Sunday, May 15, 2011

World's Largest University Gives Saudi Women Hope for Change

By Siraj Wahab

Saudi women educators and professionals were upbeat about the opening on Sunday, May 15, of Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh and took it as a sign that women may start to assume a more active role in the Kingdom’s development.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah inaugurated the SR20 billion university, 25 km east of the Saudi capital, amid cheers of over 2,000 students and faculty members. With a capacity to enroll about 50,000 students, the PNU is the largest women-only university in the world and part of an ambitious education plan of the Saudi government. The university's residential area has about 1,400 villas and its massive hostel facilities to accommodate 12,000 students. The sprawling campus sits on a site that exceeds 800 hectares.

“I hope it will lead to a massive turnaround in the fortunes of Saudi women,” said Dr. Aisha Almana, founder of Alkhobar’s Mohammed Almana College of Health Sciences. “However, universities of the world are not known by their physical structure — they attain status and credibility by what they produce. I mean a university is known by the quality of its graduates. I hope the new university will be a trendsetter. We all know that women constitute 50 percent of the Saudi population. Recent statistics, at least those from University of Dammam, indicate that there are more women graduates than men. Meaning women are more aware of the need for education. They are equal partners in the development and progress of this great nation.”

Almana said Saudi Arabia should concentrate on making its people productive. “Oil is here today, and it may not be here tomorrow. Look at Japan; they had no natural resources, but it is one of most robust economies in the world — just by the sheer power of their people. We should focus on investing in human capital. It is our people who will take us far. We should concentrate on creating excellent human resources. People are our greatest asset, and we should nurture them.”

Jeddah broadcaster and newspaper columnist Samar Fatany said the new university should be a source of pride for the Kingdom.

“It has bright prospects,” Fatany told Arab News. “It will inspire the young generation of Saudi women. Hopefully it will bring in a new trend of positive thinking and produce a new group of educated women who will eventually assume leadership positions in their respective fields. We need such universities to help us excel. The new university will help our women to compete with the best women in the world and create healthy competition within the various universities in the Kingdom. It will raise the benchmark of education.”

“First and foremost it indicates Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s support for women,” said writer and physician Dr. Samia Amoudi. “This is a big step in the empowerment of Saudi women. It is also significant that it is named after Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman who is the sister of the king. “For such a large, prestigious project to be named after a woman is an honor for all of us. It will have a great impact on society and how it perceives us women. I am very happy that our leadership is aware of our needs. They have placed their trust in us.”

“Now it’s the turn and the responsibility of the women of our Kingdom to ensure that this university attains a high rank in the world and the Middle East in particular,” said Jubail teacher Huda Al-Shehri. “This university is the first of its kind dedicated exclusively to women. It offers courses that are not traditional or conventional in nature. These courses are more in line with the needs of the job market.”

Almana agreed.

“It is my conviction that we should follow the India model. Immediately after attaining independence, they concentrated on professional courses rather than humanities and arts,” she said. “The recent turnaround in India is a result of that paradigm shift in education. I recently came back from Bangalore and saw the transformation myself. We should similarly focus on professional studies.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Civil Breakdown, Conspiracy Fears Worry Pakistani Expats in Saudi Arabia

By Siraj Wahab

As the Pakistani Taleban took credit for the murder on Friday, May 13, of 80 Pakistanis in retaliation for the raid 10 days ago in which Osama Bil Laden was killed, the reaction from Pakistani nationals in Saudi Arabia ranged from disgust and disdain to conspiracy theories and blame for the United States.

“The United States is playing a very dangerous game in our country,” said a senior Alkhobar-based Pakistani executive who requested anonymity. “While the bombers may have been Pakistanis, the command and control is in the hands of those who are miles away from our country.”

Others put the blame a little closer to home.

“I condemn the blasts. There is no doubt they have been carried out the Pakistani Taleban,” said Jeddah-based engineer Syed Mutahir Rizvi. “They have claimed responsibility for the blasts. There is no reason for us to say that someone else is involved. I can understand the anger of some Pakistanis at what has happened, but this is no way of expressing their anger. Why should innocent people be made to suffer for something they have nothing to do with?”

Well-known writer and poet Habib Siddiqui presented a dismal appraisal of the breakdown of civil society in Pakistan after a recent visit.

“I see no hope,” Siddiqui told Arab News. “I have just come back from Karachi — there is not a single home that has not been burgled. There is total chaos and lawlessness. There is no rule of law; no one is safe. Those who have survived Friday’s attacks should count themselves lucky. Those who died leave behind widows and children. No one will take care of them. They are mere statistics in a long and dirty war,” he said. “The worst part about this war is that nobody knows who is on whose side and who is killing whom?”

