RIYADH: The big truth about history is that it inevitably fades into the past, but history can also be captured and preserved for posterity.
In fact, it can be housed and lovingly nourished and tended to withstand the onslaught of time.
Saudi Arabia’s King Fahad National Library has been undertaking this endeavor for the past three decades, playing a seminal role in the preservation of Islamic heritage and ensuring that present and future generations continue to benefit from Islam’s contributions to civilization.
Established in 1990 in Riyadh, the library is home to more than 6,000 original manuscripts — many of them rare and ancient, including the exquisite Kufic Qur’an, dating to the 9th century CE — and a total of 73,000 paper and electronic transcripts.
“The King Fahad National Library has been interested in preserving manuscripts and heritage since its establishment in 1989, to a point where a royal decree has been issued to the library for the preservation of manuscripts,” Abdulaziz Nasif, the head of the manuscript department, told Arab News.
“The library estimates the manuscript’s value and sets its price when we receive it. Regarding the possession of manuscripts, we welcome everything that is presented to us and everything that is worth owning.”
The Kufic Qur’an at the library, distinguished by its Kufic calligraphy, has one of the oldest scripts in Arabic, a highly angular form of the Arabic alphabet used in the earliest copies of the Qur’an.
It originated in Kufa, a city in southern Iraq, an intellectual hub during the early Islamic period, now known as Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.
“It’s not written on paper but on deer skin,” Nasif said. “Having holy verses written on leather is a form of honoring the text. But the cover is new.”
The Kufic Qur’an was bought from the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula almost 20 years ago and recently rebound to increase its longevity.
The library has other Qur’an manuscripts written in ancient script, besides special books such as the poetic works of Al-Ahnaf Al-Akbari, a famous poet in Baghdad who died in 995 CE.
It also has a copy of Ibn Daqiq Al-Eid’s book “Ahkam Al-Ahkam,” written in the late-14th century. Al-Eid is counted among Islam’s great scholars in the fundamentals of Islamic law and belief.
In addition, the library also owns “Yatimat Al-Dahr,” a book by Abu Mansur Al-Thaalibi, a writer of Persian or Arab origin famous for his anthologies and collection of epigrams.
Once the library acquires a manuscript, a rigorous and exacting approach to its conservation and maintenance is adopted.
“Each manuscript is first sent to the restoration and sanitization department and then returned to our department to be indexed,” Nasif said.
However, not every manuscript is sent for restoration “because, sometimes, it can ruin (it),” he said.
The restoration is followed by the indexing process, which is a thorough exercise.
Nasif explained: “To fill the index card, we use information that is listed on the first page, starting with the title, the author’s name, the manuscript’s sizes (height and length), the transcriber’s name (the person who wrote it), and what is written at the end of the manuscript, so that we are able recognize one manuscript from the other having the same specifications.”
Given the age and pricelessness of the manuscripts, their preservation methodology — which is at the core of library’s mission — is equally critical.
“Manuscripts should be kept in cold temperatures, to prevent insects and bacteria from surviving, because they can damage the paper and even the animal skin that was used in some manuscripts,” Nasif said.
The manuscripts are sterilized every year or every six months to prevent their deterioration.
The age of digitization places its own demands on repositories of knowledge such as libraries with their physical wealth of history, and the King Fahad National Library is keeping pace with these demands.
It is working to complete the digitization of all its manuscripts. “Most of the transcriptions are still on microfilm but we are working on digitizing them on CDs and hard disks,” Nasif said.
The library also enables researchers, history lovers and general readers to access its precious collection though a range of electronic services.
Users can log in and browse through the vast collection and place their requirements. Researchers can request a specific manuscript, a rare book or a photograph to aid in their work.
The service is available to all members of the community from within and outside the Kingdom.
King Fahad National Library has also obtained microfilm photographs of one of the most important Arabic manuscript collections in US libraries, the Princeton University Library.
It also possesses 1,140 photocopied manuscripts on film slides from the Library of the Jewish University.
Last but not least, the manuscripts of the Riyadh Library “Dar Al-Iftaa” — a total of 792 documents — were transferred to the King Fahad National Library on the orders of King Salman when he was the governor of Riyadh and general supervisor of the library.
