technology, digital infrastructure, cloud computing, geospatial cloud computing platforms, Internet of Things, and smart cards to improve services,” he said.
Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, said: “Our Smart Hajj ensures that millions of pilgrims from around the world are transported quickly, easily and safely to religious sites on set schedules.
“The successful digital transformation allows real-time insights to optimize travel and crowd experiences and during our second phase of Smart Hajj we will roll-out predictive modeling and simulation for millions of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.”
The “Smart Hajj” captures in real time pilgrims using the Internet of Things, geospatial and camera analytics, along with data from the pilgrim experience mobile feedback platform.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is one of the participants in GITEX 2019, an annual technological event in Dubai. The ministry is showcasing its latest technologies in serving Hajj and Umrah pilgrims and enriching their experience in Saudi Arabia.

This article was first published in Arab News

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OIC praises Saudi Arabia’s $50m donation to UNRWA

28/09/19

Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf announced the donation to UNRWA on Thursday
OIC Secretary-General Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen also praised donations made by other member states of the organization
RIYADH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) praised Saudi Arabia’s donation worth $50 million to the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA on Saturday.
OIC Secretary-General Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen also praised donations made by other member states of the organization.
Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf announced the donation to the core program budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for 2019 on Thursday during a meeting with UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.
“The renewed and generous donation by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is of great significance to our Agency… We are very grateful for the dynamic partnership and cooperation with the Kingdom”, said Mr.Krahenbuhl.
UNRWA is a UN agency and provides assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia gives $50m to Sri Lanka for medical faculty

Time: September 19, 2019

COLOMBO: Saudi Arabia provided a concessional loa3eeeillion) to Sri Lanka on Wednesday to establish a fully equipped faculty of medicine at the Sabaragamuwa University at Ratnapura.

The agreement was signed between vice chairman and managing director of the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), Dr. Khaled Sulaiman Al-Khudairy, and secretary to the Ministry of Finance, Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga, in the presence of the Saudi Ambassador in Colombo Abdulnasser Al-Harthy.

Following the signing ceremony at the Ministry of Finance in Colombo, Samaratunge said that the Saudi funding would help to contribute to the government policy of augmenting opportunities for higher education in medicine in Sri Lanka.

The funds will be used to construct infrastructure facilities and to provide undergraduates with state-of-the-art teaching and learning facilities (laboratory and other equipment) that will help provide them with a world-class medical education.

FASTFACT

The Muslim World League recently donated $5 million during Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa’s visit to Sri Lanka to help the victims of the Easter Sunday bomb blasts.

Al-Harthy said that this is one of the several projects that is funded by the Saudi Fund for Development. The SFD has given SR1.4 billion to Sri Lanka as soft loans and grants since the 1980s, he said.

“We hope to help Sri Lanka not only in education; we will consider more such facilities in health, roads, irrigation, community development and agricultural sectors,” Al-Harthy said.

Last year, the SFD granted two concessional loans worth $73 million to Sri Lanka for its higher education and water resource management sectors.

The SFD provided $28 million for the Wayamba University Township Development Project, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Higher Education and Highways. This project is designed to develop the academic facilities and infrastructure of the university as well as support the livelihoods of people who live in the area around it. The SFD also provided a concessional loan of $45 million to implement the Left Bank Development Project in Kaluganga.

The Muslim World League recently donated $5 million during Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa’s visit to Sri Lanka to help the victims of the Easter Sunday bomb blasts.

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Islamic affairs minister highlights Saudi effort to spread moderation

Time: September 09, 2019  

Al-Asheikh welcomed the Bangladeshi minister, noting the deep and solid relations that bound Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh together. (SPA)
  • Abdullah added that memorizing the Holy Qur’an in Bangladesh was of high importance and was the reason behind his country taking part in the competition

MAKKAH: The Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh received the Bangladeshi Minister of Religious Affairs Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah.
Abdullah was head of a delegation arriving in the Kingdom to participate in the 41st King Abdul Aziz international competition for memorizing, reciting and interpreting the Holy Qur’an.
Al-Asheikh welcomed the Bangladeshi minister, noting the deep and solid relations that bound Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh together, especially with regard to Islamic call.
The Saudi minister also highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts to serve Islam, spread moderation, reject and fight extremism, and work for the unity of Muslims of all ranks throughout the world.
The Bangladeshi minister pointed out that his country fully supported the Saudi stance and said the Muslim world should follow in the Kingdom’s footsteps in spreading the message of moderation and uniting behind King Salman to fight evil around the globe.
Abdullah added that memorizing the Holy Qur’an in Bangladesh was of high importance and was the reason behind his country taking part in the competition. He also praised Saudi Arabia’s success in organizing this year’s Hajj season.

