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My visit to Taif was more than rewarding.

Summary: My frequent visits to Saudi Arabia were for religious purposes, to perform Hajj or Umrah, or to lecture on microchip design or to chair or attend international conferences. But never had I visited its places famous for their natural beauty -- until last week -- when I decided to add to my itinerary a half-day visit from Mecca to the city of Taif. It was most rewarding.

The origin of the city name comes from the Arabic word to build a strong fence in reference to its ancient fence protecting the city, as it was one of the few walled ancient cities in Arabia.

The city is 100 km southeast of Mecca at an elevation of some 2,000 metres on the slopes of the breath-taking mountains of Sarawat, it takes about one hour drive from Mecca to reach here.

Each summer the city's population of half a million swells as the Saudi government moves from the heat of Riyadh to Taif and hundreds of thousands of Saudis with their families spend their summer holidays here.

The city recently attracted other Gulf visitors during the summer and last month Nasair, the Saudi national carrier, marked the launch of its first flight from Riyadh to Taif, in addition to the arrival of its first international flight at Taif International Airport from Kuwait.

The city is well known for its grapes, peaches, pomegranates, dates, roses and honey and it well deserves the title The Garden of Hejaz, the western region of Saudi Arabia. In the spring Taif's rose fields are filled with small pink roses that are used to make Taif's rose oil used to make some of the world most expensive perfumes.

Precipitation is low. When I was there the high morning temperature was 18 while it was 35 back in Mecca. The city has natural parks with wild animals mainly baboons. One of these parks is Al Rudaf Park, south of the city with rose and fruit trees scattered amidst magnificent granite rocks. During the summer a popular cable car takes you from the low plains to the top peaks showing the surrounding fantastic scenery.

Before Islam the old city was a religious centre and housed the idol of the goddess Allat, known as "the lady of Taif".

During the life of Prophet Mohamed, Taif was the scene of a very important event in Islamic history. As the prosecution of the early Muslims peaked in Mecca ten years after he started his mission, the Prophet decided to go to Taif with few of his followers to settle there. But the people of Taif abused and stoned him, driving him away of the walled city resulting in bleeding both in body and face.

The Prophet then, surrounded by his followers, made a prayer to the Almighty before returning back to Mecca:

"O God, I come to Thee alone, helpless and without resources. Thou art the most Merciful of all the merciful. Thou art the Sustainer of the weak and helpless. Thou art my Lord to whom art Thou going to entrust me to an unknown enemy who is bitter with me or to an enemy who has dominance over my affairs? But if Thine curse is not on me I do not care for anything. Thy protection is a great shield for me. In place of Thy curse or anger descending on me I seek the refulgence of Thy face which dispels all darkness, and which sets right all worldly affairs. I seek Thy will and pleasure. No force or strength can come except from Thee."

When some of his companions asked him to curse those who harmed him, the Prophet refused saying: "If they have not accepted Islam now, their future generations will certainly accept it." He was right.

The Qur'an says: "They (those early Muslims) encountered suffering and adversity and were so shaken in spirit that even the Apostle and those with him cried: When will come God's help? - Ah! Verily, God's help is always near." (2:214).

Elmasry is a professor

emeritus of computer

engineering, University of

Waterloo. He can be reached at

elmasry@thecanadiancharger.com

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Geographic Code:7SAUD
Date:Mar 28, 2013
Words:699
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