Dubai Hotels Aim to Pick Up Pilgrim Trade During Ramadan

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The National

Atlantis_Hotel_in_Dubai

Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

Hoteliers in Dubai are trying to tempt pilgrims to stop over in the emirate on their way to Saudi Arabia to make up for an expected slump in business next month during Ramadan.

The GCC is usually the most important market for Dubai hotels during the summer months, a low season for the industry as many Europeans are put off by the soaring temperatures.

This year, Ramadan takes place throughout August. Most GCC nationals prefer to spend the holy month at home.

The dual impact of Ramadan falling during the slowest month in the year has prompted hoteliers to launch “pilgrim packages” as they seek out alternative markets. Ramadan is a peak time for umrah trips to Saudi Arabia. About 4 million pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for umrah throughout last year.

“We are trying to link the stopover for many of the Muslims who are travelling from India, Pakistan, Iran, and they go for umrah in Saudi Arabia,” said Habib Khan, the general manager of the Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa in Dubai. He said the packages were likely to include iftars and suhoors.

Indonesia and Malaysia were other potential markets for this business, he said, adding that the pilgrims could be persuaded to stop over either on the way to Saudi Arabia or on their way back.

“That’s an opportunity to give them a special offer and reach out to them,” Mr Khan said. “If they get a good offer, they will stop over and stay for two or three nights.”

The Ramada hotel in the Downtown Burj Khalifa area is also trying to attract pilgrims, aiming to draw stopover business from the large Muslim communities in South Africa and the UK.

“They have to transit via Dubai,” said Wael El Behi, the executive assistant manager at Ramada Downtown Dubai. “This is another market which can generate a good proportion of business. There is another factor to consider, which is the inventory in town.

“The room inventory is increasing. We have to be tactical in our approach to win new business. Our expectations for the month of July, because of the Dubai Summer Surprises, will be 85 to 87 percent occupancy, while for the month of Ramadan our target is a maximum of 60 percent occupancy.”

Mr El Behi said the room rates could more than halve next month compared with their present rates.

An influx of tourists from the GCC, in particular Saudi Arabia, has helped hotels in Dubai to achieve high occupancy levels in the past few months.

Beach hotels in Dubai benefited from an 11 percent increase in revenue per available room, a key industry indicator, during the first four months of the year, according to the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. Occupancy levels across Dubai reached 81 percent, compared with 77 percent in the same period last year.

Dubai hotels will also be targeting their home market, with packages for UAE residents to attract guests from neighbouring emirates.

Tourists from China could also help to counteract the expected decline next month.

“The Chinese market will come because of the low prices,” Mr Khan said. “My hotel has seen a threefold increase in the months of May and June.”

He said that Chinese tourists made up 15 percent of all guests at the hotel during that period.

13-28

Israeli politician Livni hails Dubai Hamas killing

March 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

BBC News

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

Mr Mabhouh died in his hotel room in Dubai last month

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni has applauded the controversial killing of a Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel by suspected Israeli agents.

"The fact that a terrorist was killed, and it doesn’t matter if it was in Dubai or Gaza, is good news to those fighting terrorism," she said.

It is thought to be the first time a top Israeli has made such a comment.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found dead in his room on 20 January, having been electrocuted and suffocated.

His alleged killers used fake British, Irish, German and French passports, according to the authorities in Dubai, which released pictures of the suspects, none of whom were caught.

Mr Mabhouh was one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing.

The Israeli secret service Mossad has been widely accused of carrying out the killing but Israel has repeatedly asserted there is no proof its agents were involved.

‘Fighting terrorism’

Mrs Livni, the former foreign minister who leads the parliamentary opposition for the Kadima party, did not indicate who was behind the killing.

"The entire world must support those fighting terrorism," she told a Jewish conference in Jerusalem.

"Any comparison between terrorism and those fighting it is immoral."

The current Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, responded to allegations of a Mossad plot last week by saying: "Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies."

Dubai security cameras picked up 18 members of what local police believe was a hit team.

Diplomatic tension between Western states and Israel has grown over the killing.

Muslims Help Haiti

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Letters from Dr. Reshma Vasanwala with International Medical Corps

2010-03-10T181912Z_1906337752_GM1E63B06GF01_RTRMADP_3_HAITI-USA

President of Haiti Rene Preval (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as they deliver remarks in the Rose Garden after meeting at the White House in Washington, March 10, 2010. 

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

TMO Editor’s note: Here are two emails from Haiti sent by Doctor Reshma Vasanwala. She volunteered her services for Haitian earthquake victims, as has Dr. Khalid Rao from Detroit and other Muslim physicians.

reshma

Hi all,

I arrived in Haiti safely–on a UN plane from Santo Domingo. The airport bar at Port au Prince is buzzing with activity–international NGOs, troops (including the 82nd airborne unit), media, journalists, and aid workers.

