Monday, October 29, 2012

Saudi Arabia and the Destruction of Mecca and Medina

Lately, people have been tweeting and Facebooking about news articles with titles like "Medina: Saudi takes a bulldozer to Islam's history" and "Mecca for the Rich: Islam's holiest site turning into Vegas." To put it simply, Saudi Arabia is destroying Mecca and Medina for its selfish gains with absolutely no regards to Islam, Muslims, and, most importantly, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his family. I'll try to give a brief history of Mecca and Medina as holy sites and then explain Saudi Arabia's role and position among Muslims and why what they're doing to Mecca and Medina is dangerous, problematic, and absolutely hypocritical.

Mecca and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

The Ka'ba

Mecca is the holiest city of Islam. It's where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last prophet of Islam, was born, and it houses the Ka'ba (picture to the left), a cube-shaped building that Islam teaches was built originally by Prophet Abraham and his son Prophet Ishmael. Muslims pray 3-5 times a day, always facing the Ka'ba during each prayer. The idea behind facing this direction is unity: at any given moment, because of different time zones across the world, millions of Muslims are praying, all of them facing the exact same direction, worshiping the exact same God, at the exact same time. Islamic history maintains that the Ka'ba was built for the sole purpose of bringing people together to worship God--mostly through pilgrimage. Over time, however, until Muhammad's time, the Ka'ba lost its intended purposes and instead grew to serve polytheists: polytheists would make pilgrimages to this site and worship their gods. (Note: Islam consider polytheism an almost unpardonable sin. The association of other gods with God is a grave sin in Islam.) Muhammad's family and relatives, too, were polytheists who valued the Ka'ba as a holy site for their religious beliefs.

When Muhammad became a Prophet, God through the Angel Gabriel revealed the Qur'an to him, and one of the main teachings in the Qur'an--primarily in the Surahs (chapters) revealed in Mecca--is to stay away from worshiping any deity other than God. Gradually, the Ka'ba was reverted into an Islamic site designated by God, through Abraham, as a monotheistic site for worship. Muslims were initially instructed to face Jerusalem while praying but later told to face the Ka'ba instead. And so till date, we face the Ka'ba while praying.

Medina, the Prophet's house and mosque, and the Prophet's tomb

As for Medina, the second holiest city of Islam (the third holiest is Jerusalem): there are several reasons why this city is considered holy and sacred. Firstly, the word Medina is Arabic for "city," referring to the city of the Prophet (Muhammad). The complete name is Medinat al-Nabi, city of the Prophet. The city was originally called Yathrib. It is where the Prophet is buried - inside a mosque called Masjid al-Nabawi, or the mosque of the Prophet. Secondly, Medina served as an asylum for the Prophet and his earliest followers who were threatened in Mecca and had to flee to a safer place. Islamic history tells us the people of Medina had heard about a man named Muhammad from Mecca who was a keen businessman and who was a respected arbiter; they also knew that he was claiming prophethood and that he was in danger because his fellow Meccans were not pleased with his preaching his new religion to them. Since there are believed to have been many tribal disputes in Medina, the Medinans invited the Prophet, offering to provide him safety in return for his help in settling their disputes or just being an arbiter among them. The Prophet accepted the invitation, and he and his followers left Mecca to temporary settle in Medina (he returned to Mecca eventually) and gained many new followers and supporters from Medina. Thirdly, then, Medina is where the Prophet first won the most supporters, and those who supported him throughout his stay in Medina are commonly referred to as the Ansaar, or the Helpers (of the Prophet and his fellow migrants).

Another reason why Medina is important is that that's where the Prophet is buried in the mosque I mentioned earlier, Masjid al-Nabawi. The first mosque in Islam's history was at the Prophet's house, which served as a gathering and meeting spot for the Prophet and his companions and followers. The Prophet's tomb has historically been considered a religious site among Muslims, who visit it especially during their annual pilgrimage to Mecca; indeed, it is a feeling of immense delight and gratitude to be able to visit the Prophet's tomb, to set foot on a land the Prophet walked upon and is buried in. This last point--that Muslims visit the Prophet's grave and deeply value their experience there--because it is a factor in why the Saudis, popularly seen as Wahhabi (basically, "extremely conservative"), appear to be doing what they're doing to the Prophet's tomb today--that is, demolishing it because they think that Muslims visit to worship the Prophet (which actually isn't the case, although I understand that "worship" needs to be defined more specifically. More on this momentarily).

