- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Souq Okaz Cultural Festival marks pre-Islamic culture
- Date: 22nd September 2011
- Summary: VARIOUS OF THEATRE PERFORMANCE
- Embargoed: 7th October 2011 13:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Arts,Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVA25P4RF7Q5C8LVTH3IJZC0OBZS
- Story Text: The Souq Okaz Cultural Festival in Taif in western Saudi Arabia is an attempt to replicate a pre-Islamic fair which used to draw artists and artisans from around the region to display their crafts or perform.
Some of those taking part at the festival were busy weaving bags and baskets, with onlookers admiring their handmade goods.
One lady making items at the festival was Um Abdulrahman.
''People have started to care about the old heritage, you know from our fathers our forefathers, and I feel as though they care more about things that are handmade than things that are manufactured,'' she said.
Some of the Arab world's most famous poems, still taught in schools today, were originally recited at the Souq Okaz fair many centuries ago.
''There were races and there were competitions, they used to compete each year in the season of Souq Okaz, races as well as poetry competitions. There were a lot of poets who became famous due to Souq Okaz,'' said festival participant Abdulrahman al-Thubiati.
''We want to show the new generations just how strong the old poets were with their poems, and we hope that the new generation of poets will be like the pre-Islamic poets, and better,'' added a Saudi actor who was re-enacting the role of the 7th Century Arabian poet Hassan Bin Thabit.
Souq Okaz, which harks back to pre-Islamic days, is now an annual event, having been revived in 2008 by King Abdullah, a monarch who has sought to lessen the influence of hardline Wahhabism which is often critical of any non-Islamic traditions.
Modern-day Saudi Arabia is is the birthplace of Islam, and the festival is taking place only 50 kilometres from Mecca, Islam's holiest city.
Every year, the festival honours a different famous Arab poet, and for those visiting the festival they say it highlights the Arab identity.
''We saw a lot of scenes that show the beauty of Arab culture, which also shows the Arab identity during pre-Islamic times. It made me want to read more about that time and speak to the people about Arab identity,'' said Salem al-Fifi.
Since before the spread of Islam in the Arabian peninsula, traders and bedouins would set up markets to sell a range of goods like rugs and perfumes. Some travelled from distant regions on camels to arrive at the fair, which included poetry, singing and dancing contests.
At this year's event musicians played traditional music, battle scenes were re-enacted and plays were performed on a large stage.
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