The numbers 1-84-27 may seem mysterious but, to cut the reader’s confusion short, they are related to the Saudi Project for the Utilization of Hajj Meat. They simply mean that, last year, the project was able to slaughter about 1 million animals in 84 hours and distribute them to deserving beneficiaries in 27 Muslim countries. Distribution started with the poor in the Haram area of Makkah.
This pioneering and outstanding project was launched 37 years ago. The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) is honored to manage it on behalf of the government. The project has helped facilitate the performance of rituals, protect the environment of the holy sites from pollution and prevent waste by providing meat to the needy. Providing food to the poor and the hungry receives special attention from Saudi Arabia. In this context, the IsDB is working with the Kingdom to expand the scope of the project to include fighting hunger throughout the Muslim world, especially in the light of a steady increase in the numbers of the poor and hungry in IsDB member countries.
Before the project, livestock would be slaughtered and thrown in Mina between camps and on the road. In the evening, vehicles of the municipality, or Holy Makkah Municipality, would collect the meat and bury or burn it. There are photographs, films, articles and novels from that period showing the scale of soil, air and groundwater pollution and describing the persistent smell of dead livestock for nearly two months after Hajj. The government was spending about SR20 million ($5.3 million) on landfills to accommodate these carcasses.
However, after the issuance of a fatwa authorizing the use of sacrificial meat for distribution to the poor of Haram as well as among the Muslim poor, the Kingdom established this outstanding project. In its first year, 63,000 animals were slaughtered, and that number has continued to increase along with the rise in the number of pilgrims, until it reached nearly 1 million last year. The distribution of meat to the poor of Haram starts on the first day of Eid Al-Adha, and shipping to Muslim countries starts on the first day of Muharram. In addition, meat is distributed within the Kingdom through 250 charities that are accredited by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and which have refrigerators and freezers to preserve the meat and help transport it to the deserving beneficiaries.
The total amount of sacrificial meat distributed from the beginning of the project until last year was about 33 million animals to 100 million people in the Muslim world.
When the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the Kingdom, the project participated in the “Birran Bi Makkah” campaign launched by Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, the Governor of the Makkah Region, to help the needy. The project, in cooperation with charities, neighborhood associations and “awqaf” (endowments) in Makkah, has distributed 15,000 carcasses or 150,000 kilograms of meat. Nearly 13,000 carcasses were also distributed to various charities throughout the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s support for the project is unlimited. In the context of facilitating the performance of the rituals and expanding the project’s role in providing food to the Muslim poor, the Kingdom has allocated more than SR2 billion to establish new slaughterhouses equipped with an integrated, automatic system for skinning and meat cleaning, cutting, transport, packaging, preservation, distribution and canning. Also planned are a renewable energy plant, a wastewater treatment plant and a central complex to accommodate 1.5 million carcasses with the possibility of expanding the capacity to about 5 million carcasses. This is upon the instructions of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Studies and designs have been prepared and offered for bidding.
The Kingdom’s support can also be seen in the exemption of more than 20,000 project employees from visa fees and support for livestock voucher purchases, among others.
The project management is working with the IsDB Strategy and Transformation Department to prepare a comprehensive study to expand its role to be one of the Kingdom’s tools to fight hunger in the Muslim world. Some member countries are suffering from famines and, according to the Global Hunger Index, the number of people suffering from hunger is increasing, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, as a result of armed conflicts, droughts, climate change and the spread of diseases and epidemics. The number of people dying from hunger is also increasing. Therefore, the project launched a number of programs, such as the Charity, Birth Sacrifice and Will Program, with the aim of increasing the number of animals distributed among the poor and needy. This program allows a person to sign a contract to allocate a certain amount of money over a number of years to help the project slaughter livestock for the testator after his or her death.
I take the opportunity of the blessed month of Ramadan to invite my brothers and sisters in IsDB member countries and in Muslim communities in non-member countries to help support the project by participating in its various programs. The aim is to increase the number of animals that are being used so that the project can reach larger numbers of deserving beneficiaries.
• Dr. Bandar Hajjar is President of the Islamic Development Bank Group.
