Must we save holy sites in Mecca and Medina?
“He gives wisdom to whom He wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good. And none will remember except those of understanding.” (Qur’an, 2: 269)
My friend Cassamjee visited Jerusalem. After Al Aqsa, he went around sightseeing Jerusalem and he came to a place where Issa ibn Maryam (RA) is supposed to have treaded. Everything looked so intact as if the passage of time has had no effects on the stones and walls. An extraordinary atmosphere reigned, most pious and inspiring. A deep feeling of awe and piety penetrated him and he told me that such feelings are indelible. Curious, I asked what he felt when he visited Mecca. Apologetically, he said: “Not much, except before the Kaabah itself.”
I tried to understand what he meant but could not until I visited Mecca myself. Our hotel was situated in the midst of numerous neon lit shops selling a plethora of articles ranging from the latest gadgets to exorbitant gold jewellery. The streets were lined up with high buildings on both sides. Nothing of the town of Mecca inspired me. There was nothing which could tell me that this is the place where the last Prophet (SAW) was born and spent his childhood and manhood. Not the least indication exists to tell you that this place is the cradle of Islam. Wherever you may go, nothing will tell you that you are walking in the same place where Prophet Muhammad (SAW) walked.
Blessed are those who some decades before had the opportunity to see the vestiges of ancient Mecca because they had visited the place where the Holy Prophet (SAW) was born. Today when you ask for the place, you are shown the Mecca Hilton Hotel, several storeys high; the house of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (RA) is now a public toilet. Wherever the pilgrim goes he sees glittering billboards of famous trademarks, like Cartier, Tiffany and H&M and Starbucks cafés.
As I walked towards Haram Sharif, I could see only tall buildings, the immense clock of the Abraj Al Bait towering them all – the highest and biggest in the world. Wherever in Mecca, you will find it staring down at you, as if it were watching you, especially in front of the Sacred House because of its proximity. It is really disturbing because it stands as a symbol of overweening pride in a place where the rites of pilgrimage should reinforce your sense of humility before Allah among other men and women wearing only simple pieces of white cloth; a sheer blatancy of short-mindedness and hollowness of faith. This clock stands provocatively as the reminder of a new modern value: Time.
It is said that there was a time when the tallest structure in Mecca was the House of God that could be seen from far. Today it has been dwarfed and shadowed by the vainglorious house of the king next to it and soon it will be only a dot in the panorama. Understand the symbolism.
I was disappointed. I never spoke about it to anyone before, but deep inside I was frustrated at the idea that we, Muslims, do not value our historical, cultural and spiritual heritage. But no, it is not Muslims but only a minority group of Muslims amongst the whole Ummah who are responsible for this.
That ‘cultural genocide’ is part of a vast campaign of destruction by this group which started as early as in 1806 when the Wahabi army occupied Medina and “systematically leveled many of the structures at the Jannat al-Baqi’ Cemetery. Then Mosques across the city were also targeted and an attempt was made to tear down Muhammad’s tomb.”
In fact, the demolition of the holy sites is underpinned by a belief propounded by the founder of Wahabism or Salafism, Muhammad Ibn al-Wahab. Curiously, his own father and brother who were Islamic scholars rejected him. He wanted to purify the religion by getting rid of “impurities”. Shrines, mosques, houses, walls, stairs, nearly everything belonging to the past and yet which is evidence to Islamic history falls in this category. The reason is that they might lead to polytheism. Beneath this extreme interpretation of Islam lies a clear attempt to redefine faith and sacredness.
At the same time the ‘fear’ (of polytheism) implied expresses a fragility of faith because of its likelihood to weaken or disappear under the influence of external objects. As we are, so we judge others. We always project what is in us on others. True faith, however, is God-inspired and does not need any paraphernalia, neither its absence.
Weakness of faith, narrow-mindedness, inability to understand archaeological and historical value of sites only evidence the inaptitude of so many people, while claiming to be Muslims, to understand the true Islam and its message. In the absence of artifacts and historical structures the day is not far when our children will not be able to distinguish history from legends.
Roots of Expansion Ideological, NOT Accommodation for Pilgrims
When in 1925, Abdallah bin Saud conquered the Hijaz with his Ikhwan army of Bedouins, mostly nomadic, tribal, rude and illiterate, the leaders of Najd found themselves overnight at the head of a highly sophisticated society with a cohesive political structure based on a consultative council called Majlis al-shura. Instead of learning from these people, the conquerors imposed their myopic view of Islam and instituted monarchy. The following year, Abdallah officiated himself as king and at gunpoint Arabia became ‘Saudi’ and Wahhabism the official religion.
Wikipedia gives an idea of the extent of the irreparable damage: “In Mecca, the tombs of direct relations of Muhammad including his first wife and his grandfather Shaybah Ibn Hashem Ibn ‘Abd Al-Manaaf were demolished at Al-Ma’ala Cemetery along with the domed cupola and gate covering the Well of Zamzam within the confines of the Haram opposite the Kaaba.”
