Saudi Arabia's Ithra hosting forum on evolution of mosques – Arab News
JEDDAH: Experts, historians, architects and students alike are set to view the historical evolution, meanings and functions of mosques at an international conference held at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture — Ithra.
From Nov. 23-25, the three-day conference, a collaboration between Ithra and the Abdullatif Al-Fozan Award for Mosque Architecture, will showcase the beauty behind mosque designs and their function throughout history, alongside an exhibit of some of the most renowned mosques in the world.
Guests on the opening night will be welcomed by opening remarks from four keynote speakers, including Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of the board of trustees of the Abdullatif Al-Fozan Award for Mosque Architecture; Khaled Al-Anani, Egyptian minister of tourism and antiquities; Abdullah Al-Rashid, director of Ithra; and Mashary Al-Naim, secretary-general of AFAMA.
“The conference serves as an engaging learning platform focused on the preservation of Islamic art through time. The conference facilitates knowledge sharing to advance learning about the history, art and architecture of Islamic cultures — and specifically Islamic spaces of worship — within the Kingdom and beyond,” Farah Abushullaih, Ithra’s head of museums and exhibits, told Arab News.
From Nov. 23-25, the conference will showcase the beauty behind mosque designs and their function throughout history, alongside an exhibit of some of the most renowned mosques in the world.
“While the conference’s primary target may be students, researchers, historians, architects, artists and other individuals seeking to obtain a deeper understanding into the vast history of Islamic art and cultural preservation, its outcomes will expand this audience to the wider public as it will produce important content for future generations in search of knowledge about these topics,” she added.
Shatr Almasjid: The Art of Orientation, an adjoining exhibit on the sidelines of the event, takes guests into a journey where they can view the historical meaning, evolution and function of mosques while examining the meanings and contexts behind the structures, their interiors and their artifacts, looking at how they served not only as places of worship, but also as community spaces with diverse functions.
“The exhibition offers heightened knowledge about, understanding of, and appreciation for mosques and the objects and artwork they contain, providing insight into the mosque and its social, religious and artistic history,” Abushullaih said.
The events will feature more than 25 international, local and regional experts. Mashary Al-Naim, secretary-general of AFAMA, said: “The jointly organized conference between Al-Fozan and Ithra comes within the framework of the Award’s objectives in developing mosque architecture. The Award possesses an international database for mosque architecture data, as well as a global professional network for all architects, researchers and professionals working in mosque architecture.”
JEDDAH: With the COVID-19 omicron variant prompting renewed concern about the pandemic, a virologist has told Arab News that its early detection is a positive first step to overcoming the mutation.
Omicron, or the B.1.1529 strain of the coronavirus, was marked a variant of concern on Nov. 26 by the World Health Organization, the fifth variant of concern to date.
But, as of Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry said that no omicron cases had been detected in the country so far.
All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, change over time. Most changes have little to no impact on the properties of the virus. 
However, some may affect the transmissibility rate, associated disease severity, or the performance of vaccines.
Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Abdullah Algaissi, a virologist and assistant professor at the college of medical sciences at Jazan University, said: “The interesting thing about omicron is that it accumulated a very high number of mutations compared to other VOCs. The total number of mutations in the spike, the most important part of the virus, was 32, 10 of which were detected that bind to receptors on human cells. That’s more than the delta variant, hence the concern.”
The WHO called for increased surveillance of the variant and laboratory experiments to better understand its biology.
The delta variant had nine mutations in the spike gene. According to Algaissi, there are shared mutations between the two, but what makes omicron more of a concern is the additional mutations.
“Based on what we know from the genetic sequencing, we don’t have information that could tell us if these mutations will make the virus more lethal, more transmissible, if it will impact the immune response either after infection or vaccination. As of now, we don’t know.”
Data shows that most of the infected patients in South Africa were unvaccinated, indicating that the vaccine’s efficacy may still protect against omicron, but further studies are needed to determine by how much vaccine efficacy is reduced.