We are staying at one of the few standing hotels in Port au Prince–a five star hotel that hosted Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, Anderson Cooper, and the like.  There are still a lot of CNN folks here and media from all over the world staying at the same hotel. To my surprise, I’m in the lap of luxury—buffet meals, swimming pool,. Its weird that just across the street hundreds of thousands of people are living in tents and slums.

We are not allowed to leave the hotel and we take a private bus everyday to our place of work. Driving just these short distances, one can see the devastation caused by the earthquake and the suffering of the Haitian people.

We passed some tent cities that were said to have 40,000 people living there! There is a lot of unrest on the streets as gangs are fighting each other for territories.

Our group has tents set up in the hospital compound, since the buildings are unsafe to work in. The hospital grounds have been transformed into an entire campus of tents-each providing a different type of specialized medical care. There is a pediatric and neonatal ICU, a regular ICU, HIV and TB tents, general surgery, OB, and ER. However, in most of these tents the doctors only come by every few days, and no one to cover at night, so people simply die.

Our group, IMC, provides Emergency care on this campus and we provide coverage 24hours a day.  I am assigned to the ER–which has been awesome.There are literally hundreds of patients (600-800)  each day, and there is a line several blocks long every morning.  I have never quite experienced anything like this. The tents are like 100 degrees, it smells, there are rats and  it is complete chaos–but its a blast!

I am doing things here that I have never done, simply because there is no one else to call, or everyone else is too busy. I have never provided such substandard care in my life, because we don’t have the tool and resources to provide good care. However, the reality is that for most of these people, this is the best care they have ever received.

A word about the people on the IMC team…there are about 30 volunteers here, and I am so impressed by these people. They are brilliant, passionate, interesting and loads of fun.

I am working the night tonight so I have the day off, but I wish I was back at the ER tent rather than the swimming pool–its been that much fun so far.

Reshma

Sent: Monday, March 08, 2010 8:16 AM:

Working with the IMC group has continued to be a blast. Its really amazing that when people come together for a common purpose, there is a unique bond. Our lives have become really integrated and routine. It sometimes feels like summer camp or a travel experience where you don’t have the tedious routines of running errands or the tending to of details that take up so much time back home– so that you can stay focused on purpose. 

I am getting used to the work in the ER and really like it. Its really frustrating however, because everyday people die and often it feels like we are running a hospice service because there is not much we can offer–especially when we don’t have a full laboratory or radiology service.  The medicine wards, where there seems to really be no medical care going on, seem more like a support group—”Hey, I’m sick, you’re sick–lets hang out together”

Yesterday was especially hard yesterday when a 2 year old died from an unknown cause and we watched the mother cry and scream inconsolably. This really got to me.

It was the first time I had seen such a reaction. I was beginning to think, that the Haitian people, having been through so much, had become stoic or emotionally shut down. Before yesterday, I had not really seen emotion expressed in a way that I might expect when a death occurred or when they heard bad news.

On a more random note, a couple of days ago there was some film people from LA who are starting a reality/documentary series about international community development and they filmed all day at our ER. They got me on camera as they followed me and another doctor deal with a sick kid who needed surgery and the surgeons here did not want to operate. We called the 82nd airborne to get the kid transferred to another facility where the surgery took place and the kid survived.

We’ll see if that scout footage makes it on their first show.

Its hard to believe that I just have a few days left. I think I may come back again very soon.

Reshma

12-11

The Manhunt of Epic Proportions

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

spy The scene plays out like something you would see in a chilling Hollywood thriller or spy movie. A team of seasoned assassins, eleven altogether, plots and plans a ‘hit’ to be carried out against an unsuspecting victim. In this case, the target was a Hamas official named Mahmud Al-Mabhuh and his death is not fiction but rather a stone-cold reality. Last January in the tiny Gulf nation of Dubai, the corpse of  Al-Mabhuh was found in his luxury hotel suite. The apparent mode of death was suffocation, however a coroner’s official report regarding the exact cause of death is still pending.

According to the lead investigator, Dubai police chief Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, the team of assassins were composed of both men and women from various European countries. This past week, the Dubai government released a series of photos of the eleven suspects and began creating a timeline up until the point where the assassins completed their mission and fled the tiny Gulf emirate. Composed of six Britains, three Irish, one French and one German national, authorities believe that the team entered the country around the same time that Al-Mabhuh did and followed him straight to his hotel room.

Once there, hotel video cameras corroborate the intricate plot of the assassins, which included several hotel rooms, disguises and the tools necessary to deprive Al-Mabhuh of his life. According to Tamim, at least 4 of the assassins broke into Al-Mabhuh’s hotel room while he was out. They waited for him to come back and then took less than 10 minutes to kill him. Once the deed was done, the assassins executed an almost perfect escape plan, exiting Dubai on separate commercial airplanes in under 20 hours.