RIYADH: On the directives from King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Islamic Affairs Ministry dispatched 200 tons of dates to 24 Muslim countries.
The ministry’s deputy undersecretary, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Al-Aqil, said it is part of the Kingdom’s efforts to serve Muslims around the world during the month of Ramadan.
He said despite the ongoing pandemic, the Kingdom’s humanitarian projects are still underway to mitigate the suffering of humanity.
Al-Aqil said the interests of Muslims across the world are always the main focus of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom, he said, not only serve Muslims but is always at the forefront of humanitarian projects across the world without any discrimination.
He said the dates are the finest selected from different parts of the Kingdom as a gift to the Muslim community.
Saudi Ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki and Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Affairs Noor-ul-Haq Qadri inaugurate iftar project in Islamabad. (SPA)
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance has launched Ramadan iftar projects in a number of countries, which aim to provide meals for 1 million people during the holy month of Ramadan.
King Salman has approved an increase in funding to SR5 million ($1.3 million) for Ramadan iftar projects in 18 countries around the world.
This year’s iftar project will be carried out through the distribution of food baskets in line with precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In Pakistan, Saudi Ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki and Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Affairs Noor-ul-Haq Qadri inaugurated the initiative in the capital, Islamabad.
Al-Maliki said that the program was within the framework of the support of the king in the service of Islamic action.
Qadri also thanked — on behalf of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, the government and its people — the king and crown prince for the support provided by the Kingdom to those in need in Pakistan.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, Saudi Ambassador Essam bin Abed Al-Thaqafi launched the iftar project, including the supply of food baskets to those fasting during the holy month.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Islamic Ministry, represented by the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, launched the program there.
Saudi Deputy Ambassador to Argentina Mohammed Al-Aidan said that it was part of a number of projects launched to help Muslims around the world during the holy month.
The director of the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center, Ali bin Awadah Al-Shamrani, said that the program targeted more than 4,000 individuals by distributing 400 food baskets containing all the food requirements of families in the holy month. The center was working on distributing them according to precautionary measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, represented by the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center in Sarajevo, launched the program in the presence of Saudi Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Hani bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Mominah.
The director of the King Fahd Cultural Center, Dr. Mohammed bin Hassan Al-Sheikh, said that given global health conditions this year, the program would be implemented through food baskets distributed to needy people in all regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He indicated that the program would be implemented in the rest of the Balkan countries also covered by the program; it will be implemented in Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, benefiting 60,000 individuals.
DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has repatriated 296 Filipino passengers to Manila as part of the Kingdom’s initiative to return residents and tourists back to their countries due to coronavirus, state news agency SPA reported.
Residents availed of the Awda (return) initiative by registering in the Kingdom’s Absher platform.
Saudi Arabia also earlier repatriated around 227 Saudi nationals from Japan as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus global outbreak.
RIYADH: Passport offices at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah opened on Sunday, finalizing the procedures for Umrah pilgrims whose visas have expired and who have overstayed, and who have also applied through the online platform of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
A royal order has been issued to exempt Umrah pilgrims who have overstayed from the legal effects, financial penalties, and from being placed on the list of deportees (the deportee fingerprint) and to ensure their return to their countries under the supervision of the committee responsible for overstaying pilgrims and those who wish to travel.
The passport offices said that in cooperation with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the Ministry of Health, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, and the competent operational authorities at King Abdul Aziz International Airport, travelers had been received and their departure procedures completed while applying preventive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease.
PARIS: Saudi doctors helping to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in French hospitals have lifted the lid on life under lockdown in France.
The medics have been taking part in internship and specialization programs, living in France with their families on Saudi government-backed scholarships which pay for their training.
There are 50 Saudi doctors currently in France as part of the program and three of them spoke to Arab News about their experiences amid the virus pandemic in the country where to date there has been 44,550 recorded cases of infection resulting in 3,024 deaths.
Dr. Abdu Al-Khayri, a neurosurgeon from Qunfudah, is currently on the staff of the Rothschild Hospital. The 31-year-old speaks fluent French after spending a year learning the language prior to starting his medical studies.