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Saudi Arabia donates $2m for food security among Muslim countries Previous

Time: August 30, 2019  

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Saudi Arabia is to pump $2 million (SR7.5 million) into efforts to improve agricultural output and food security among Muslim countries. (SPA)
  • Al-Fadhli’s announcement of the funding came during the second session of the IOFS’ general assembly in Jeddah
  • Secretary-General of the OIC said food security was one of the highest priorities of the organization

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is to pump $2 million (SR7.5 million) into efforts to improve agricultural output and food security among Muslim countries.
The Kingdom’s Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, who is also chairman of the general assembly of the Islamic Organization for Food Security (IOFS), said the contribution was aimed at enhancing the organization’s work and the adoption of food security strategies by all its member countries.
Al-Fadhli’s announcement of the funding came during the second session of the IOFS’ general assembly in Jeddah. The minister said that Saudi Arabia attached great importance to agricultural development, environment and food security in all its policies relating to national, regional and global food security.
Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen said that the organization was working to implement a comprehensive policy to develop agricultural products and food security and improve Islamic environmental cooperation in the food and agriculture sectors.
He added that food security was one of the highest priorities of the OIC, particularly as the economies of most of its member states were based on agriculture, with the sector accounting for about 12 percent of their GDP.
Al-Othaimeen thanked the government of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for hosting the meeting in Jeddah and for the Kingdom’s $2 million donation to support the work of the IOFS.

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Sudanese pilgrims thank king for Hajj hosting

Time: August 19, 2019  

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The program, which was implemented by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance, invited 1,000 pilgrims from Sudan to perform Hajj. (SPA)
  • The worshippers said that the hosting reflects King Salman’s appreciation for their sacrifices in defending their Yemeni brothers against Iranian-backed Houthi militias

MAKKAH: Sudanese pilgrims who came as part of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Guests Program for Hajj and Umrah thanked King Salman for hosting them.
The program, which was implemented by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance, invited 1,000 pilgrims from Sudan to perform Hajj.
Of them, 500 came from the Sudanese Army and those belonging to the families of fallen Sudanese troops who fought with the Arab coalition forces to support the legitimate government in Yemen.
The worshippers said that the hosting reflects King Salman’s appreciation for their sacrifices in defending their Yemeni brothers against Iranian-backed Houthi militias, that violated all international laws. They said that the kind gesture represents the historical relations and unrivaled support shown to Sudan by Saudi Arabia.

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KSA transports 43,000 pilgrims free of charge from Mina to Grand Mosque

Time: August 18, 2019  

The service of transporting pilgrims was implemented under the governor of Makkah, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, to provide best facilities. (SPA)
  • The first route is dedicated to pilgrims from Turkey, Europe, America, Australia and the Southeast Asia Foundation

MAKKAH: For the first time during this year’s Hajj season, 43,000 pilgrims from Turkey, Europe, America and Australia were transported free of charge from Mina to the Grand Mosque to perform Tawaf Al-Ifadah.
Adel Qari, the supervisor of the transport sector at the Establishment of Motawifs of Pilgrims of Turkey Muslims of Europe, America and Australia, said that this was part of preparations for future expansion and development of this experiment. Coordination can then be done in advance for the establishment of stops, the use of distinctive buses, and the employment of the largest number of them.
Qari told Arab News that the service of transporting pilgrims from Mina to the Grand Mosque during the Days of Tashreeq was implemented under the governor of Makkah, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, who directed the Supreme Commission for Transport Control to implement the service on four dedicated routes.

FASTFACT

43,000 pilgrims from Turkey, Europe, America and Australia were transported within 30 hours — between 1 p.m. on Dul Hijjah 10 (Aug. 11) and 7 p.m. on Dul Hijjah 11 (Aug. 12) — on 150 buses, which carried out successive trips from their camps in Mina to Jroul Station north of the Grand Mosque.

“The first route is dedicated to pilgrims from Turkey, Europe, America, Australia and the Southeast Asia Foundation. The second route starts from the Jamarat facility, passes through the Grand Mosque and ends at Talaat Sidqi Street. The third route starts from the end of the Jamarat facility, passes through the Grand Mosque and ends at Al-Shisha district. The fourth route runs from the King Khalid Bridge to the Grand Mosque,” he said.

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