The release of the eleven suspects passport information, by the Dubai government, should have provided more answers than it did questions. Unfortunately, it has left even more unanswered questions. By all accounts, the Irish assassins do not even exist according to the government of Ireland.  The passport number for the supposedly German assassin is wrong. And a few of the assassins named are actually Israeli citizens who have ironclad alibis and have never even traveled to Dubai. The Dubai police have not revealed exactly how they obtained the information about the assassins. However, many Hamas-friendly political analysts have speculated that the assassination was a poorly carried out murder plot designed by the long arm of Israel’s Mossad, or Secret Service.

It’s no mystery that there was no love lost between Al-Mabhuh and Israel. Al-Mabhuh was one of the original founders of Hamas. Israel also accused him, in recent years, of participating in a 1989 murder of two Israeli soldiers. And Israel has, for years, blamed Al-Mabhuh for orchestrating teams of smugglers to bring missiles into the Gaza Strip to help Hamas to continue to fight the Israeli occupation. But according to former Mossad officer Rami Igra, in an interview with the Israel Army Radio, the plan looks professional but really “…doesn’t look like an Israeli operation.” The primary reason being the assassin’s total lack of regard for the hundreds and hundreds of security cameras all over Dubai, almost as if they wanted to be filmed so as to lay blame elsewhere. And according to some speculators, the real culprits might be too close for Hamas’s comfort such as in the company of their rivals found in the late Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Movement.

The government of Dubai has reached out to the global community for assistance in solving the murder and this week launched an international manhunt to bring the assassins to justice. It’s not surprising that Dubai is eager to put the murderers behind bars, as it is fast becoming the site of several high profile murders.

Back in 2007, the famous Lebanese singer Susan Tamim was slain in her luxury high rise Dubai condo by none other than a hit man for her estranged boyfriend.

12-8

Alleged Assassins Caught on Dubai Surveillance Tape

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dubai authorities have released extensive footage from surveillance cameras that allegedly shows the movements of a professional 11-person assassination team in the hours before and after a top Hamas leader was killed last month in a hotel room.

The footage, taken from cameras at the Dubai airport and several luxury hotels, follows the activities of 10 men and one woman as they arrived in Dubai on various European passports and moved among hotels and a shopping center, changing into disguises at one point, during the hours before Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed.

Al-Mabhouh, 48, was a founder of Hamas’ military wing. He was believed to be behind the abduction of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and said to be a liaison for smuggling weapons from Iran to Gaza. He had survived several assassination attempts.

He was found dead in room 230 at the Al-Bustan Rotana hotel on January 20. The door on al-Mabhouh’s room was latched and chained from the inside, and there was no blood evidence. An initial report indicated that he died from sudden high blood pressure in the brain. Subsequent reports have suggested he was electrocuted or strangled.

An investigation into hotel records and surveillance tapes uncovered the suspicious activities of a group of Westerners, most of them wearing baseball caps. They staked out al-Mabhouh’s room on the hotel’s second floor, met clandestinely in various locations, disguised themselves and left the hotel briskly after the deed was done. Investigators believe the assassins may have reprogrammed the electronic lock on al-Mabhouh’s door to gain entry.

Hamas has accused the Mossad, Israel’s secretive intelligence service, of masterminding the assassination.

In the 27-minute video, released by Gulf News TV, some of the suspected assassins arrive on separate flights to Dubai early the morning the murder took place. The footage shows some of them meeting up briefly in a shopping mall and checking into and out of hotels during the setup stage. One of the suspects, a bald male, enters a hotel and exits wearing a brown wig and glasses. Later, a woman identified as an Irish national named Gail Folliard, is shown checking into her hotel wearing glasses and a ponytail, then entering the same location where the male suspect changed his appearance. She exits that location wearing a brunette wig.

When al-Mabhouh arrives at his hotel around 3 p.m. on the 19th, the footage captures two of the suspects, dressed in tennis gear, getting into the same elevator with him to follow him to his hotel room. The two suspects later checked into the room across the hall from him, according to Dubai police.

Around 8 p.m., the cameras catch some of the team members in the elevator lobby of al-Mabhouh’s floor while he is out of the hotel for a bit. While they’re standing there keeping watch, another team is apparently trying to gain entry to the victim’s room. During this time, a tourist steps off the elevator, putting the operation in jeopardy, until one of the team members distracts the tourist. A note on the video indicates that, according to the hotel’s computer logs, someone tried to reprogram al-Mabhouh’s electronic door lock during this time.

Al-Mabhouh returned to the hotel around 8:25 p.m and passed the female suspect, Folliard, in the hallway on the way to his room. The killing itself took only 10 minutes around 8:30 p.m., Dubai Police Chief Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim told the Israeli newspaper Ha’Aretz. Four assassins allegedly entered the victim’s hotel room while he was out, using an electronic device to unlock his door, and waited for him to return. Hotel staff discovered his body around 1:30 p.m. on the 20th after failing to reach him on the phone. By then, he’d been dead about 17 hours, and the alleged assassins were long gone.

