Saturday, October 27, 2012

Meccan Construction and Destruction

The Islamic movement usually called "Wahhabi" is actually called by adherents al-muwahidun, a term which highlights their emphasis on God's unity.  Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab's foundational work the Book of God's Unity argued that Muslims were violating their profession of faith by paying undue respect to others, thus violating the idea of the unity of God.  The two primary targets were the Shi'ites, who believe in a line of divinely chosen imams who lead the Muslim community, and devotees of Sufi practices and holy men.  Wahhabis routinely demolished any monument seen as distracting believers from worshipping God, including those associated with the Companions of the Prophet and right guided caliphs.

That background, as well as business interests in commercial development and a legitimate need for more infrastructure, is how we get this:
Three of the world’s oldest mosques are about to be destroyed as Saudi Arabia embarks on a multi-billion-pound expansion of Islam’s second holiest site. Work on the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, where the Prophet Mohamed is buried, will start once the annual Hajj pilgrimage ends next month. When complete, the development will turn the mosque into the world’s largest building, with the capacity for 1.6 million worshippers.
But concerns have been raised that the development will see key historic sites bulldozed. Anger is already growing at the kingdom’s apparent disdain for preserving the historical and archaeological heritage of the country’s holiest city, Mecca.  Most of the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will take place to the west of the existing mosque, which holds the tombs of Islam’s founder and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar.
Abu Bakr and Umar were early converts to Islam and the first two rightly guided caliphs.  The former's house has been replaced by a Hilton.
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.
In Mecca, the Masjid al-Haram, the holiest site in Islam and a place where all Muslims are supposed to be equal, is now overshadowed by the Jabal Omar complex, a development of skyscraper apartments, hotels and an enormous clock tower. To build it, the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on. Other historic sites lost include the Prophet’s birthplace – now a library – and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, which was replaced with a public toilet block.
Saudi Arabia isn't a famously feminist country, but turning the house of Muhammad's first wife, who was also the first convert to Islam, into a large public restroom is pretty ridiculous.  The Saudis actually burned the grounds of the grave of Muhammad's mother, Amina.

I think of all the time medieval Muslims who performed the hajj spent describing the historical and devotional sights of Mecca in exhaustive detail.  They would be horrified that one day accounts might be all that remains.

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