Isam Hanif Majeed – Hiba magazine Team Writer
Saudi Arabia was once significant only to Muslims around the world due to religious pilgrimage for Umrah and Hajj. Now, the Saudi government has ambitiously started to ‘modernize’ or rather ‘Westernize’ the country in an attempt to attract Muslim as well as non-Muslim tourists.
Many other tourist destinations in the Middle East such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, or Turkey etc. have had the lion’s share in attracting Pakistani travelers too. Saudi Arabia is a recent name added to this list with relaxed travel requirements offering multiple attractions.
From A-List singers having concerts to the best athletes in the world participating in various sports, the last year or so we have seen a major paradigm shift. Jeddah hosted its first ever Formula 1 race in 2021 and now this has become an annual event. A couple of years ago, Saudi Arabia funded the LIV golf tour to rival the PGA golf tour, where the player contracts are rumoured to be in millions of dollars. Recently they have sent shockwaves in the football world by slowly signing the best players in the world by offering them lucrative contracts.
All of this has improved the Saudi Arabian GDP and now the growth forecast for 2024 is up to a staggering 4.6%, a growth helped by the increase in tourism.
During the first seven months of 2023 Saudi Arabia was ranked 2nd globally in terms of tourist arrivals with a 58% growth. All of this sounded superb until Saudi Arabia started to promote Al Ula for tourism.
Al Ula is also known as The Land of Thamud, the very place where the people of Thamud lived and were destroyed for disobeying Allah (swt).
Prophet Swaleh (as) was sent to the nation of Thamud to guide them. Upon hearing Prophet Swaleh (as) the arrogant people of Thamud asked for a miracle to prove he was a Prophet. Allah (swt) stated in the Quran: “And remember when He made you successors after the Ad and settled you in the land, (and) you take for yourselves palaces from its plains and carve from the mountains, homes. Then remember the favours of Allah, and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (Al Araaf 7:74)
After they rejected Prophet Swaleh (as) as a prophet, Allah (swt) sent an earthquake in the middle of the night and destroyed the whole nation. It is said in Surah Al-Araf: “So the earthquake seized them, and they became within their home (corpses) fallen prone.” (Al Aaraf 7:78)
Sahih Bukhari records that the Prophet Muhammad (sa), when passing through Al Ula for the Battle of Tabuk, told his Companions not to drink water other than the well that Prophet Swaleh’s (as) camel drank out of. He also firmly informed his troops not to eat or drink anything from the area and to pass quickly through this area.
For the past year or so, the Saudi government has been marketing Al Ula for its unique rock formations which baffle modern day archaeologists. But it needs to be pointed out Al Ula is a place where Allah (swt) destroyed an entire nation as punishment for their disbelief. This isn’t a place that can be celebrated and used as a tourist attraction.
In 2024, Al Ula will be hosting the motor sport Dakar Rally and concerts throughout the year. The Saudi government themselves are pushing tourism towards Al Ula.
Is it wise to invest millions of dollars in the land of doom? Is it acceptable to pretend or rather forget that nothing happened there as it’s buried in history now? If there was anything to be told about Al Ula, it should have been the horrible reasons for which Thamud was punished there. Muslims need to spread awareness about the history of Al Ula, before tourists get all excited and board the plane to visit the site for fun and holidays.