Oddly, although there is surveillance tape showing the closed doors of some of the rooms near al-Mahbouh’s hotel room when he first checked in, there is no tape showing the assassins entering or leaving the room or walking down that hallway at the time of the assassination. A map of the hotel shown in the video, indicates that the only surveillance camera in that hallway was located one door down from the victim’s room and pointed away from his door toward what appears to be a stairwell.

Following the assassination, the suspects left the hotel quickly and were tracked scattering to different parts of the globe, including Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, Germany and South Africa.

Authorities say the suspects paid for everything in cash and used special communication devices to avoid surveillance. They never made direct calls to one another, as far as authorities could determine. They did, however, make a number of calls to Austria, which authorities believe may have been the location of their command-and-control center.

Within 24 hours after the murder, Dubai investigators reportedly identified the aliases the alleged assassins used on their forged passports. The nationalities on the documents indicated that six of them are British, three are Irish, one is French and one is German. Although the videos show a second woman identified as part of the surveillance team, only one woman — Folliard — is listed among the suspects.

British, Irish and French authorities have indicated that the passports used by the alleged assassins showed obvious signs of forgery. The Irish passport numbers used by suspects Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron, for example, contain no letters and have the wrong number of digits.

At least five Israelis share the same names used by the alleged assassins. One of the names matches a man living near Jerusalem named Melvyn Adam Mildiner. Mildiner, a British national, says his identity was stolen and that he had nothing to do with the assassination. The picture of him that was released by Dubai authorities does not completely match him, Reuters reports.

“I woke up this morning to a world of fun,” he told Reuters after Israeli newspapers published the names and photos of the suspects identified by Dubai authorities. “I am obviously angry, upset and scared — any number of things. And I’m looking into what I can do to try to sort things out and clear my name. I don’t know how this happened or who chose my name or why, but hopefully we’ll find out soon.”

The Mossad is noted for its stealth assassinations. The intelligence service was responsible for tracking down and killing Palestinian militants who murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, as depicted in the Steven Spielberg movie Munich.

The Mossad was also responsible in 1986 for capturing Mordechai Vanunu, a worker at Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant who had planned to disclose information about Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program to the Sunday Times newspaper in the United Kingdom. A female Mossad agent posing as a tourist in the UK lured the shy Vanunu out of London to Rome, where he was drugged and kidnapped and returned to Israel for a secret trial. He spent 18 years in prison and was released in 2004.

Hat tip: New York Times Lede blog

Dubai Babylon: The glitz, the Glamour – and Now the Gloom

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Property of TVS, Inc. Dubai, the Arabian city state that tried to turn itself into Manhattan-on-the-Gulf inside a decade, looks this weekend as if it may end up more like an expensive imitation of Sodom and Gomorrah. No brimstone, no vengeful God, but still an awful lot of wreckage after an orgy of hedonistic excess.

This, until last week, was the world capital of greed, a Legoland of lolly, where flashy malls, artificial islands, and preposterous skyscrapers were run up in no time; where monied chancers booked into £4,000-a-night hotel rooms; and where celebrities who didn’t know better were lured into a place that was even gaudier than their own homes. People said it was all built on sand, but, after the businesses at the core of the Dubai empire revealed a black hole of $80bn, we now know it was actually built on debt, semi-slave labour and the glossiest puffery that borrowed money can buy.

This, before we get down to the juicy details, is not how Gordon Brown saw it. The Dubai dream was largely the creation of the late Sheikh Maktoum and his successor, the current ruler Sheikh Mohammed. The day before Dubai’s shock debt announcement, the sheikh was in London. According to UAE’s national news service, Gordon Brown said he was “impressed with the quick recovery made by the UAE economy and the measures made by the leadership and government there that led to minimal impact of that crisis on the country’s economy.”

Once upon a recent time, this was true. At the height of Dubai’s property bubble, developers competed to outdo each other and impress the sheikh with more and more outlandish projects at the city’s annual property show Cityscape. Ski fields in the desert and the world’s largest shopping mall of 1,200 shops, complete with an aquarium housing 400 sharks, are among the projects already built, and plans for an underwater hotel.

Prospective buyers would queue for hours for the chance to purchase off-plan property. Ten minutes later they would sell on to someone at the back of the queue for a £10,000 profit.

While the economy boomed, the city partied hard. Dubai quickly became a favourite playground for Russian gangsters, Bollywood movie stars, and British footballers and their WAGs. David Beckham and Michael Owen were among those splashing out on multimillion-pound properties on the Palm, while Brad Pitt and Denzel Washington were also rumoured to have homes there.

