2. ‘Sham’

Let us travel from al-Khaleej al-Arabi to the northwest. Between Saudi Arabia and Turkey we find Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon; a region we Muslims know as bilaadu – Shaam,   بِلادُ الشَّام  and that which the French and English called the Levant “the land where the sun rises”.

The star of this region is the city of Jerusalem, which we call al-Quds. Why is Palestine and in particular Jerusalem so important to us as Muslims? Our Prophet sallallahu alyhi wa sallam said that it is one of the 3 masajid to which it is permissible to specifically travel.

Al Bukhari, Muslim and others reported from Abu Huraira that the Prophet. “Do not set out on a journey except for three mosques: Al Masjid Al Haram, my Mosque (at Medinah) and the Mosque of Al-Aqsa (Mosque of Jerusalem)”.

Masjid al-Aqsa was also the Qiblah, toward which the Muslims prayed until 16 months after hijrah to Medina.

The most important event showing the significance of al-Quds and Al-Masjid al Aqsa is The night of al-Isra wal Miraj, The Night Journey and Ascension. Allah mentions in Quran, the night in which our Prophet (saws) miraculously traveled with Jabril alyhi salam to Masjid al-Aqsa is one night and then to the 7 heavens.


سُبْحَانَ الَّذِى أَسْرَى بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلاً مّنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الاْقْصَى الَّذِى بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ 

 Glorified be He Who took His servant for a Journey by Night from Al-Masjid Al-Haram to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, the neighborhood whereof We have blessed…(al-Israa:1)

ِAllah, Most High, goes further to show the virtue of Jerusalem and the lands around it:

وَلِسُلَيْمَانَ الرِّيحَ عَاصِفَةً تَجْرِي بِأَمْرِهِ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ الَّتِي بَارَكْنَا فِيهَا ۚ وَكُنَّا بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَالِمِينَ

And to Solomon [We subjected] the wind, blowing forcefully, proceeding by his command toward the land which We had blessed.(surah al-Anbiyaa: 81)

And We caused the people who had been oppressed to inherit the eastern regions of the land and the western ones, which We had blessed.

al-A’araaf:137 Allah mentions

يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَلَا تَرْتَدُّوا عَلَىٰ أَدْبَارِكُمْ فَتَنقَلِبُوا خَاسِرِينَ

(Musa said) “O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has assigned to you and do not turn back [from fighting in Allah ‘s cause] and [thus] become losers.” al-Maida: 21

The explanations of the above 3 ayat in which Allah speaks about the blessed land, a Holy land, all point to not just Jerusalem itself, but the region of bilaadu Shaam.


Jerusalem, Baytul Maqdas, is a city that numerous Muslim prophets called home, from Sulayman and Dawood to Isa (Jesus), may Allah be pleased wفواكه لبنانith them. It is called in Quran a blessed land. Part of its virtue is that it is a fertile green land that bears many fruits. Agriculture is a big part of their economies. Here in Qatar, we consider Jordanian and Lebanese produce as ‘local’ produce and it is always plentiful mashaAllah. Peaches, grapes, dates, olives, almonds, apricots, citrus fruits, figs, pears,  cucumbers, and green leafy vegetables are all found in the markets, imported from Lebanon and Jordan.

In these times, Palestine is known in the Arab media as “occupied Palestine” فلسطين المحتلة That is because the land was overtaken by Zionist Jews after World War II, who consider it their religious homeland. With the help of England and the United States They renamed it Israel. Israel is internationally recognized as a country Palestine is not. So in the Western Media they will only speak of ‘the Palestinian people’, or areas such as ‘Gaza’ or the ‘West Bank’.        May Allah give honor to Islam and the Muslims in every place. 

اللهم اعز الإسلام والمسلمين في كل مكان


When I hear the word Lebanon, the first thing that comes to mind is…the food! When it comes to Middle Eastern food, Lebanon and Egypt are in stiff comptabboulehetition to be the best. Lebanese food is known for variety and color; your mouth waters just seeing it hit the table at Shater Abbas (a popular Lebanese restaurant). Fresh grilled meat, seasoned and oh so tender,  fresh vegetables, blended dips made from eggplants, cucumbers, seasoned with mint, garlic, olive oil, and lemon. Green taboula salad is my favorite, full of parsley (so cleansing for the liver and kidneys) and bulgur, a high-fiber, low-fat whole wheat grain. I dip my bread in the humus, then the baba ghanoush, then into the taboula, then make a little sandwich with the grilled meat and dip it again… mashaAllah, so delightful!