Religious Authority, Muslims, and Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is generally viewed as the custodian of Islam; it's considered an authority on everything Islam, and many Muslims worldwide, especially non-Arab ones (and more than a majority of the Muslims worldwide are non-Arabs), tend to trust Saudi's version(s) of Islam than any other and believe it to be more authentic than other Muslims' interpretation(s) of Islam. We generally deem Saudi sheikhs/scholars and Imams as more authoritative and more correct than non-Saudi scholars of Islam. Many groups of Muslims outside of the Arabic-speaking world resent this privilege bestowed upon Saudis and sometimes also other Arabs because, in the process of privileging Saudis/Arabs, we privilege their culture, not all of which is necessarily Islamic and marginalize our own; many practices, traditions, attitudes, and behaviors common to Muslims are more Arab than Islamic (e.g., the practice of tripple talaq, a form of divorce; dressing styles or even the way the hijab is "to be" worn), but they're accepted as Islamic solely because they originated in Arabia. There are a lot of reasons for why Muslims deem Saudi Islam more authoritative and authentic than non-Saudi Islam, and some of these reasons actually make sense. 'll talk about this another time on this blog, but for now, know that one of the prime reasons is that it's the Prophet Muhammad's birthplace. I mention it here only to make the point that Saudi Arabia is abusing its power over Muslims (and basically over Islam as well) by doing what it's doing to Mecca and Medina.

The Destruction of Mecca and Medina

Now that we know why Mecca and Medina are important to Islam and to Muslims, I will go ahead and discuss the destruction of these sites.

In Mecca, where the Ka'ba is located and where Muslims make the pilgrimage yearly, called hajj in Arabic, the Saudis have built a huge clock tower of 1,972 ft tall and various luxurious buildings, malls, restaurants, and hotels that the average human cannot afford. One candy bar, for example, can cost up to 400 USD  here now. It also seems as though options for pilgrims to stay in less-costly hotels are not as common, but I need to look more into this. Saudi knows that most Muslims who make the pilgrimage can barely afford the hajj, but it also knows how business works. Hence, what you see all over these two cities today are skyscrapers, and few sense anything religious and spiritual about them, which defeats the purpose of the sacredness of these places. 

While that may not be considered un-Islamic or blasphemous by many Muslims, I do think it is very selfish and unjust of Saudi to do. But what is even more unacceptable--not just in my opinion but also in, I assure you, over 98% of Muslims' opinion--is this: the house in which the Prophet was born in has been turend into a library, and the house of the Prophet's first and most beloved wife, Khadjia, has become a block of public toilets. (And in Islam, restrooms/toilets are, of course, no holy places by any means; they are instead considered dirty places, and we are advised not to stay in them longer than necessary and for no other purpose than answering nature's call and showering/bathing.) Either already demolished or currently under threat are thus the following sacred sites:
Bayt al-MawlidWhen the Wahabis took Mecca in the 1920s they destroyed the dome on top of the house where the Prophet Mohammed was born. It was thenused as a cattle market before being turned into a library after a campaign by Meccans. 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 MosqueSlated 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 companions. Ottomon Mecca is now rapidly disappearing 
Al-Masjid an-NabawiFor 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-NourA 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.
There's more:
Of the seven ancient mosques built to commemorate the Battle of the Trench – a key moment in the development of Islam – only two remain. Ten years ago, a mosque which belonged to the Prophet’s grandson was dynamited. Pictures of the demolition that were secretly taken and smuggled out of the kingdom showed the religious police celebrating as the building collapsed.
So, "Both [Mecca and Medina] are historically almost finished. You do not find anything except skyscrapers," Saudis say. Generally, however, Saudis are institutionally not allowed to criticize official policies, and so people only talk about it with each in secret. only experts on holy sites in Saudi Arabia appear to be openly criticizing this and expressing concern over the demolishing of these sacred spaces. 

 But Why?

Above, I pointed out the issue of polytheism and Islam's intolerance of worship of any deity other than a monotheistic God. A part of the reason I highlighted it is that it seems as though Saudi authorities are doing this precisely to shift focus from Muhammad during any visit to his tomb to ... I'm not sure what - what, the expensive and lavish buildings replacing it? They want to expand the Prophet's mosque so that it'll hold the 1.6+ million people visiting it each year (note that this visit is separate from the larger pilgrimage, which is actually in Mecca) instead of the fewer that it holds today. But this "justification" isn't enough because it fails to explain all the other disrespect to all the other Islamic sites mentioned above, as the Prophet's tomb is barely one of the sites under threat and the other changes have nothing to do with the suspected "polytheistic" activities and thoughts of the pilgrims. Moreover, Mecca was once a place in which Muslims gathered in as one people, completely united in the face of all sectarian, national, ethnic, linguistic, racial, sexual, and all other differences, in a sacred space where everyone is (was) equal and an observer could not tell "a king from a peasant" because they all look(ed) and dress(ed) the same. Yet, today that exact same place "
has become a playground for the rich, critics say, where naked capitalism has usurped spirituality as the city's raison d'ĂȘtre."

