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Greg Lance – Watkins
the very simplicity and ritual secrercy of Islam as evoked by the Haj and the very structure of Mecca, elevated not because of Allah or for that matter Islam but as the home of the man who drew up the tennets of the Qoran – Mohammed himself!
With an expected 20 million plus pilgrims expected at the Haj, venerating Mohammed at Mecca, in just a few years it would seem that the entire history of Islam and the grounding of the belief in Allah is increasingly a financial consideration. A consideration which can suffuse the fundamental principles of the beliefs of the various sects of their followers.
It would seem that whilst one branch of Islam is resolutely marching backwards towards the barbarism of its Bronze Age roots, with the promotion of the creation of the Umma the oh so modern pilgrim’s march to Mecca, in ever increasing numbers, in fulfillment of that most ancient of rituals the amassing of ever greater wealth!
Making way for pilgrimsThe destruction of Mecca
The Middle East’s largest building project has effaced 1,400 years of Islamic history
AS THE governor of Mecca, Prince Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud has been able to compensate for earlier failings. He came to his role in 2007 from Asir province, where his plans to erect modern tower blocks in the city of Abha were largely unfulfilled. He successfully erased Abha’s quaint old town, with its beehive houses made of wattle, only to replace them with squat breeze-block bungalows. Not a high-rise was to be seen.
Now, on top of what was Mecca’s old city of lattice balconies and riwaq arches, the prince has overseen the Middle East’s largest development project. Skyscrapers soar above Islam’s holiest place, dwarfing the granite Kaaba far below. Diggers flatten hills that were once dotted with the homes of the Prophet’s wives, companions and first caliphs. Motorways radiate out from the vast new shrine. Local magnates are as keen to build as the government. Jabal Omar Development, a consortium of old Meccan families, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to erect two 50-floor towers on the site of the third caliph’s house. Such is the pace that for a time the holy city’s logo was a bulldozer.
Demolition, say officials, is the inevitable price of expansion. In 1950, before it all began, 50,000 pilgrims perambulated round the Kaaba, the heart of the haj ritual. Last year, 7.5m did so. Within three years, the authorities are planning to double that huge number. “There’s no other solution,” says Anas Serafi, an architect and member of the board of Jabal Omar Development. “How else could we absorb millions of pilgrims?” Casualties are a regrettable by-product: in September 2015, the world’s largest mobile crane toppled on the Grand Mosque, killing 107 pilgrims. But two weeks later more than 2,000 pilgrims were killed in a stampede, highlighting the dangers of a lack of space.
As Mecca’s custodian, King Salman bin Abdel Aziz sees both his prestige and his pocket benefit from the increasing traffic. Under the government’s transformation plan, revenue from pilgrimages will grow to compete with those from oil. Billions are being spent on railways, parking for 18,000 buses to transport pilgrims and hotels for them to stay in, heavy with gilded chandeliers. The McDonald’s golden arches gleam outside the gates of the Grand Mosque.
So thorough is the erasure that some suspect the Saudi royals are determined to finish a task begun in the 18th century, when from Arabia’s unruly hinterland the Al Saud and allied Bedouin tribes rose up against the Ottomans. Declaring a jihad, they pitted their puritanical strain of Islam, eponymously known as Wahhabism, first against the Empire’s multi-religious rule and then, after its collapse in the first world war, against the peninsula’s other Islamic rites. As part of the campaign of territorial and spiritual unification, called tawhid, they conquered Mecca in 1924.
Critics call this Islamic Maoism. Out went the city’s heterogeneous mix of Maliki, Shafii and Zaydi rites; in came homogenisation under the Wahhabi creed. Alongside the black and white dress they forced on women and men respectively, the new tribal rulers reshaped the urban environment, stripping away the past. They replaced the four pulpits at the foot of the Kaaba, one for each of Sunni Islam’s schools, with a single one, exclusively for Wahhabi preachers. They cleansed the faith of saint-worship, demolishing shrines venerated by Shia and traditional Sunnis alike. Of the city’s scores of holy sites, only the Kaaba survives.
Now that so much is gone, some Meccans are having second thoughts. “We’ve turned our past dating back to Abrahamic times into a petrol station,” grumbles a local. Mr Serafi, the developer, is designing a virtual heritage trail. Maps trace routes through the non-existent old town, highlighting the homes of the first caliphs. His brother has used the profits to create Jeddah’s finest art gallery nearby.
Might the government, under the deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, support an element of restoration? The transformation plan he unveiled last year highlights the kingdom’s tourism potential, and promises billions for heritage projects. In a recent interview, his information minister, Adel Al Toraifi, lambasted “radicals and terrorists” bent on cultural demolition. “Beautiful people and regions filled with culture, music, dances and tradition were all destroyed by political Islam,” he said. Replacing the Kaaba’s lost pulpits might be a good place to start.
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Of further interest:
Oct 24, 2014 … Mecca: The Sacred City. By Ziauddin Sardar. Bloomsbury; 408 pages; $30 and £ 25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk ZIAUDDIN SARDAR …
Muslims head for Mecca. Prepping for the pilgrimage. The logistics of the haj. Sep 19th 2015 | BEIRUT. Timekeeper. Add this article to your reading list by …
Making way for pilgrims: The destruction of Mecca. Mar 2nd 2017, 3:56 from Print edition. The Middle East’s largest building project has effaced 1,400 years of …
Jun 24, 2010 … LIKE another famous town that beckons visitors in a searing desert, Mecca has only one big, if different, draw. Its 13m visitors a year are only a …
Sep 24, 2015 … Whatever caused the crush on one of the dozen jam-packed pedestrian roads leading to the site, about 5kms (3 miles) outside Mecca, the …
Feb 13, 2012 … THE haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca every Muslim is expected to make at least once , can be a pretty stressful experience. The rites, which last …
There iss no more hope for Mecca embracing it erased tolerant tradition than of turning Athens/Rome back to worshipping their respective pantheons or India …
Dec 4, 2008 … Muslims and city politics. When town halls turn to Mecca. For many European municipalities and a few American ones (see article) …
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