Thursday, November 29, 2012

All is not well in Mecca

Dr Alawi's most pressing concern is the planned £690m expansion of the Grand Mosque.
The most sacred site in Islam which contains the Kaaba.
The black stone cube built by Ibrahim (Abraham) that Muslims face when they pray.

Construction officially began earlier this month with the country's Justice Minister, Mohammed 

al-Eissa, exclaiming that the project would respect "the sacredness and glory of the location, 

which calls for the highest care and attention of the servants or Islam and Muslims".

The 400,000 square metre development is being built to accommodate an extra 1.2 million 

pilgrims each year and will turn the Grand Mosque into the largest religious structure in the 


But the Islamic Heritage Foundation has compiled a list of key historical sites that they believe 

are now at risk from the ongoing development of Mecca, including the old Ottoman and Abbasi 

sections of the Grand Mosque, the house where the Prophet Mohamed was born and the 

house where his paternal uncle Hamza grew up.

There is little argument that Mecca and Medina desperately need infrastructure development. 

Twelve million pilgrims visit the cities every year with the numbers expected to increase to 17 

million by 2025.

But critics fear that the desire to expand the pilgrimage sites has allowed the authorities to ride 

roughshod over the area's cultural heritage. 

The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of Mecca's millennium-old 

buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone.

The destruction has been aided by Wahabism, the austere interpretation of Islam that has 

served as the kingdom's official religion ever since the al-Sauds rose to power across the 

Arabian Peninsula in the 19th century.

In the eyes of Wahabis, historical sites and shrines encourage "shirq" – the sin of idolatry or 

polytheism – and should be destroyed. 

When the al-Saud tribes swept through Mecca in the 1920s, the first thing they did was lay 

waste to cemeteries holding many of Islam's important figures. 

They have been destroying the country's heritage ever since. 

Of the three sites the Saudis have allowed the UN to designate World Heritage Sites, none are 

related to Islam.

Those circling the Kaaba only need to look skywards to see the latest example of the Saudi 

monarchy's insatiable appetite for architectural bling. 

At 1,972ft, the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, opened earlier this year, soars over the surrounding 

Grand Mosque, part of an enormous development of skyscrapers that will house five-star hotels 

for the minority of pilgrims rich enough to afford them.

To build the skyscraper city, the authorities dynamited an entire mountain and the Ottoman era 

Ajyad Fortress that lay on top of it. 

At the other end of the Grand Mosque complex, the house of the Prophet's first wife Khadijah 

has been turned into a toilet block. 

The fate of the house he was born in is uncertain. 

Also planned for demolition are the Grand Mosque's Ottoman columns which dare to contain 

the names of the Prophet's companions, something hardline Wahabis detest.

For ordinary Meccans living in the mainly Ottoman-era town houses that make up much of what 

remains of the old city, development often means the loss of their family home.

Non-Muslims cannot visit Mecca and Medina, but The Independent was able to interview a 

number of citizens who expressed discontent over the way their town was changing. 

One young woman whose father recently had his house bulldozed described how her family 

was still waiting for compensation. 

"There was very little warning; they just came and told him that the house had to be bulldozed," 

she said.

Another Meccan added: "If a prince of a member of the royal family wants to extend his palace 

he just does it. 

No one talks about it in public though. 

There's such a climate of fear."

Dr Alawi hopes the international community will finally begin to wake up to what is happening in 

the cradle of Islam. 

"We would never allow someone to destroy the Pyramids, so why are we letting Islam's history 


Under Threat
Bayt al-Mawlid

When the Wahabis took Mecca in the 1920s they destroyed the dome on top of the house 

where the Prophet Mohammed was born. 

It was then used as a cattle market before being turned into a library after a campaign by 


There are concerns that the expansion of the Grand Mosque will destroy it once more. 

The site has never been excavated by archaeologists.

Ottoman and Abasi columns of the Grand Mosque

Slated for demolition as part of the Grand Mosque expansion, these intricately carved columns 

date back to the 17th century and are the oldest surviving sections of Islam's holiest site. 

Much to the chagrin of Wahabis, they are inscribed with the names of the Prophet's 


Ottomon Mecca is now rapidly disappearing

Al-Masjid al-Nawabi

For many years, hardline Wahabi clerics have had their sites set on the 15th century green 

dome that rests above the tomb holding the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar in Medina. 

The mosque is regarded as the second holiest site in Islam. 

Wahabis, however, believe marked graves are idolatrous. 

A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz 

Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stated that "the green dome shall be demolished 

and the three graves flattened in the Prophet's Masjid".

Jabal al-Nour

A mountain outside Mecca where Mohammed received his first Koranic revelations. 

The Prophet used to spend long spells in a cave called Hira. 

The cave is particularly popular among South Asian pilgrims who have carved steps up to its 

entrance and adorned the walls with graffiti. 

Religious hardliners are keen to dissuade pilgrims from congregating there and have mooted 

the idea of removing the steps and even destroying the mountain altogether.

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