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The Destruction Of Mecca by GuyFawkes: 10:35am On Oct 02, 2014
The Destruction of Mecca

WHEN Malcolm X visited Mecca in 1964, he was enchanted. He found the city “as ancient as time itself,” and wrote that the partly constructed extension to the Sacred Mosque “will surpass the architectural beauty of India’s Taj Mahal.”

Fifty years on, no one could possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.

The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.

The “guardians” of the Holy City, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the clerics, have a deep hatred of history. They want everything to look brand-new. Meanwhile, the sites are expanding to accommodate the rising number of pilgrims, up to almost three million today from 200,000 in the 1960s.

The initial phase of Mecca’s destruction began in the mid-1970s, and I was there to witness it. Innumerable ancient buildings, including the Bilal mosque, dating from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, were bulldozed. The old Ottoman houses, with their elegant mashrabiyas — latticework windows — and elaborately carved doors, were replaced with hideous modern ones. Within a few years, Mecca was transformed into a “modern” city with large multilane roads, spaghetti junctions, gaudy hotels and shopping malls.

The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium-old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders. The house of Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, has been turned into a block of toilets. The Makkah Hilton is built over the house of Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the prophet and the first caliph.

Apart from the Kaaba itself, only the inner core of the Sacred Mosque retains a fragment of history. It consists of intricately carved marble columns, adorned with calligraphy of the names of the prophet’s companions. Built by a succession of Ottoman sultans, the columns date from the early 16th century. And yet plans are afoot to demolish them, along with the whole of the interior of the Sacred Mosque, and to replace it with an ultramodern doughnut-shaped building.

The only other building of religious significance in the city is the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived. During most of the Saudi era it was used first as a cattle market, then turned into a library, which is not open to the people. But even this is too much for the radical Saudi clerics who have repeatedly called for its demolition. The clerics fear that, once inside, pilgrims would pray to the prophet, rather than to God — an unpardonable sin. It is only a matter of time before it is razed and turned, probably, into a parking lot.


The cultural devastation of Mecca has radically transformed the city. Unlike Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, Mecca was never a great intellectual and cultural center of Islam. But it was always a pluralistic city where debate among different Muslim sects and schools of thought was not unusual. Now it has been reduced to a monolithic religious entity where only one, ahistoric, literal interpretation of Islam is permitted, and where all other sects, outside of the Salafist brand of Saudi Islam, are regarded as false. Indeed, zealots frequently threaten pilgrims of different sects. Last year, a group of Shiite pilgrims from Michigan were attacked with knives by extremists, and in August, a coalition of American Muslim groups wrote to the State Department asking for protection during this year’s hajj.

The erasure of Meccan history has had a tremendous impact on the hajj itself. The word “hajj” means effort. It is through the effort of traveling to Mecca, walking from one ritual site to another, finding and engaging with people from different cultures and sects, and soaking in the history of Islam that the pilgrims acquired knowledge as well as spiritual fulfillment. Today, hajj is a packaged tour, where you move, tied to your group, from hotel to hotel, and seldom encounter people of different cultures and ethnicities. Drained of history and religious and cultural plurality, hajj is no longer a transforming, once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience. It has been reduced to a mundane exercise in rituals and shopping.

Mecca is a microcosm of the Muslim world. What happens to and in the city has a profound effect on Muslims everywhere. The spiritual heart of Islam is an ultramodern, monolithic enclave, where difference is not tolerated, history has no meaning, and consumerism is paramount. It is hardly surprising then that literalism, and the murderous interpretations of Islam associated with it, have become so dominant in Muslim lands.

Ziauddin Sardar is the editor of the quarterly Critical Muslim and the author of “Mecca: The Sacred City.”

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Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by GuyFawkes: 10:36am On Oct 02, 2014
Interesting that the Saudis seek modernization materially while striving for antiquity morally and culturally. Is it ironic, or are they trying to cloak their backward-looking values and social structure in modern garb?
Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by Nobody: 12:20pm On Oct 02, 2014
GuyFawkes: Interesting that the Saudis seek modernization materially while striving for antiquity morally and culturally. Is it ironic, or are they trying to cloak their backward-looking values and social structure in modern garb?
Maybe it has to do with the Wahabbi principles of the Saudi royal family
Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by TunjiMsp: 12:50pm On Oct 02, 2014
It's called civilisation not destruction , those structures were built to reflect the development @ that time, but if they feel changes need to be done so be it, you can't expect those old structure to accommodate the ever increasing number of pilgrims.
Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by GuyFawkes: 1:09pm On Oct 02, 2014
Apatheist:
Maybe it has to do with the Wahabbi principles of the Saudi royal family

Now that they have 'Wahabbanised" the Holy Cities, the rent accrues to their estates since the royal al Saud family and their acolytes own most of the concrete jungles built overt the historical Islamic sites that they so wantonly destroyed to bring their version of Islam to "modern" standards.
Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by GuyFawkes: 1:12pm On Oct 02, 2014
TunjiMsp: It's called civilisation not destruction , those structures were built to reflect the development @ that time, but if they feel changes need to be done so be it, you can't expect those old structure to accommodate the ever increasing number of pilgrims.