“Of the many concerns when it comes to VOCs is the effect it has on the diagnostic tool, in this case, the PCR tests,” added Algaissi. “Looking at the omicron mutation, early analysis shows that the current PCR used, especially here in the Kingdom, will still detect the variant.”
According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data database, more than 5.5 million COVID-19 genome sequence submissions have been made so far.
Last month, Saudi Arabia urged residents to get their booster shots to increase herd immunity further. Currently, 70 percent of the Kingdom’s 34.8 million population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
As of Sunday, Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended inbound and outbound flights from 14 African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros.
Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it would extend the validity of resident permits and exit and re-entry visas from countries facing entry suspension. The General Directorate of Passports said the move was the implementation of directive from King Salman.
The visas are extended until Jan. 1, 2022, without fees or charges. People were notified by email, where an e-visa form was attached.
Another concern is transmissibility. Algaissi noted the difficulty of measuring an increase in the transmissibility rate by the number of infected cases. Multiple factors could increase reported cases, such as the ease of restrictions and low vaccination rates.
“Further studies and experiments are needed to determine if the mutations in omicron enhance its binding to cells, thus becoming more transmissible, and it’ll take scientists weeks to understand the omicron variant, including how quickly it can spread and what the illness that results from infection looks like.”
According to South African health experts, omicron symptoms have been “pretty mild” so far.
In a joint press conference on Sunday, the acting CEO of Saudi Arabia’s Public Health Authority Dr. Abdullah Algwizani said the variant was being monitored and residents were urged to complete their vaccination schedule, to be wary of large gatherings, and adhere to precautionary measures.
The Kingdom’s Health Ministry said that 24 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Sunday, raising the total number of cases to 549,695. There have been 32 further recoveries, raising this total to 538,856.
There are currently 2,006 active cases, 48 of which are in critical care. One death was reported.
LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Sunday met Argentinian Deputy Prime Minister Jorge Neme and Defense Minister Jorge Taiana, in the capital Buenos Aires.
The meeting, which was held during a luncheon hosted by Saudi ambassador to Argentina Hussain Mohammed Al-Asiri, reviewed Saudi-Argentinian bilateral relations and ways to strengthen them in all fields of cooperation, in addition to discussing the latest developments on the regional and international levels.
I was pleased to visit #BuenosAires in my first official visit to Argentina. We had fruitful meetings discussed improving bilateral relations and strengthening our cooperation in all fields.
They also discussed ways of boosting cooperation between the two countries in various fields, especially in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan. Intensifying bilateral coordination to achieve the aspirations of both countries is a priority for both sides.
In addition, the meeting focused on the efforts of both countries in boosting security and stability in the Middle East and Latin America. Both sides stressed the importance of strengthening joint work in the international community to ward off threats to international peace and security.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia confirmed one new COVID-19 related death on Sunday, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,833.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 24 new cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 549,695 people have now contracted the disease. Of the total number of cases, 48 remain in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with nine, followed by Jeddah with five, and Madinah, Makkah and Khobar recorded two cases each.
The health ministry also announced that 32 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 538,856.
Over 47.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. More than 22.3 million people have been fully vaccinated.

The Ministry of Interior reported 871 violations in the past week, with the highest number of breaches recorded in Makkah with 269, followed by Riyadh with 217, Madinah with 181, and Hail with 118. Qassim recorded the lowest number of violations with one.
The ministry called on citizens and residents to abide by the preventive protocols and the instructions issued by authorities.
Saudi municipalities have ramped up efforts to monitor compliance with health and safety measures.
The municipality of Eastern Province carried out 8,543 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities during the last week. Authorities recorded 563 violations and closed nine businesses for not adhering to the precautionary measures.
Al-Baha Municipality carried out 3,680 tours in the past week and field teams issued fines to 87 commercial outlets and closed nine others for breaching protocols.
The Northern Borders Province, represented by Rafha Municipality, carried out 280 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities during the last week and authorities recorded 23 violations.
Officials have also called on the public to report any suspected health breaches by phoning the 940 call center number or contacting authorities through the Balady app.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 261 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 5.21 million.
