(MENAFN - Arab News) There are not many Saudis who speak Malayalam, the language of Kerala in India. Then, again, there are not many Saudis whose parents hailed from the Malappuram district of Kerala.
Abdul Rahman Abdullah Yousuf, chairman of Al Fadul Freight Solutions, is a Jeddah-based businessman who exports various Saudi products to countries around the world, including the Philippines, China and Egypt.
Although Saudi born and bred, Yousuf strives to maintain good relations with Kerala by visiting his relatives there almost every year.
Speaking to Arab News, Yousuf urged all expatriates, especially those from Kerala, to consider Saudi Arabia their second home. "Keralites have created a good impression among Saudis as a peaceful, hard-working people. So you should not engage in any illegal or criminal activity that would give a bad name to you and to your country," he said.
Yousuf, who is one of the few non-Keralites who speaks Malayalam, criticized Keralites and other expatriates for making fun of Saudis in their local languages. "This is a very bad habit, which our Prophet Muhammad has prohibited us from doing."
On the home front, Yousuf supports the government's Saudization drive, saying it is essential for improving the living conditions of Saudis. "All countries would do the same thing. In the private sector, 90 percent of workers are foreigners and Labor Minister Adel Fakeih wanted to change that equation by making it 50-50. The new expatriate levy of SR 2,400 is applied on companies where Saudi workers make up less than 50 percent of the workforce," he said.
Nevertheless, Yousuf urged the Labor Ministry to make sure there are enough qualified Saudis to meet private sector requirements. "For example, I need Saudis who can speak English to support my ocean freight business. Most Saudis do not know English because they learn the language at Class VI. In my opinion Saudi children should be taught English from Class 1 or LKG. It will take at least five years to get enough qualified Saudis for my job, and for that the ministry has to open more English language centers," he pointed out. Yousuf said there is currently a big demand for qualified Saudis and companies compete for them by offering huge salaries.
Yousuf also spoke about his father, Abdullah, who came to Jeddah to work for the British Embassy. He also played an important role in the early days of National Commercial Bank as he managed the bank's foreign transactions. He used to help pilgrims exchange their money and cash their checks and drafts.
Yousuf still remembers his first journey to Kerala with his father and mother when he was 13. They arrived in Malappuram at night and there was no electricity. A group of people helped them reach home with the support of torches made of dry palm fronds. In those days, most houses in Malappuram did not have electricity or running water and Yousuf forced his parents to leave for Jeddah as quickly as possible because of the difficult living conditions.
His second trip to Kerala was after his father's death. During that trip, his mother planned for him to marry her brother's daughter. Twenty-one-year-old Yousuf, who was then a Saudi Arabian Airlines employee, did not want to marry an Indian woman. But his mother, with the support of his uncles, convinced him.
"I told my mother I am a Saudia employee and I am not allowed to marry a foreigner. But she told me that she would arrange all the necessary papers for the marriage to be endorsed by Saudi authorities. She said the girl's father had died and we had to support her. Finally, I agreed to marry that 17-year-old girl.
My mother was extremely happy and she arranged the biggest wedding party in the history of that village and it continued for four days. Famous singers VM Kutty and Vilayil Valsala were invited to entertain the gathering. Since then I have been enjoying a very happy life with my wife. We have three daughters and two sons."
Yousuf also spoke about the state of Jeddah when he was a child. The city was surrounded by a wall and had three gates: Bab Jadid, Bab Sharief and Bab Makkah. The guards used to close these gates after Maghreb and nobody was allowed to enter the city. Shops were not locked during prayer times. They just put a chair outside to inform the people that there is nobody inside the shop. The city's gates were opened only in the morning.
Yousuf's family was living in Harat Sham near the British and Indian embassies. All foreign embassies were in Jeddah in those days before they were shifted to Riyadh about 20 years ago.
Yousuf is most definitely a Saudi first. But he is also a very distinguished citizen of the world.