Two million Muslims have flooded into Saudi Arabia\’s Mina Valley from Mecca for the start of the Hajj pilgrimage this week. Dressed in simple white garments and freed from their worldly possessions, they are following in the footsteps of the prophet Muhammad. But in Islam’s holiest city, there is increasingly little sign of the prophet’s legacy – or the frugal life he espoused.
“The authorities are trying to destroy anything in Mecca that is associated with the prophet’s life,” says Irfan al-Alawi, director of the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, who recently returned from a trip to the city. “They have already bulldozed the house of his wife, his grandson and his companion – and now they are coming for his birthplace. And for what? Yet more seven-star hotels.”
At the foot of the Khandama mountain to the west of the Grand Mosque, an innocuous white building stands alone, cast adrift in a sea of paving and tarmac. This small library was built to mark the site of the house where the prophet was born, known as the House of Mawlid, the remains of which Alawi says still lie beneath its raised plinth. But it is now in the path of bigger plans.
Across the road, the house of Muhammad’s wife, Khadijah, has already been replaced with a block of 1,400 public lavatories. Further up the hill, centuries-old neighbourhoods have been flattened to continue the marching line of steroidal hotel towers. Its neighbours already swept away, the library is next in the firing line, standing in the way of plans for an underground car park and a metro line extension – needed to cope with the huge influx of visitors, set to reach 17 million a year by 2025.
As if to preempt any outcry, the building now bears a sign in five languages declaring: “There is no proof that prophet Muhammad was born in this place, so it is forbidden to make this place specific for praying, supplicating or get blessing.” A booth manned by the religious police ensures that no visitors step out of line.
It is, says Alawi, just the latest move in a series of state-endorsed acts of cultural vandalism, urged on by the hardline wahhabist sect, which perceives historic sites and the veneration of the prophet as encouraging sinful idolatry. A 1,400-year-old well, Bir e Tuwa, where the prophet spent a night, now stands alone as another endangered fragment marooned in a rubble wasteland. Its neighbours have been razed for hotels, and it looks to be going the same way.
It’s not that these places, houses and remains have a religious importance for me.
If I complain is because every human works, buildings, tools… human heritage, belongs to all humans, and tells our global story. And that’s why it’s important for me. Even a broken piece of pottery from that crucial time would be important for me.
What anthropologists and archaeologists use to know how we were hundreds of thousands of years ago are little things, few rests of that past. And future generations of saudis and arabs from all over will ask to know about Mecca and the origins of islam and how were arabs as a people, in the future, when all the kings, imams and business lords of nowadays are dust in the wind.
I am a vocational historian, a humanist and someone absolutely passionate about what Middle East can apport to our common cultural baggage as humans. The good and the bad.
And for me, to see the world silent letting these things happen is simply a loss for all of us, specially for saudis, who are loosing their historical roots as a people.
We can compare this as if Egyptians had not transported Abu Simbel and other heritage treasures when they made the dam in Aswan. Not only them but also us would have lost a lot.
Beyond any kind of religious implication, what has happened and keeps happening in Mecca is terribly SAD for this spaniard.
Islam keeps destroying itself. Thru sponsorized ignorance. Thru preached intolerance. Thru funded religious oscurantism.
And, same as happens with every bomb, every kidnap, every summary execution, every ethnic prosecution for those who represent diversity and progress among them… muslims will do nothing, except blaming others. Israel, the CIA, the Russians, the west, the saudi Royals…
Thus ignoring the fact that even if all these were to blame, the first spark of this was born at a pulpit inside a mosque or a madrasa. Ignoring the fact that all those supposed conspirating minds actually ARE BEING HELPED by those imams, those extremists and those MUSLIMS who behave as executive arms.
Lives will be lost… by thousands and millions, due to their words and actions. And most victims will be muslims. And those who fill their mouths saying “those are not muslims” will die seeing how the islam they think is the “true islam” will die and vanish… same as the dust in Mecca… while bearded guys wearing short thobes celebrate joyfully.