Daily News, Thursday November 18, 2010
The End of Makkah?
The Hajj, the performance of the Islamic pilgrimage in the precincts of
Whilst 3 million gather on the plain of 'Arafat outside Mecca in a purified state, followed by rituals laid down by the prophets Abraham and Muhammad, the rest of the community enjoys a family day. 'Eid ul-Adha - literally meaning "joyful sacrifice" - commemorates Abraham being asked to sacrifice his first-born son, and a ram being substituted in his place.
The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is translated as "sacred journey".
In the digital age that we live in, the Hajj is followed step-by-step via cable TV, and even Facebook. It enjoys a "World Cup" audience of millions, making it now one of the most-watched annual events on the planet. With the accessibility of our age has also come the ease of air-travel, and in the 21st century, the Saudi Arabian authorities have had to restrict numbers.
The demographics of the Hajj are that demand far outstrips supply. The plains of 'Arafat and Mina, which are the terrain of the Hajj, can only accommodate up to 3 million pilgrims.
And haunted by the memory of deadly stampedes, the Saudi kingdom has embarked upon an ambitious re-development programme costing billions of dollars. This will see
By 2012, the Saudis want to cater for 10 million pilgrims with 130 high-rise hotels, rail shuttles and state-of-the-art shopping centres. Part of
This was based on the observation that if one spread-out the world map,
Many analysts feel that whilst change has been necessary in
Scholars, such as
This is the equivalent of the church bulldozing the Via Dolorosa in
The Washington-based Gulf Institute records that in two-decades the Saudi government has countenanced the destruction of 95% of Islam's historical buildings, tombs and wells - most of them relating directly to the life of the prophet Muhammad.
Dr Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect, says today that less than 20 of 300 historical sites remain in
Dr 'Irfan Ahmad al-'Alawi, founder and former director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, is a London-based barrister who owns a house in
He points to the desacralisation of
"In the 1990's they built a toilet over the foundations of a house belonging to the prophet's first wife, Khadijah. This is where a prophet of God prayed, where his children were born," he noted, adding that Islam's first school - and the house of the prophet's best friend, Abu Bakr, had been demolished for the Hilton Hotel. "It is incredible how little respect is paid by the Saudis to the house of God," he said.
In 2004 the old Turkish fort in the Al-Ajyad district was demolished to make way for another hotel, an enraged Turkish government describing the demolition as "cultural genocide".
Even the waters of Zamzam - the well discovered by Ishmael's Egyptian mother, Hajira - have been affected. Dr Alawi reports that builders blasting rock damaged and cracked the eye of the 3, 000 year old well.
Dr 'Alawi notes that the birthplace of Muhammad (used as a cattle market by the Wahhabis in the 1920's) is another victim.
"In any other religion, this would be a sacred site like the Church of the Nativity in
"Even the ground of the historical Jannat ul-Mu'alla graveyard, where the prophet's wife is buried, is now awash in sewage due to poor town planning," he said.
Denial from Saudi quarters has been adamant. Prince Turki al-Faisal was quoted as saying by The Independent in 2006 that
Unfortunately, his rebuttal sits at odds with reality.
Future generations of Muslims visiting
Daily News,Thursday November 18, 2010