The destruction of historical buildings is more about removing anything that doesn't match fundamentalist Salafist thought. The construction of the clock tower hotel has everything to do with symbolizing domination, wealth and arrogance. It is a symbol that even Islam and the clerics are subservient to the Royal Family.
Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by Nobody: 2:01pm On Oct 02, 2014
GuyFawkes:

Now that they have 'Wahabbanised" the Holy Cities, the rent accrues to their estates since the royal al Saud family and their acolytes own most of the concrete jungles built overt the historical Islamic sites that they so wantonly destroyed to bring their version of Islam to "modern" standards.
True, but I think the motive is religious and not economic.
Wahabism, which is an early modern movement arising out of the alliance between Abd Al Wahab and the Al Saud[ progenitors of Saudi Arabia]
It follows that the Saudi Royal family is Wahabbi.
Also, Wahab himself was iconoclastic
They aren't a cult, but they have been regarded as religious fanatics for much of their history, such as when they forcibly put down by Muhammad Ali Pasha in the 19th century. The Wahabis do, however, generally disdain artifacts generally, and can be called basically iconoclastic, but they aren't a cult, they're the official religious ideology of Saudi Arabia.
And so I disagree with the writer when he says this:
The “guardians” of the Holy City, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the clerics, have a deep hatred of history. They want everything to look brand-new.
It is not necessarily a hatred of history, but perhaps as TunjiMsp put it, Civilization.

Also this part:
The initial phase of Mecca’s destruction began in the mid-1970s, and I was there to witness it. Innumerable ancient buildings, including the Bilal mosque, dating from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, were bulldozed. The old Ottoman houses, with their elegant mashrabiyas — latticework windows — and elaborately carved doors, were replaced with hideous modern ones.
The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium- old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders. The house of Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, has been turned into a block of toilets. The Makkah Hilton is built over the house of Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the prophet and the first caliph.
Iconoclastic, but not hatred.
Tl;Dr:
This part explains the mind of the Saudi Royal family.
The clerics fear that, once inside, pilgrims would pray to the prophet, rather than to God — an unpardonable sin.
Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by GuyFawkes: 2:48pm On Oct 02, 2014
Apatheist:
True, but I think the motive is religious and not economic.
Wahabism, which is an early modern movement arising out of the alliance between Abd Al Wahab and the Al Saud[ progenitors of Saudi Arabia]
It follows that the Saudi Royal family is Wahabbi.
Also, Wahab himself was iconoclastic
They aren't a cult, but they have been regarded as religious fanatics for much of their history, such as when they forcibly put down by Muhammad Ali Pasha in the 19th century. The Wahabis do, however, generally disdain artifacts generally, and can be called basically iconoclastic, but they aren't a cult, they're the official religious ideology of Saudi Arabia.
And so I disagree with the writer when he says this:

It is not necessarily a hatred of history, but perhaps as TunjiMsp put it, Civilization.

Also this part:

Iconoclastic, but not hatred.
Tl;Dr:
This part explains the mind of the Saudi Royal family.

Isn't there a fundamental contradiction in Islam forbidding or ridiculing idolatory while making it mandatory to pray (looking) to Mecca,doing the Hajj as well as bowing before the Kabba? At a symbolic level, aren't the aforementioned the same - idol worship (pretty much symbols) and Mecca/the mandatory trip and the stoning of the devil thing all kinda idolatory?
Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by Nobody: 4:40pm On Oct 02, 2014
GuyFawkes:

Isn't there a fundamental contradiction in Islam forbidding or ridiculing idolatory while making it mandatory to pray (looking) to Mecca,doing the Hajj as well as bowing before the Kabba?
There are contradictions in all religions

I don't think Muslims interpret facing the Ka'aba during prayer as idolatry.
At a symbolic level, aren't the aforementioned the same - idol worship (pretty much symbols) and Mecca/the mandatory trip and the stoning of the devil thing all kinda idolatry?
In their defence, pilgrimage to Mecca is not mandatory
Re: The Destruction Of Mecca by Nobody: 9:58pm On Oct 04, 2014
It's nothing new. There have been quite a few major and minor expansions in the last 50 years or so, and changes were made during the caliphate era and since then without fuss nor fight over heritage/history.

The Kaaba itself has significantly changed (in appearance) since 632 AD. For instance, the signature black cloak adorned with gold Qur'anic inscriptions in eye-catching Arabic calligraphy that we all now singularly associate with the site, wasn't always used as it's covering.

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