Anjum Dar, the Alkhobar-based president of the Ideological Forum for Pakistan Studies, said innocent people have been caught in a crossfire between two equally entrenched adversaries. “Ordinary Pakistanis are confused and rattled by the developments that have turned their country upside down,” he said. “The reins of power are in the hands of a select group of nine or 10 people, who do not belong to any political party, who have pledged to do whatever is asked of them by foreign countries. They are dutifully following and carrying the foreign agenda,” he said rather ruefully.

Dar said the militants try to justify such acts because of the alliance between Pakistan and the United States.

“They are convinced that the political establishment and the army are not there to defend the people of Pakistan, that they are in league with the US and that the drone attacks are being carried out with active help from the army and the intelligence agencies,” he said. “That is what people think. When our government started taking the American line that is when things deteriorated and here we are today — in total chaos.”

Some Pakistanis are convinced that all of it is a sinister American plot.

“All this is very well scripted. More blasts will follow and we will have the same explanation: that Taleban carried them out,” said the anonymous executive. “I don't believe anything that is coming out in the press. Our current rulers have sold their souls to the United States. That is it.”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mohammad Azharuddin Wows Jamia Millia Islamia Alumni in Riyadh

By Siraj Wahab

RIYADH: A onetime cricket star and current member of India’s Parliament told the Jamia Millia Islamia Alumni Association it was time for Indian Muslims to stand together for the common good and educational advancement of the community.

Mohammad Azharuddin made the comments Friday (May 6, 2011) at the Riyadh Palace Hotel where alumni were marking the Muslim university’s 90th anniversary.

Azharuddin noted the significance of the minority institution status granted by Indian government that allows the university to reserve up to 50 percent seats for Muslims. “I congratulate Jamia Millia Islamia, its administration, its faculty, its illustrious alumni here in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries and all those associated with this great institution of learning for having being formally and legally recognized as a minority institution. This is a victory for all,” he said.

“We have no hesitation in holding that Jamia was founded by the Muslims for the benefit of the Muslims and it never lost its identity as a Muslim minority educational institution,” National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Chairman Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui ruled when granting the special status.

“This was a long-pending demand, and if it had been conceded earlier it would have resulted in the university going far ahead,” said Azharuddin. “It is a historic university, and it has played a pivotal role in India’s struggle for independence; the university had the greatest support from the country’s independence hero Gandhiji, and despite all the challenges that it has faced in all these 90 years it has done very well,” he said.

As a member of Parliament, Azharuddin said he would lend full support for a similar status for Aligarh Muslim University. “These universities are among the oldest and most reputable universities. Efforts should be made to ensure that they remain committed to the vision with which they were created. I am very happy to note the prominent positions that Jamia alumni occupy in Saudi Arabia. This is a source of strength for the Indian community,” he said.

Drawing a parallel from the game of cricket, he said many of the problems the Indian Muslim community faces are a result of the serious lack of team effort. “We are ready to take up your cases, and we are ready to fight, but the community needs to be united. If the team is not united, you don’t win matches. I can’t play on the front foot if I realize that there is not enough support in the back. I am then forced to play on the back foot,” he said much to the laughter of all those who gathered.

He expressed his unhappiness at the turn of events at Aligarh Muslim University. “One gets upset when one keeps hearing about the frequent lockouts at the university. This is not a happy sign. All those who are working for the good of such universities should be supported to the fullest. We should not let our infighting harm the institution,” he said and admitted that “more than the outsiders it is the internal differences that are the greatest challenge to our institutions.”

Prominent educator and industrialist Nadeem Tareen highlighted the good work being done by the Indian expat community on the education front. “There is a new awakening among Indian Muslims. They want to make rapid advancements in the educational field, and they are succeeding, both through individual and collective efforts,” he said and advised his fellow expats to explore more possibilities on how to make education available to those in less-literate areas of the country.

He said differences were not necessarily a bad thing. “The old boys of Aligarh Muslim University disagreed with the university’s approach toward the freedom movement in the 1920s and hence launched Jamia Millia Islamia. It turned out to be a good decision — a blessing in disguise. There are lessons to be learned from how those with differing opinions conducted themselves in those days. For them the community’s interest was paramount, and that is how it should be even now.”

JMI Alumni Association President Murshid Kamal recalled the circumstances through which the university came into existence and said the granting of the new status calls for greater effort to turn it into one of India’s Top 10 universities. “If we fail then our adversaries will have a reason to mock us. We should not provide them with a reason to say, ‘Look, didn’t we say they will make a mess out of themselves, and they did’ ... That should not happen.”

The evening saw the presence of the who’s who of the Indian community in Riyadh. The evening was anchored with panache by M. Shahabuddin. Aftab Nizami thanked all those who turned up at the event. All the previous presidents of the alumni association were honored on the occasion, including its popular founder Shafaatullah Khan.

Azharuddin was later mobbed by fans who took his autographs on every imaginable article including cricket bats, balls and T-shirts.

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