Riyadh: In a move which is bound to create a controversy, Saudi King Salman on Saturday launched the construction of Qiddiya – billed as world’s largest entertainment city, with recitation of the Holy Quran.
According to the reports by the local media, the foundation stone ceremony of the entertainment city began with Saudi national anthem and the recitation of Holy Quran. This was followed by a speech by the project CEO Michael Reininger.
“After Reininger’s opening address, which was preceded by the national anthem and a recitation of the Qur’an, Aa’ed Yousef performed a song with lyrics by Prince Badr bin Abdulmohsen, a gift to King Salman”, Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s leading English daily, reported on Sunday.
While there can be a difference of opinions over construction of entertainment city, recitation of the Holy Quran for such a project is something which appeared awkward. For, the texts from the Holy book are normally recited to seek blessings of Allah, The Almighty.
Qiddiya is one of many measures aimed at reducing the Kingdom’s reliance on oil and diversifying its economy. It is expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city by 2030, with a total area of 334 square kilometers, surpassing Walt Disney World in Florida, which is 110 sq km.
The ceremony of laying the foundation stone was attended by a host of local and international officials and a number of decision-makers, major investors and representatives of the regional and international companies, marking the launch of the project’s formal infrastructure. The first phase will be completed by 2022.
According to Saudi Press Agency SPA, the 334 sq. km Al-Qiddayah project will include recreational options and sports and cultural activities in innovative design facilities including toy cities, recreation centers and sports facilities capable of hosting world-class competitions, training academies, desert and asphalt tracks for motor sports enthusiasts, water and snow recreation activities, outdoor adventure activities, safari and nature experiences as well as historical, cultural and scientific activities.
“The project will also include shopping centers, restaurants, cafes, hotels, real estate projects, and services that meet the aspirations of all segments of society”, SPA said.
The Saudis have recently announced a number of measures aimed at “modernizing” the widely believed “conservative” Kingdom. These moves have not gone down well with Muslims in and outside of Saudi Arabia – who consider the Kingdom as a “holy land” because of “Harmain Sharifain”. The Saudi kings also proudly use the title as “Custodian of the two Holy Mosques”.
Amid widespread flaks, a top official of the Saudi Royal Court had in the last week said that the Kingdom was on the path to modernization without compromising moral values.
"The decision by Saudi Sports Authorities is not surprising. It was expected and awaited and is reminiscent of the fact that the Kingdom is on the path of moderation without moral breakdown", Saud Al Qahtani, a media adviser to the royal court said in a Twitter message.
Qahtani was responding to the Saudi Sports Authority's decision to shut down a female fitness center in Riyadh over a contentious promotional video that appeared to show a woman in figure-hugging workout attire.
"We are not going to tolerate this," Saudi sports authority chief Turki Al Sheikh, an adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, tweeted as he ordered that the center’s license be withdrawn.
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