LONDON: Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it was temporarily suspending flights to and from seven African countries due to the outbreak of the newly discovered coronavirus strain, Omicron. 
The countries are Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius and Comoros, an official source from the Ministry of Interior told Saudi state news agency SPA.
Expats will be denied entry if they have been in any of the countries listed within the last 14 days before arrival in the Kingdom. 
Nationals and expats who are allowed entry will be required to quarantine for five days, including those who have been vaccinated. 
The Ministry of Interior called on those who entered Saudi Arabia after traveling to the list of banned countries after Nov. 1, to take a PCR test.
JEDDAH: Distance learning was a necessity imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the past 18 months there has been a great deal of debate, globally, about the merits or otherwise of remote education and how well its extended use has served students during these difficult times.
In Saudi Arabia, however, parents appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of distance learning, according to figures quoted by Education Minister Hamad Al-Sheikh. Speaking last month at the Saudi Family Forum, organized by the Family Affairs Council, he said 83 percent of parents believe that remote education has positively affected their children’s mental and psychological health. He added that it is here to stay, in some form, even after the pandemic ends because it has become a pillar of the education system.
Saudi authorities responded to the need to close classrooms during the pandemic by developing the Madrasati, or “My School,” platform as a gateway to keep students at all levels, from first to 12th grade, and their parents connected with schools and teachers in an attempt to provide the best possible online educational experience. To help achieve this it provides access to textbooks, notes, study materials, videos, tutorials and more besides. In the first week after its launch in September 2020, the free platform logged 41 million visits.
Redha Omda, a father of three in Jeddah, told Arab News that teachers are using new techniques to enhance the online learning environment, and applauded the increased use of technology.
“I like how technology is playing a big part in the educational sector,” he said. “Teachers are contacting me through WhatsApp and they are more accessible than before.
Saudi authorities responded to the need to close classrooms during the pandemic by developing the Madrasati, or ‘My School,’ platform as a gateway to keep students at all levels, from first to 12th grade, and their parents connected with schools and teachers in an attempt to provide the best possible online educational experience. To help achieve this it provides access to textbooks, notes, study materials, videos, tutorials and more besides.
“The Madrasati platform is linked to the parent’s Tawakkalna app, which is amazing, and it lets me know everything about my kids. I am also impressed by how my kids are using technology in a way that I did not imagine.”
Bara’a Alfergani, a mother of two living in Jeddah, said that distance learning saves students a lot of time.
“Study at home is better than attending eight hours of classes every day and then coming home with homework to do,” she said. “It is much easier to attend online and do homework at the same place.”
Alfergani added that it also makes it easier for her to keep an eye on her children and be more involved in their education.
The Ministry of Education has indicated that the future of learning in Saudi Arabia will involve some form of hybrid learning, as the concept of distance education has evolved as a result of the global health crisis.
Joud Al-Harbi, a 23-year-old college student from Jeddah, said that online education is a much better option than attending classes.
“It allows me to do many things at the same time,” she said. “I interact with my instructors, and most of my collegemates understand the subjects easily.”
One of her friends has a sick child, she added, and prefers to take classes online because it gives her more time to care for the youngster.
Schools and other educational institutions in the Kingdom closed in March 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic. They began to reopen in September this year, though remote learning remains in place for younger children.
Not all parents agree that distance learning has been a good thing, however. Stay-at-home mom Mashael Al-Sahli said it has had an adverse psychological effect on her two children because it has deprived them of a social life.
“Building social skills starts at school and it is an important factor of the growing process,” she said. “It was something we didn’t feel until schools were closed.”
Not only were her children deprived of the school environment, activities and their friends, she said, even though the online learning system that has been developed is good she nevertheless has found the learning process to be difficult.
“The kids can’t even see the teachers’ gestures or body language,” she added.
Nahedh Almwalad, an elementary school teacher in Jeddah, said that children have a lot of energy and their attention span is limited, which can be a challenge with online education, but added that it can help to teach them patience.


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