Paris Hilton made a version of her reality show in the bars and malls of city this year. On any given night, parked out front the Grosvenor Hotel, with its popular bars, would be an eye-popping collection of the most expensive sports cars. “Soon,” one sheik was quoted as saying, “every Count of Monte Cristo will be in Dubai. In 10 years, only rich and famous people will live here.” And the servants? “I would hope robots or clones will do all that by then.”

With Western cash came Western cultural norms. Though foreign residents need a liquor licence to drink in their own homes, alcohol is widely available in hotel bars. All-you-can-drink brunches where expatriates got sloshed on champagne became the favoured way of passing Friday afternoons. While the Muslim community spent the holy day at the mosque, Westerners drank themselves legless.

It was at one of these infamous brunches that two Britons fell foul of the strict laws that govern the state. Michelle Palmer, 36, and Vince Acors, 34, who had met for the first time that day, were sentenced to three months in prison in July 2008 after being arrested for having sex on the beach. Not long after, British women Marnie Pearce and Sally Antia were jailed for adultery after their husbands told the police they were having affairs. Yet Arab men will drink openly in hotel bars and prostitution is rife.

The Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper at 818m, disappears into the clouds high above this emirate of contradictions. Dubai is an architectural odyssey, yet an urban planner’s worst nightmare which employed, until recently, 50 per cent of the world’s largest cranes. The people of the more sedate and richer emirate of Abu Dhabi 70 miles down the road have often been said to shake their heads at the money its neighbour has wasted. Abu Dhabi’s developments such as the breathtaking Yas Marina Circuit used in this year’s Formula One championship have been carefully planned.

Dubai has simply built bigger and bigger with little thought given to planning. It was bound to fail: no city or region could sustain such growth – particularly as the oil that drove that expansion has been slowly running out. The financial crisis simply exacerbated the long-term structural problems of its economy. Last week’s announcement that Dubai World, the developer of the famous man-made Palm Jumeirah island development that can be seen from space, wanted a standstill on its repayments on a chunk of its $60bn indebtedness shocked the financial markets. Banks in London and Edinburgh, such as HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, had lent Dubai World billions of pounds. Now there is the very real possibility that they will lose much of this as Dubai World defaults.

On the Palm, on the Persian Gulf’s man-made coastline, is the Atlantis Hotel, an imposing construction of two towers linked by a bridge. Kylie Minogue sang at its star-studded opening last year, with spectacular fireworks visible for miles a one-night jamboree that cost £20m. Dubai World could not have chosen a worse time to open the seven-star hotel.

Attracting Western tourists has been one of the pillars of Dubai’s gross domestic product growth, but as Westerners tighten the purse strings so Dubai’s tourism industry has started to wobble. The fear now is that the dreams of Sheikh Mohammed could turn into an economic nightmare for both the emirate and the rest of the world. Economists are analysing whether this is the disaster that will create a so-called W-shaped recession – that is, two collapses rather than just the one of a V-shape.

It might seem extraordinary that a tiny emirate of about 1.5 million people could cause such global turmoil, but Dubai is intertwined with some of the most everyday parts of the UK economy alone. Dubai World owns P&O, the ferry operator, while Dubai International Capital (DIC), the state’s international investment arm, has a 20 per cent stake in the company that runs Madame Tussauds, the London Eye and the Sea Life Centres.

The reciprocal nature of the UK and Dubai economies means that British firms are now coming to the rescue. The Independent on Sunday can reveal that Dubai World’s big lenders, led by the UK-based institutions, have lined up the London-based financial restructuring team a accountants KMPG to salvage the $30bn-plus they are owed. A formal appointment is expected this week.

They will have their hands full.

Gulf state’s holdings: Small sample of Dubai’s global reach

Millions of dollars have been invested in Sheikh Mohammed’s passion: thoroughbred racehorses. In Newmarket, he owns Dalham Hall stud farm and Godolphin stables. The sheikh’s 4,000 acres in Ireland make him the largest farmer in the country. He also owns 7,000 acres of paddocks in Britain and 5,000 acres of farmland. Other assets owned by Dubai investors include:

* The QE2, currently moored in Cape Town
* The Adelphi on the Strand and the Grand Buildings in Trafalgar Square
* A 20 per cent stake in Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus troupe
* Budget hotel chain Travelodge
* A stake in Merlin Entertainments, which runs Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the London Eye
* Scottish golf course Turnberry
* Chris Evert tennis clubs in the US
* A ski resort in Aspen, Colorado
* A 21 per cent stake in the London Stock Exchange
* Ports and ferries group P&O

11-50

Islamic Shura Council Celebration

June 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

The Islamic Shura Council of Southern California (ISCSC) celebrated its fifteenth anniversary at a banquet/fundraiser this past Saturday evening in the Anaheim Sheraton Hotel in Anaheim, Ca.The event was titled: “Together, Yes We Can”.

