I awoke, admittedly late for Fajr prayer, with this phrase, with this thought. The thought that, during this time in Saudi Arabia – the days of my Saudi Sojourn (as it is now called) I have been afforded great privilege, by many people. There have been hardships but these directly led to greater gifts. I am leading a charmed life, there can be no doubt about that. Today’s blog will explore all of these ideas, these concepts – in an attempt to understand and incorporate them. I rather desperately need to understand this, the why of it all. You shall be my witness.
First let us look at sojourn As usual, a perfect word, the definition: a temporary stay. The synonyms do not add a great deal to the idea but here they are: visit, stop, stopover, residence, stay. It describes what this trip has been, which shall lead to greater things.
This is my morning so far. Upon waking squinted towards the clock discovering that I had somehow failed to set my alarm for 4:14. Stumbled out of my twin bed (silly expression that) , immediately performed abolition, prayed, made coffee and then got to the computer to research and write.
All of above is an example of immense privilege. I am steps (well, an elevator ride and then steps) away from the Women’s Gate of the Prophet’s Mosque, temporarily residing in what in unquestionably the best hotel in the whole world.
This is what is said of the hotel. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the birthplace and burial ground of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him. It attracts pilgrims from all over the world making the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage to Al Masjid An Nabawi Al Sharief, the Prophet’s Mosque, in Madina. Being the best five star hotel in Madina, The Oberoi, Madina is naturally the destination of choice for royalty, global entrepreneurs and celebrities. It enjoys an unrivalled position just steps away from the Prophet’s Mosque, and offers unforgettable views of the mosque’s green dome and the canopied courtyards of pilgrims at prayer.”
I was provided a vast privilege: a tour of the Royal Suites by the Amazing Mr. Ali, the General Manager of this hotel. He spoke of the journey he took to achieve the position of his dreams. His journey began in 1996, he was offered (and accepted) a training program with the Oberlio Hotels. He, in non-lawyer- like fashion signed up without reviewing the contract. He thought it was for two or three” months – much to his chagrin he discovered it was a two year program. The training was in Delhi, far away from his Jeddah. He fulfilled the obligation, but insisted as as recompense, the management of the hotel in Medina. This was granted; he has served happily, nobly and ably since that time. Such dedication and consistency is unknown in hotels and tourism. I well know the ins and outs as I have stayed, and sometimes lived, in countless hotels during my nomadic existence which began when I left California for London in 2013, ten years ago.
Tens of Oberoi employees speak to me – their tenure often rivals that of their General Manager. They cannot imagine working anywhere else, plan never on leaving their Oberoi position.This is absolutely unique , unheard of in the hotel business. The Oberoi is a beneficent employer. It is word definition time again. Beneficent, an adjective, has a two-pronged definition definition: (of a person) generous or doing good, the other resulting in good. This word has descriptive synonyms: benevolent, charitable, altruistic, humane, humanitarian, generous, magnanimous, unstinting, lavish, bountiful, kind, Its antonyms are unkind, mean.
There I was, born in Saskatchewan of poor parents, being led on a tour of the Royal Suite in the Medina Oberoi. My vocabulary fails me for once: it was absolutely WOW. Its fortunate occupant has a ‘drop dead’ view, overlooking the Prophet’s Mosque, in all of its glory. Then Medina stretches forth enveloped by its mountains which provided protection for the originators of the Islamic Faith. They had and were besieged by evil forces. Those earliest of Muslims prevailed over all odds, reclaimed Mecca from the hypocrites and Idolators; its numbers growing constantly and experientially The faith attracts people from every country, from every nationality, every walk of life – even little old me.
For some reason I did not take photographs of the Royal Suite. Guess I was stunned by its grandeur, its tastefulness, the warm and inviting colors. It was both opulent and inviting. But this was telling: I felt I could never be comfortable in such grandeur. My life has been too humble for all of that. The song, Give Me the Simple Life, comes to mind. But what also came to mind, and it MUST be remembered that the Prophet (PBUH) lived a simple life, extremely simple life. This has been forgotten almost completely. The excessive consumption of food during Ramadan is but one example of multitudes.
Mr. Ali gave examples of famous people who make this space their home. One example of a Prime Minister who was greeted in the following manner:
Staff: Welcome to your second home.
He: This is my first home.
Do admit that I thought;
Me: If I came from your country I would consider this my first home with much relief, considering the conditions in your country. .
Alter Ego: You did not say that did you?
Me: No of course not. I can occasionally be slightly tactful.
Tactful is an adjective: other words are sensitive, understanding, thoughtful, diplomatic, discreet, discerning, judicious, politic subtle, careful, treating someone/something with kid gloves; courteous.
Later, did think of a solution to the discomfort I felt in the opulent surroundings. On the days the Royal Suite was not occupied I could be allowed to sleep there and get used to it, begin to feel comfortable. Then, on the offhand chance that I became Royal I would fit right in.
Alter Ego: Did you suggest that option to Mr. Ali?
Me: Of course not!!! I was being discreet, discerning, diplomatic and was treating Mr. Ali with kid gloves.
Now back to the beginning. The beginning (and later) concerned itself with my being afforded great privilege. Privilege and the lack of privilege is how power is distributed. Privilege means having an advantage that is out of your control and that you didn’t ask for. It is unfortunately true that leaders often operate from a position of privilege. They privilege a tiny number to the disadvantage of the rest.
But this does not really apply to me as I do not have any power. I have enjoyed blessings, perhaps that is a better word to describe the happenings during this Saudi Sojourn.
Of course, I looked up the meaning of blessing. It is God’s favor and protection. Now I understand! Allah (SWT) is granting me favor and protection.What does a Muslim do when they receive a blessing? One expresses gratitude to Allah (SWT). I do! This is not complicated after all.
I have started to read my Ali book. It is rather amazing actually. One chapter is entitled Dearer to the Prophet Than Anyone Else.
In the ninth year after the migration to Al-Medinah, the Prophet led an army to Tabuk in the northern borders of Arabia to deter th Romans who were conspiring to destroy the Islamic State. He left Allah behind as administrator of Al-Madinah in his absence. Ali was not satisfied with this mission. He wanted to join the army. He thought that leaving him behind was a shame to him. The Prophet told him: Do not like to be too me like Harry was to Muse?” Ali was satisfied with the mission and the position given to him by the Prophet.”
I was totally amazed to read this; astounded actually, because I visited Tabuk at the beginning of my Safari Sojourn. I do know, relying on the knowledge of my excellent tour guide (The Tours) that there was no battle in Tabuk . The Romans were deterred without going to war. Therefore Ali’s warrior outstanding capabilities were not needed.
How likely that an old woman born in Saskatchewan whose Muslim name became Fatimah would journey to Tabuk. It was a blessing – the city both historic and burgeoning with recent wealth, the scenery astounding in every way, loved the Luxury Hotel – a true Saudi haven. I also was able to view The Line, NEOM.
Blessed, blessed, blessed. I am blessed. All praise and unending gratitude to Allah (SWT)
Photographs will be of Tabuk. Not any pictures of NEOM – as RBS announced it started from scratch. Scratch is not the stuff of scenic photography. Hahaha