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Saturday, October 11, 2008


In pre-Islamic times, Taif was home to the most famous of annual fairs anywhere on the Arabian peninsula. The Suq Okaz took place on what is now a rolling desert plain north of Taif. This fair occurred during the first 20 days of Dhu Al-Qadah, the eleventh month of the year. During Dhu Al-Qadah, Dhu Al-Hajjah and Muharram — respectively the eleventh, twelfth and first months of the year — as well as Rajab, the seventh month of the year — all warfare and raiding was banned. This allowed the residents and merchants of the region the necessary security to travel. Traders brought goods via camel and donkey to the Suq Okaz. Bedouin crafts such as rugs, camel-hair tents, sheepskins, pottery, tools, jewelry, perfumes, produce and spices were sold. Included in this colorful spectacle of the souq were poets and singers who came to participate in contests of their talents. According to Saudi archaeologists who have studied the area, it is believed that the Suq Okaz lasted until sometime around 760 AD.
OKAZ is the most famous ancient market in the Arabian Peninsula. It got its name from what Arabs used to do there — they bragged about their own achievements and ancestors. The market is first recorded in 500 B.C. The Quraish, a famous Arab tribe to which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) belonged came up with the idea of having a place where Arabs could gather and be united against any enemies. They selected the location at Okaz, between the two famous cities of Makkah and Taif. The place is called Al-Athdia, and the market began when pilgrims arrived in Makkah and went on for four months. The Arabs had specified those particular months during which they agreed that they would not use weapons or initiate wars. To them, this was a good idea since it would guarantee a safe environment for trading and other activities.
In comparison to modern malls, the Okaz market did not only offer goods for sale. Visitors had many things to do besides shopping. They challenged each other to see who could make the best Arabic poems; they boasted the achievements of their tribes and they also attempted to settle inter-tribal disputes and disagreements. Since the market offered so many cultural activities it helped to preserve and protect the Arabic language, helped to produce fine poems and encouraged talented poets to produce more.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) visited the market for seven seasons and he attempted to tell the Arabs about Islam. Subsequently, people stopped going there and in fact, it was not known for sure exactly where the market was. King Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz ordered specialists and scientists to identify the location by looking back at ancient records and historical documents. The location of Okaz was finally located — near Taif in a place known as Al-Athdia.
After 1300 years the market is going back to operate again this year. It is witnessing a revival as the Governor of Makkah, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, the son of King Faisal, has officially opened it and the government has planned a number of activities there. The events will last for 7 days and will include the sale of different goods and materials, both traditional and modern. There are also old Arabic poems written in gold and posted for visitors to see, along with an songs sung by famous Arab singers.
The market includes a special area for selling traditional food and has a location for children’s activities. Men can enjoy cultural events taking place in different tents, while women can also enjoy activities in a tent assigned to them. There are also handicrafts and perfumes made from the famous flowers of Taif. The tents where the activities take place bear the names of the most famous Arab poets during the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods. Among the names is Al-Nabiga Al-Dubiani who used to judge the poems presented in Okaz, Hassan ibn Thabit who used his poetic talents to protect Islam and praise it, and Al-Khansa, a Muslim woman poet who was well known for her fine elegies.

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