The hotel ballroom was filled to its capacity of 450 people. The keynote speaker of the celebration was Professor Jamal Badawi.

Other speakers in cluded Arif Ali Khan, the former Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles. He bid the attendees farewell as he  prepared to leave the Los Angeles area for Washington, D. C. There he will serve as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Professor Agha Saeed of the American Muslim Task Force (AMT) spoke of the aftermath of 9/11 and the struggle of the Muslim Community against the pervasive atmosphere of Islamophobia and hatred. It was a struggle against the tide – a very strong tide – to prevent Muslims in America from being marginalized and silenced.

Professor Saeed traced the accomplishments of the Muslim community on a local, state and national level in the political arena. He issued five demands from Muslims to the Department of Justice. These demands included a cessation to the infiltration by spies of mosques and an end to the introduction of agents provocateur. In addition there was to be a cessation of attempts to undermine Muslim groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“We will chose our own leaders” said Professor Saeed.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, the outgoing Chair of the ISCSC, spoke of the need to continue in our efforts as a Muslim community.

Shakeel Syed recognized prominent people in the audience including members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon). Members of the church have worked closely with Muslims in interfaith activities.

He then presented a brief film showing the work of the ISCSC. This work included education and testimony about  torture practiced by the United States.

A poignant scene from Disneyland showed Disney characters being arrested by police. The reality was far from comic. The ISCSC had joined with other groups to protest the subhuman treatment of hotel workers in various locales, including Disneyland. A number of protesters, including Master of Ceremonies, Shakeel Syed, were arrested. A spokesperson for the SEIU (the relevant union) spoke in praise of Muslims in general and Shakeel Syed in particular.

“He was unafraid.”

The ISCSC also held an interfaith ceremony to mourn the victims of Israeli aggression in Gaza.

There were community service awards and closing remarks. During the course of the evening successful fundraising took place. It was an occasion of socializing – seeing friends again – and internalizing the gains of the Muslim community. It was also an occasion of recognizing the work still to be done.

“We have done alot to be proud of” said one young woman.

“Yes,” said her table mate “and there is so much more that needs to be done”.

For more, see www.shuracouncil.org.