Female supporters of Sunni Muslim Salafist leader Ahmad al-Assir engage in a snowball fight in the Faraya ski area in Mount LebanonWhile I have never been to Lebanon, I can only imagine that its high mountains and green fertile valleys are just as beautiful and refreshing in person, as in the pictures. Northern Lebanon also sees quite a bit of snow!   To the left, Lebanese women in hijab engage in a snowball fight in Faraya, one of Lebanon’s ski resorts. (Reuters: Mohamed Azakir)



The Hashimi Jordanian Kingdom, its official name, traces its lineage to the tribe and clan of our Prophet sallallahu alyhi wa sallamfdf990daaf4942124503caa7d80a6b71Surrounded by civil wars and destruction all round it, by Allah’s permission, Jordan has maintained safety and security. Jordan is the location of important historical sites. The Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, is believed to be the place in which Allah destroyed the people of Lut/Lot. The Dead Sea is at the border of Jordan, Palestine and Israel. It has such a high salt content that people naturally float in it but living things such as fish cannot live there.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Dead Sea

Petra is a historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan. The city is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Another name for Petra is the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved. Established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Arab Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan, as well as Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction. (wikipedia)

Here is a video about travel in Jordan. showing historical site Petra and more. There are subtitles in this video, so you can mute the music.



Syria, in Arabic Suriya, سُورِيا  is located north of Jordan and south of Turkey. As all of the Middle East, Syria is an ancient land inhabited for thousands of years a part of the Greek and Roman empires and before that. Aleppo, Halab حلب  is said to be the longest inhabited city in the world.  Damascus was captured by Muslim Arab forces led by Khalid ibn al-Walid in 634. Decades later, the Islamic Caliphate came under the rule of the Umayyad dynasty, which chose Damascus to be the administrative capital of the Muslim world. (wikipedia)

The Great Mosque of Aleppo (Arabic: جامع حلب الكبير‎‎ Jāmi‘ Halab al-Kabīr) or the Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo (جامع بني أمية بحلب Jāmi‘ Bani Umayah Bi-Halab) is the largest and one of the oldest mosques in the city of Aleppo, Syria. It is located in al-Jalloum district of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a World Heritage Site, (wikipedia)

The Umayyad Masjid before and after the war in Syria:

Masjid Courtyard Before                                           After

         umayyad-mosque    article-2314459-1952D062000005DC-999_964x629.jpg

      Masjid Interior Before                                         After

   Damasc14      _63505294_umayyad_destroyed_afp

Since the war began, many schools and hospitals were targeted for bombings and have been destroyed. I interviewed a new Syrian friend named Raama who is from Halab. I asked her about the war. She said she was a student in a university outside Halab 4 years ago. Her and her classmates were having coffee in the cafeteria after classes when 2 bombs hit the university. “Glass was shattered all around us. Al-hamdulillah I was wearing a thick jacket, so the glass did not cut me. When we stepped outside the building and looked back, the building looked like a piece of cake that had been sliced on both sides with the middle still standing. I knew it was only the mercy of Allah that I was still alive. My mother and father were already living here in Qatar. They got a visa for me and I was able to leave.”

Just the other day while I was driving home listening to al-Jazeera I heard an interesting radio program about Syrians living underground. The journalists interviewed teachers at an underground school, syria-underground-playgrounda doctor and a nurse in an underground clinic and everyday people who have carved out homes for themselves amid the maze of tunnels designed to protect them from the bombings.  There stories are sad, but at the same time I am amazed by their resilience, subhaanAllah!

Press the link to see this AMAZING underground playground in northern Syria!


 The Shaami Dialect (al-lah-jah) ُاللَّهْجَةُ الشَّامِيَّة

Some phrases in the ‘Levantine’ dialect or lah-jah of Shaam.   You can compare these to the fus-ha which we learn in classes. What similarities or differences do you find?



1. The Arabian Gulf

ur tour of The Muslim World begins in Mekka and Medina which are located in the country of Saudi Arabia    المملكة العربية السعودية
This is the home of our Prophet sallallahu alyhi wasallam and his companions. Saudi Arabia (see the map) is quite a large land mass and it is divided into 2 major regions; Hijaz and Najd. Hijaz is the southern region where the Haramayn (Mekka and Medina) are located. Najd is the northern region where the capital Riyadh is located.


There are several smaller countries which surround Saudi Arabia; they are al-Yemen, Oman, al-Bahrain, Qatar, al-Imaraat (UAE), and Kuwait. All these countries, (except Yemen) are major exporters of oil/petroleum/natural gas and come together to form a group which is known as the GCC or Gulf Cooperation Council. What we know in Arabic as  مَجْلِسُ التَّعَاوُن الخليجيgulfب

Have a look at the map. This is the Gulf  ُّالخَلِيجُ العَرَبِي (al-Khaleej ul Arabi) The peach-colored portion you see is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (al-Mamlaka). Around it are al- Yemen, Oman (note: Umman عُمَّان with letter ayn) to the south/southeast, UAE , Qatar, Bahrain to the east. Kuwait to the northeast near al-Iraq.  This land mass is called a peninsula or gulf in English and khaleej in Arabic. The khaleej is also referred to as al-jazeera.  It is connected to the continent of Asia, but is surrounded by water on 3 sides.


