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.
WHAT IS THE GCC?
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 الخليجي
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 public 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!
WHAT IS AL-BATOOLA?
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.
WAY OF LIFE
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 different 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.
VISITING THE GULF
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.