11-24

Arabia’s Ancient Past Alive at Madain Saleh

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Arabia’s Ancient Past Alive at Mada`in Saleh
By Siraj Wahab, Special to Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
It may sound strange, but the first time I heard about Madain Saleh was when I was visiting Jordan in the summer of 2000 on a media junket organized by the Jordanian Tourism Board. The JTB guide, Odeh Al-Shobaki—I remember his name because he was a diehard Bollywood fan—while leading us through the beautiful valley where Petra is, said: “This is an extension of your Mada`in Saleh. The structures are similar to what you have in Saudi Arabia. The Nabataean tribes lived and flourished in this area around 500 B.C. Petra was their northern capital, while Madain Saleh was their southern one.”
We, or rather I, was clueless. Still, we nodded our heads. Mada`in Saleh remained in the back of my mind until one fine morning last month when Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, the Indian consul general in Jeddah, and his No. 2, Dr. Suhel Ejaz Khan, wondered if I had been north of Jeddah. If not, would I like to be part of a three-day diplomatic trip to Madain Saleh? “Yes,” was my instant response.
It is not every day that you get to travel with diplomats. Along with being a diplomat, Dr. Sayeed is also a geologist. In fact, he is a geologist first and a diplomat second. It was in geology that he did his doctorate and then joined the Indian Foreign Service. The unique rock formations of Madain Saleh thus hold a special attraction for him. He visited the area years ago when he was stationed at the Indian Embassy in Riyadh.
Day 1
We were a group of five families and we left Jeddah at 5 on a Wednesday evening. As the sun went down, we kept traveling until we reached the SASCO stop, which is midway between Jeddah and Madinah. We prayed maghreb there. It was cold and windy. The children—Shin, Malak, Aiko and Sania —came out of the vehicles but then scurried quickly back inside. We gulped down refreshing cups of tea.
It was here that we asked each other what we might expect at Mada`in Saleh. I had no idea. My friend, Danish Abdul Ghafour, was as clueless as I. Dr. Suhel Khan had only heard about it from the consul general. Saleem Quadri had some idea, thanks to what he had seen on the web. The only person who had been to Mada`in Saleh before was Dr. Sayeed but he and his wife, Farha, sons Faateh, Faaleh and Azhaan and another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Shafiq and their son, Ubair, were already in Madinah. They had started earlier and we planned to join them for dinner in the holy city. About 6:45 p.m., the caravan started for Madinah.
Madinah is the city of peace, the city of radiance and the city of our most beloved Prophet (s). For some reason, your eyes get moist the moment you enter the city’s holy precincts. We were cracking jokes and having fun all the way, but the moment we entered the Prophet’s (s) city we were in a different world. By the time we got to Madinah, ‘isha was over. Unlike the Grand Mosque in Makkah, which is open 24 hours every day, the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah is closed after ‘isha. We prayed the night prayers in our hotel rooms and had a delicious dinner at an authentic Hyderabadi restaurant called Meraj. During dinner, Dr. Sayeed told us the plans for the next day and what we should expect at Mada`in Saleh.
Day 2
At 5 a.m., we heard the call to prayer. We performed our ablutions and headed to the Prophet’s (s) Mosque. A cool breeze was blowing across the city. Praying in the Prophet’s (s) Mosque so far has been the most moving experience of my life. We prayed fajr and said our salaams to the beloved Prophet (s) and his Companions who rest next to him under the green dome. We then came out of the gate named after the Angel Gabriel, and it was a great sight. The minarets stood out against the light blue sky. Danish and I spent time in the area around the mosque’s majestic courtyard, sipping tea from a nearby “boufiya.”
By 8.30 we were ready to leave for Al-Ula. At this point, we were joined by our guide and his two daughters. Obaidullah Abro is a Pakistani working for a Makkah-based tourist company. He has a passion for Mada`in Saleh and all the Islamic sites and, in addition, he is very well-read. He had all the relevant Qur`anic and literary references about the area. It was he who informed us that Al-Ula is 380 km northwest of Madinah. And, at legal speed limits, it would take us about three hours to reach our destination. What we had not factored in was that long stretches of the road to Al-Ula were single track, and driving can become both hazardous and slow. Abro said plans were under way to build an airport at Al-Ula. Quoting local authorities, he said the airport would promote regional business and tourism and should be operational within three years.
We thought we would drive nonstop to Al-Ula, which is what Abro told us, but he and Dr. Sayeed had charted a different course. Our vehicles suddenly veered off the main road and we got into an area of ancient, crumbling mud houses. They were baking in the scorching sun. As we rolled along, in the distance we saw an imposing fort perched high on a cliff. As we got closer, cameras clicked away. This was Khaybar. It was here that a very important battle between non-Muslims and the Companions of the Prophet (s) was fought. The fort was almost impregnable and had given the holy warriors a tough time. After many failed assaults by different Companions, Prophet (s) finally asked Sayyidina Ali (ra) to lead the final battle and he was victorious. The spring where he performed his ablutions is still flowing. The shade of the palm trees was indescribable. The peace and tranquillity there has to be experienced to be believed.
Our caravan then rolled on, and soon we were in Al-Ula. It was an amazing landscape. The mountains had a red hue while Al-Ula was green. There were plenty of date farms, and the tall trees swayed in the wind. We soon arrived at the beautiful Mada`in Saleh Hotel (www.mshotel.com.sa), which sits in front of a huge mountain. The hotel is relatively new. Asghar Baig Younes, the hotel manager, was waiting for us. We were welcomed with cool drinks and then we had lunch. We were tired but excited.
That evening, we explored Al-Ula. Abro took us to the place where the Prophet (s) stayed after returning from the Battle of Tabuk. It is said that the Prophet (s) prayed at one of the mosques in Al-Ula, which is unfortunately now closed.
As the sun was about to set on the town of Al-Ula, we saw haunting silhouettes of the mountains. One particular peak looked as if it were a woman begging for mercy. From the other side, it gave a completely different impression, but an eerie one nonetheless. “Caravans never stopped here in ancient times,” Abro explained. “They scheduled their trips so that they would cross the valley before sunset.” When we returned to the hotel, we prepared for the next morning’s trip to Mada`in Saleh.