The GCC countries have very similar dress codes, customs, laws, local dialects and ways of living. The dress code in the GCC is generally the black abaya for the woman and the white thobe (long garment) for the man.  This is the national/ official puنساءblic dress code throughout most of the Khaleej. The styles do vary somewhat depending on the country.

Omani (عُمَّاني) males have a unique look with their colorful turbans and hats. When we see them we automatically know them by their style mashaAllah!1.1298626690.young-omani-men

WHAT IS AL-BATOOLA? 3250160149_c56a60593e_b.jpg

Another unique cultural trait you will see in the UAE, Oman and Qatar is al-Batoola. Originally worn as protection from the harsh, desert climate to help keep hot sand and dust out of the nose and mouth, the batoola also serves as garment of modesty and used to be worn by young females (before marriage) as a sign of coming into age.

At first glance, its metallic, shiny texture appears to be metal, however if you were to touch it you would find it a material of cloth or soft leather, sometimes made of colored silk, sometimes with gold or silver threads and sequins. Of course, al-Batoola is not from Islam, it is said to be a Persian tradition. Nowadays, we see mainly older grandmothers wearing it.  A young Qatari woman talks about her grandmother and al-Batoolah


The dialect spoken in al- Khaleej, is different from the fus-ha (classical Arabic) we learn in class.   Some words are used across most of the Middle East, but there are some phrases that are particular to the Khaleej and some that are only used in the North. Here are some common phrases used in Qatar and Kuwait:

Some people give salaam, but a lot of people say ‘Yaa halla‘.

What’s going on with you? Ish lown-ich or Ish akh-baar-ich. What’s that? Ish-nu hay?

Enough- Khalaas!  What can I do? Ish A-saawee?  I tell you. A-qul-lach

This ‘ch’ sound which takes the place of ‘kaa’ or ‘kee’, is interesting to me as a linguist and makes me wonder if it comes from Urdu or Hindi.


Of course the vast majority of Gulf people are Muslims, although there  are foreign workers from around the world living in al-Khaleej.  We hear the athan 5 times a day and there is a masjid in every neighborhood, on every street, at gas stations, in malls and shopping centers. No reason to miss a prayer!

Many public places such as schools, gyms, and hospital waiting rooms are separate for men and women. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive but in the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar woman are allowed to drive cars. Actually, if you don’t live in the city it is quite difficult to get around without your own vehicle, unless you pay for a private driver which can get expensive.   Dubai and Abu Dhabi in UAE, have railway systems to make transportation easier, and Qatar is building one too mashaAllah.

Food in the Khaleej, tends to be thumb_600different variations of meat and rice. In Saudi Arabia, they call it ‘kapsa’ and in Qatar we call it ‘mach-boos’. If you are invited to an event like Eid or a wedding, you’ll taste lamb that practically melts in your mouth!  I do love the way they cook that lamb mashaAllah, so tender!  The rice gets to be a bit much for me though. As an act of generosity, the hostess will keep feeding you and feeding you until you are about to burst!  So lay your spoon across the plate and slide back from the food, then they will stop feeding you.


The countries of al-Khaleej ul- Arabi are also similar in their governments and laws. For example they all (except Yemen) have a ruling family. Saudi Arabia is ruled by the Family of King Abdul Azeez ibn Al- Saud. King Abdul Azeez (rahimahullah) is best known for uniting the Arab tribes, to form what is now known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The ruler of Saudi Arabia also assumes responsibility over the millions of Muslims who travel there for hajj and Umrah every year. So in 1986, King Fahad ibn Abdul Azeez, rahimahullah announced on national television that he would no longer like to be called “Your Majesty” he said, “I would be honored if you would call me ‘Custodian of the 2 Holy Mosques'” . ِِخَادِمُ الحَرَمَيْنِ الشَّرِيفَيْن   Khaadim ul Haramayn aSha-reefayn.

Since then, this is the official title of the ruler of Saudi Arabia but you may only hear this term mentioned by the Arab media. In Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE and Qatar we know the leaders by the traditional title, “Sheikh”.  So for example in Qatar, our leader is called Sheikh Tamim (hafi-tha-hullah). In UAE, we have Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid of Dubai and in Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Ahmad Al-Jaber.


I am often asked about visiting the Gulf and, outside of Saudi Arabia, it’s quite easy. If you are a U.S., U.K., or citizen of most European countries, you can obtain a 30 day tourist visa and extend it an additional 30 days to visit any of the GCC countries. This visa is issued at the airport upon arrival into the country, for about $30.

Have you ever lived in or visited al-Khaleej? It would be interesting to know your thoughts and experiences. If you have never been, then it would be interesting to know what you imagine life to be like in the Khaleej, what you heard or if you have any questions. 

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