Now, it should be emphasized that it's not the expansion of these cities, especially of the mosques, that should be criticized. It is well known that over 12 million Muslims visit Mecca and Medina each year, and it is predicted that this number will increase to 17 million by 2025. But it is what is deliberately lost and utterly annihilated in the process of this expansion that begs to be condemned widely. As Dr. Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation says
No one denies that Medina is in need of expansion, but it’s the way the authorities are going about it which is so worrying.[...] There are ways they could expand which would either avoid or preserve the ancient Islamic sites but instead they want to knock it all down.” Dr Alawi has spent much of the past 10 years trying to highlight the destruction of early Islamic sites.
And remember:
Heritage campaigners and many locals have looked on aghast as the historic sections of Mecca and Medina have been bulldozed to make way for gleaming shopping malls, luxury hotels and enormous skyscrapers. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years.
Our Hypocritical Silence

At a moment in history when we have virtually all the means necessary to preserve our history and our heritage, at a moment when no one can deny of the importance of preserving our heritage because of the infinite lessons that it has the power to teach us, over 95% of the buildings and sites rich with Islamic and Muslim history have been destroyed in just 20 years alone. And in the process of this destruction, we have ourselves insulted the man (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) whom we forbid anyone else to insult and for whom, if he's insulted, we'll conveniently kill anyone who carries out the insult(s).

Oh, Muslims! You know what's so hypocritical of us? This: we don't mind raising a hell over some pathetic "film" that insults us, but we're completely silent over what is being done to his tomb, people he loved, his home--basically, his relics! No, the Islam we practice and preach isn't, I insist, a relic of Muhammad's. Is it because we don't know or aren't aware of these plans and changes and destructions? Until I discover otherwise, it is best I assure myself that this is the reason for our silence, our lack of condemnation over the obliteration of our heritage.


  1. [QUOTE]the Saudis have built a huge clock tower of 1,972 ft tall and various luxurious buildings, malls, restaurants, and hotels that the average human cannot afford. [QUOTE]

    Exactly, I saw this picture on facebook a year ago, some luxurious hotel room with a glass floor from which you could see the ka'bah and people were commenting the same way sheep usually do i.e MashAllah - SubhanAllah etc etc. I asked myself whether they really knew how much it would probably cost to stay there and whether they had any inclination of how inappropriate such things are.

    Over here it is illegal to build anything taller than the cathedral in its immediate vicinity. A crummy city cathedral gets more respect than the Ka'bah.

    Also Wahabis are nuts, whoever looks to them for guidance is also nuts.

  2. The facts of the alliance between Ibn Saud and Abd al-Wahhab have given way to legend. The two
    men first met as Abd al-Wahhab and his disciples were tearing through the Arabian Peninsula, demolishing
    tombs, cutting down sacred trees, and massacring any Muslim who did not accept their uncompromisingly
    puritanical vision of Islam. After being expelled from an oasis where they had received shelter (the horrified
    villagers demanded that Abd al-Wahhab leave after he publicly stoned a woman to death), they made their
    way toward the oasis of Dariyah and its Shaykh, Muhammad ibn Saud, who was more than happy to give
    Abd al-Wahhab and his holy warriors his unconditional protection.
    “This oasis is yours,” Ibn Saud promised; “do not fear your enemies.”
    Abd al-Wahhab replied with an unusual demand. “I want you to grant me an oath,” he said, “that you
    will perform jihad against the unbelievers [non-Wahhabi Muslims]. In return you will be leader of the Muslim
    community, and I will be leader in religious matters.”
    Ibn Saud agreed, and an alliance was formed that would not only alter the course of Islamic history, it
    would change the geopolitical balance of the world. Abd al-Wahhab’s holy warriors burst into the Hijaz,
    conquering Mecca and Medina and expelling the Sharif. Once established in the holy cities, they set about
    destroying the tombs of the Prophet and his Companions, including those pilgrimage sites that marked the
    birthplace of Muhammad and his family. They sacked the treasury of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and
    set fire to every book they could find, save the Quran. They banned music and flowers from the sacred
    cities and outlawed the smoking of tobacco and the drinking of coffee. Under penalty of death, they forced
    the men to grow beards and the women to be veiled and secluded.''

    ( para from the book ''no god but God'' by Reza Aslan.)

  3. this fanatic destructive credit goes to King Saood and family and the religious fanatics extremist Wahab Najdi....they crushed prophet's era archaeology....we hv 3,4,5,6tounsands old archaeology,while the prophet era was fresh than the rest but these bloody militants did their bad best for secular and religious authority in arab desert hot sandy pizza...curse on them as they deprived us and the world from a rich and first medinal state remnants... saood was an ambitious and greedy tribal lord while wahab was a missguided missile who considered each muslim dont accept his wahabism doctrine is entitled to kill being a murtad and 'bid'atee'.....

    da laas nakhy ye goram pa prevato dewaaloono
    de khaoro ke tasweer me da sanam yawaze na day...

  4. I think the best way of earning after oil extraction is to offer cheap hajj and cheap umrah packages which is forever business it can give benefits to both local and international agencies and agents.

  5. Go to the roots of the problem. The ruler are Jews who claimed to be Muslim.They are not Muslim at all but act like one for reason you should understand. A dog in a sheep skin.So what do you expect?

    1. LOL. Blame everything on the Jews, ai.


Dare to opine :)

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