The word mada`in comes from the Arabic word madina. Madina means city, and mada`in is its plural. Many expatriates from the Subcontinent confuse the Arabic word mada`in with the Urdu maidaan, meaning a plain stretch of land. We were visiting “Mada`in Saleh,” (the cities of Prophet Saleh (as)).
Day 3
We got up early on Friday, and by 8:30, we were on our way to Mada`in Saleh, 22 km north of Al-Ula. The area was once the location of a significant city located on a major trade route from Yemen to Damascus. During the early Islamic period it became an important pilgrimage station for Syrians and Egyptians traveling to the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah. We saw tombs with massive facades decorated with eagles; there were dozens of tombs carved inside the rock. Someone has rightly mentioned that the first thing that strikes you is the Nabataeans’ skill at carving mountains into burial chambers. The symmetry of their work testifies to their knowledge of geometry. Outside each tomb there is an inscription.
Before arriving at Mada`in Saleh, we saw billboards telling people to discover Islam rather than discovering Mada`in Saleh. We were curious to know what was wrong in visiting an ancient Nabataean city. According to scholars, Prophet Saleh (as) was the son of Thamud. He came from the tribe of ‘Ad. Saleh’s tribe moved from Yemen and had moved to a place called “Hager.” This is what is known as Mada`in Saleh today.
Like the tribe of ‘Ad, the Nabataeans built their homes on mountaintops. They learned the art of building from the tribe of ‘Ad and they were also blessed by God as the tribe of ‘Ad before them had been blessed. They had power, riches and gardens rich in plants. However, they too, like the tribe of ‘Ad, worshipped idols. God sent them Prophet Saleh (as), who was one of them—from a good family and wise—people often came to him for advice. They admired and liked him, and had hopes that one day he would become one of their leaders. They were disappointed, however, when he began preaching to them about one God. They were so disappointed with him and angered by his teachings that they began to turn from him. They told him that they would believe in him if he performed a miracle—but not just any miracle. They pointed to a huge rock and told Prophet Saleh that they wanted to see the rock split in two and that they wanted a she-camel to come out of it. They wanted the she-camel to be 10 months pregnant, tall and beautiful. God allowed Prophet Saleh (as) the miracle and as the rock broke into two pieces a magnificent she-camel appeared from within. Some of Prophet Saleh’s people believed and became his followers, but most continued in disbelief.
There are a number of accounts of this camel and her miraculous nature. Some mention that she used to drink all the water in the wells in one day, and that no other animals could approach the wells. Others claim that the camel produced milk sufficient for all the people to drink, on the same day that she drank all the water and left none for them.
For a while, Prophet Saleh’s (as) people let the camel graze and drink freely but in their hearts they hated her. The unbelievers now began complaining that this huge camel with its unusual qualities drank most of the water and frightened their cattle. They hatched a plot to kill the camel. They watched her closely, observing all her movements. As she came to drink at the well, one of them shot her in the leg with an arrow. She tried to escape but was slowed by the arrow. Another followed the camel and struck her with a sword in the other leg. As she fell to the ground, he stabbed her with his sword. The killers were given a hero’s welcome, cheered with songs and poetry composed in their honor. They mocked Prophet Saleh (as), but he issued a warning. “Enjoy life for three more days, then the punishment will descend upon you.”
Prophet Saleh hoped that they would see the folly of their ways and change their attitude before the three days had passed. Instead, they plotted to kill him. Nine men were sent to kill him, but God protected him by sending large birds from the sky, killing all the nine assassins.
After three days, thunderbolts filled the air, followed by a rumbling noise and severe earthquakes that destroyed the entire tribe. The land was violently shaken, destroying all living creatures in it. Neither their strong buildings nor their rock-hewn houses could protect them. All were demolished before they realized what was happening. As for the people who believed in the message of Prophet Saleh (as), they were saved because they had left the place.
It is said that while Prophet Muhammad (s) was passing through the area on his way back from the Battle of Tabuk, he stopped to meet with the people there. The people fetched water from the wells from which the people of Thamud used to drink. They prepared their dough (for baking) and filled their water-skins from it (the water from the wells). The Prophet (s) ordered them to empty the water-skins and give the prepared dough to the camels. Then he went away with them until they stopped at the well from which the she-camel (of Prophet Saleh) had drunk. He warned them against entering the area where the people had been punished, saying: “I fear that you may be affected by what afflicted them; so do not enter upon them.”
In other `ahadith, it is narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (s) warned his people that should they enter Mada`in Saleh, they should think about what had happened to the unbelievers.
This is why people have not been encouraged to visit Mada`in Saleh. Now, however, the Supreme Commission of Tourism (SCT) is putting emphasis on tourism and in the future, tourist traffic to Mada`in Saleh is expected to increase considerably.
When we got back to the hotel, it was nearly 1 p.m., and we headed straight to the biggest mosque in the center of Al-Ula to say our Friday prayers. The imam had a sonorous voice, and the Qur`anic verses reminded the believers of the life in the Hereafter and God’s punishment for those who disobey. I was again reminded of the community of disbelievers who met such a fate in the mountains in Mada`in Saleh.
We got back to our hotel, had lunch and said good-bye to the hotel staff before setting off for Madinah. It must have been four in the afternoon. Abro wanted to take us to the exact place from where the she-camel had emerged and so we went, thanking him profusely for his knowledge and his skills as a guide. We were in Madinah by 8.30 and back in Jeddah by 1 a.m.
Mada`in Saleh is an excellent place to visit and learn about Saudi Arabia’s pre-Islamic past. One also can actually walk in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (s). The modern accommodations and good people in the area will welcome visitors who, I suspect, will hope as I do to return.
For those who are interested in a trip to Mada`in Saleh, Obaidullah Abro can be reached at 0502509688. His firm also organizes field trips for schoolchildren. The manager of the Mada`in Saleh Hotel, Asghar Baig Younes, can be reached on 04-8842888. The hotel’s e-mail address is: info@mshotel.com.sa. -