Among specific sites targeted at this time were the graves of the Martyrs of the Battle of Uhud, including the grave of the renowned Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, uncle of Muhammad and one of his most beloved supporters, the Mosque of Fatimah Al Zahraa’, daughter of Mohammad, the Mosque of the Two Lighthouses (Manaratayn) as well as the Qubbat Al-Thanaya, the cupola built as the burial place of Mohammad’s incisor tooth, which was broken from a blow received during the Battle of Uhud.”
The Grand Mufti of Mecca has also promised the destruction of the dome of the Prophet’s mosque. The devastation of the Wahhabis is not limited to Arabia only. Their followers have destroyed more than four hundred shrines in Mali. In Libya they recently destroyed a very ancient library and in various other parts of the world they are actively at work, destroying.
Thirst for Tourist’s Dollar
A vast project for the expansion of Haram Sharif to accommodate 1.2 million pilgrims together with the levelling of the Omar Mountain will soon change the whole topography of Mecca. The idea of aggrandizing the sacred mosque to make room for pilgrims is quite reasonable but to convert Mecca into a tourist site is mere folly. Those who will be accommodated will not be simple pilgrims but only people who can afford $2000 per night and hajj will be more a pleasure trip than an arduous journey with the difficulties described in the Holy Qur’an.
Voices around the world, Muslim as well as non-Muslim, have risen to object to this senseless dilapidation of cultural sites. Dr Sami Angawi, architect and founder of the Hajj Research Center, has for more than 20 years been trying in vain to bring the Saudi authorities to reason. According to him more than 400 holy sites have already been pulled down. The reason why many people do not dare to publicly object to this is the fear that they may never get a visa to visit Mecca. (See below for some sites and articles related to this subject).
Is it Too Late?
What to make of this situation? The ‘custodians’ of the holy sites in Mecca and Medinah have received many petitions, complaints and objections from people, organizations, and governments around the world already and it seems nobody can stop them. I personally do think this demolition and building frenzy is stoppable for the simple reason that it is already too late. Must we try to stop or at least delay the destruction of what remains? Or consider that all that is happening is in concordance with the hadith that predicted:
“When the belly of Makkah will be cleft open and through it will be dug out river-like passages (i.e. tunnels) and the buildings of the Holy City of Makkah will rise higher than its mountains, when you observe these signs, then understand that the time of trial is near at hand”?
There is also a famous hadith of Jibril (AS) which says when ““you see poor, naked, barefoot shepherds of sheep and goats competing in constructing tall buildings” the Day of Judgment is not far away.[/box_light]
I simply do not know.
The Independent, Mecca for the rich; Islam’s holiest site ‘turning onyo Vegas, by Jerome Taylor
The Independent, Shame on the House of Saud: Shadows over Mecca, Daniel Howden
The American Muslim, Saudi Royals Destroying home of Muhammad, Tarek Fateh
The American Muslim, Saudi destruction of Muslim historical sites, Sheila Musaji
The Guardian, How Hajj has become big business for Saudi Arabia, Riazat Butt
The Guardian, The Hajj Exhibition is in stark contrast with Saudi Arabia’s cultural vandalism, Shenaz Kermali
Destruction of early Islamic heritage sites, Wikipedia entry
Big Bin – the Royal Clock Tower of Mecca, Aziz Poonawalla 5/11
Mecca goes upmarket 12/2010
Transformed Mecca 11/10
The Saudis’ relentless drive to destroy the historic sites of Islam, Zafar Bangash 7/2008
Destruction of Islamic Architectural Heritage in Saudi Arabia: A Wake-up Call, Saeed Shehabi 2/2008
Shame of the House of Saud: Shadows Over Mecca, Daniel Howden 3/2007
The Price of Progress: Transforming Islam’s Holiest Site, Hassan Fattah 3/2007
Bulldozing Islam 10/2006
Developers and Purists Erase Mecca’s History, Laith Abou Ragheb 7/06
photo of how Grand Mosque is being overshadowed by construction 4/06
Shame of the House of Saud: Shadows over Mecca, Daniel Howden 4/06
Protecting Historical Sites in Saudi Arabia, Irfan Ahmed 2/2006
Public Toilets Built Over House of Sayyida Khadija by Saudi’s 2/2006
Photos of Abraj al Bait construction project near Kaabah 2/2006
The destruction of Mecca: Saudi hardliners are wiping out their own heritage, By Daniel Howden 8/2005
Mecca Conference Criticized for Hypocrisy on Holy Site Destruction, Sherrie Gossett
Destruction of Historic Meccan Sites Should be Avoided, By Mirza A. Beg
Under the vandals hammer, destruction of historic Saudi sites[divider]
Abdool Rahman Dauharry
Abdool Rahman Dauharry is Rector of Victoria College, Mauritius. Formerly, language and literature teacher, he also taught Islamic Studies at secondary level. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org