“Regardless of our specialties, we are all facing the coronavirus crisis just as French doctors and our other colleagues are. We are proud to be on the team facing this crisis. I salute the ER doctors, the specialists in infectious diseases, and anesthesiologists who are all at the forefront, as well as the entire medical staff for their courage, their efforts, and the risks they take.
“As a neurosurgeon I work every day. If a patient arrives and needs urgent care, we intervene according to the procedures established by the French Ministry of Health to deal with the virus. Operations that are not urgent are called off at the moment.”
Dr. Qusay Mandoora, a 32-year-old Saudi urologist at Pitie Salpetriere hospital, told Arab News: “During the coronavirus outbreak, we offer our services to all doctors or personnel who ask for them, even if it is not in our field of expertise.
“We follow the official protocols and take the necessary safety measures. We also try to cut down on our trips to the hospital in order to avoid exposure to, and possible spread of, COVID-19.”
Dr. Ola Binhimd, from Jeddah, arrived in France in January 2015. She is in her final year as a plastic surgeon and reconstruction resident at the Necker Pediatric Hospital in Paris and was due to finish her internship there at the end of April, but it has been extended to the end of May due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I currently work in a pediatric hospital, so cases of COVID-19 are less frequent here, though seven children suffering from the virus were recently admitted.
“The hospital made a number of changes in order to deal with this crisis. Before these cases were admitted, two operating rooms were ready every day and they were used to perform operations that were not urgent. Both of them have now been re-purposed and are not used except for emergency operations.
“Anesthesiologists now check on patients and see if any of them have a fever. Visits to the hospital are prohibited and the child’s parents are the only ones allowed in his or her room,” she added.
Meanwhile, Al-Khayri began studying neurosurgery in Riyadh at King Faisal Hospital and was then accepted in France to study for a diploma in his specialist area.
“I arrived in France in 2013 and studied French for a year. I then did a five-year training course for all specialties in different French hospitals, before obtaining my medical degree in 2019.
“I spent a year in the Kremlin Bicêtre hospital, 12 months at Pitie Salpetriere, and one year at Mondor. I finished the required studies and am now a resident surgeon with the title of fellow or neurosurgery specialist at the Rothschild Foundation Hospital.
“I came here as part of an exchange program between Saudi Arabia and France. In the program 50 Saudi doctors study their specializations in France. In neurosurgery, there are only one or two positions open for Saudi surgeons every year.”
Al-Khayri is grateful that King Salman, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and the Ministry of Health have allowed him to work on his specialization in France. He is also very thankful for what the Saudi government does for students in Saudi Arabia and abroad.
Mandoora said: “I did all my medical courses in Saudi Arabia in English and then took a one-year French course at the Alliance Francaise in Paris. Then I was able to begin my medical and surgical specialization which is in treating kidneys and related problems.
“Our government, which financed our studies, also allowed our families to join us in France. I was a resident for five years in addition to a year of training. Saudi residents in France relocate to a different hospital every six months.”
He highly rated the French medical system and said his experiences working in France had been crucial to the development of his career. “The more patients we treat, the more we learn.” He added that the French system of treating people in public and semi-private hospitals, had allowed him to benefit from dealing with a wide range of medical conditions.
On his personal life, he said: “I am currently in my seventh year of study, so we definitely have friends here by now. My wife is studying marketing at INSEEC University in Paris, and we have a son. I feel completely integrated with the team of residents at the French hospital.”
Once he graduates, Mandoora plans to return home and work in Saudi Arabia.
Binhimd, who studied medicine in Jordan and Egypt and graduated from Egypt, said: “I did an externship at Hotel Dieu in Beirut and then returned to Saudi Arabia where I worked for the government in the Ministry of Defense.
“I also worked at the King Fahd Armed Forces Hospital in Jeddah for two years and received a scholarship from the hospital. I have now completed my internship in plastic surgery and reconstruction after six months of French lessons.”
She added: “I am currently working in the field of plastic surgery for children. That includes working with those born with deformities and with those who have accidents such as dog bites. These accidents are common nowadays because children are confined to their homes.
“This is my 10th semester as a resident. I have one semester left at St. Louis Hospital in Paris and in November 2020, I will move to the Gustave Roussy Institute.”
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.
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.