For Saudi Arabia’s past generations, life was a quicksand of poverty

Sources of income were tied to labor-intensive tasks such as construction and vocational trades

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Seeking sustenance has been every man’s aim. Before Saudi Arabia’s current prosperity and riches, fueled by the discovery of oil, starvation was rampant in the harsh desert climates across the Arabian Peninsula.

It was an extension of centuries of hardship during which the specter of poverty was prominent amid a lack of resources, which were almost restricted to primitive farming of dates and select cereals.

Sources of income were tied to labor-intensive tasks such as construction and vocational trades, sheep and camel herding and collecting firewood.

Trade too was very limited and not even worth mentioning. There were no sufficient resources in the country in general to meet the basic daily needs of people. It was necessary to find a way to earn a living and more often than not, this meant people traveled toward the East or West in search of work.

Generations of our forefathers had to stay away from their homeland for long periods and, in the process, they set the best example in dealing with such difficult situations.

They wandered to neighboring and far-off places like Basra in what is modern day Iraq, Shaam (Syria) and India. They worked hard and represented their countries well through their good treatment of others and their strict abidance to the teachings of their religion.

They worked with honor and integrity and many returned to their country with their heads held high as they brought goods purchased from their host countries from the money they had earned. Many would go on to invest their money into new businesses.

Whenever someone complained of poverty, he was advised to go to India, a country known for turning rags to riches. At the time, India was among the best places to live in the world and its people respected Arabs for their honesty, loyalty and diligence in work.

Whoever went to India would find work and return with sufficient money to support himself and his family.

The most common jobs for expatriate workers were labor intensive such as loading and unloading goods for merchants. With the change of economic conditions in the Kingdom, these Saudi expatriates started recruiting workers from India after God granted this country numerous bounties and plenty of wealth.

The Arabian Gulf was well-known for pearl diving and it was a profitable albeit time-consuming job. Many Saudis from the central region of the country worked as pearl divers even though some had never seen the sea, but they loved adventure and had limitless ambition.

They returned to their country and region with a lot of riches. It is estimated that nearly 300 Saudis from Marat in Najd worked as pearl divers.

No matter the type of job, having the head of the house leave behind his father, mother, wives and children was very hard on families, and relatives had to wait months and sometimes years for their loved ones to return.

A famous story of a 12-year-old Saudi boy highlights the fact that many Saudis never returned. The boy, who was from the central region, used to be beaten by his father for making the slightest mistake while working on the family farm. When he could no longer bear the beating, he approached a group of Saudis who were getting ready to travel to Syria, explained his situation and asked them for permission to travel with them.

They told him he was too young for such a journey and left without him. The boy followed their caravan and they only discovered that he was following them after they stopped to rest. At that point, they had no choice but to allow him to join them.

The Saudis left the boy in the main market in Syria. He approached a merchant and told him about his suffering. The merchant sympathized with the boy and provided him with a job in his store and a residence nearby.

The boy worked hard and grew up into a noble young man. The merchant asked a family for their daughter’s hand in marriage for the young man.

They agreed and the marriage took place. One day, the young man received news that his father had died in their village, but tormented by the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and the harsh realities of life on the farm, he refused to return.

Amid the abundance of God’s bounties, new generations of Saudis often fail to realize the magnitude of sacrifices made by their forefathers who lived in this land.

This story was originally posted on the Saudi Gazette on Dec. 12, 2014.