MECCA, Saudi Arabia - Five times a day across the globe devout Muslims face this city in prayer, focused on a site where they believe Abraham built a temple to God. The spot is also the place Muslims are expected to visit at least once in their lives.
Now as they make the pilgrimage clothed in simple white cotton wraps, they will see something other than the stark black cube known as the Kaaba, which is literally the center of the Muslim world. They will also see Starbucks. And Cartier and Tiffany. And H&M and Topshop.
The Abraj al Bait Mall - one of the largest in Saudi Arabia, outfitted with flat-panel monitors with advertisements and announcements, neon lights, an amusement park ride, fast-food restaurants and a lingerie shop - has been built directly across from Islam's holiest site.
Not everyone considers this progress.
"Mecca is becoming like Las Vegas, and that is a disaster," said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, a Saudi opposition research organization. "It will have a disastrous effect on Muslims because going to Mecca will have no feeling. There is no charm anymore. All you see is glass and cement."
The mall, which opened a week before the annual pilgrimage, called the hajj, in December, is the first phase in a $13 billion construction boom in Mecca that promises to change how this city, forbidden to everyone but Muslims, looks and feels.
The Abraj al Bait housing and hotel complex, a 1.5-million-square-yard development that will include a towering hotel, has begun to redraw the skyline of this ancient religious city.
When the project is completed in 2009, it will include the seventh tallest building in the world, its developers say, with a hospital, hotels and prayer halls. A public-announcement system pipes in prayers from the Grand Mosque across the way, and worshipers can join the masses simply by opening their draperies.
In nearby Jabal Omar, an entire mountain is being flattened to make way for a huge hotel and high-rise complex. And elsewhere, cranes dot the skyline with up to 130 new high-rise towers planned for the area.
"This is the end of Mecca," said Dr. Irfan Ahmed in London. He has formed the Islamic Heritage Foundation to try to preserve the Islamic history of Mecca, Medina, the second holiest city, and other important religious sites in Saudi Arabia. "Before, even in the days of the Ottomans, none of the buildings in Mecca towered higher than the Grand Mosque. Now these are much higher and more disrespectful."
|"Abraj Al-Bait" complex, located directly in front of the Holy Mosque|
Money is certainly one of the motivators in the building boom. Every year, up to four million people descend on this city during the pilgrimage, while a stream continues to flow through here during the year, spending an average $2,000 to $3,000 to stay, eat and shop.
Billboards along the way to Mecca remind investors of the potential earnings from owning an apartment here; some claim a 25 percent return on investment. Advertisements on Arab satellite television channels remind viewers that "you, too, can have the opportunity to enjoy this blessed view."
Muhammad al-Abboud, a real estate agent, recounts tales of Pakistani businessmen plunking down $15 million to buy several apartments at a time. Saudi princes own entire floors.
A three-bedroom apartment here runs about $3 million, Mr. Abboud said. One directly overlooking the Grand Mosque can reach $5 million.
Critics of the development complain that the result is gated communities where worshipers can separate themselves from the crowds, thereby violating the spirit of the hajj, where all stand equal before God.
"All of Mecca is a sanctuary," Mr. Abboud said. "So how could something like this not be snapped up?" But some groups say the building boom also has religious motives. They accuse the archconservative Salafi, who hold great sway in Saudi Arabia, of seeking to eliminate historic spots, fearing that these sites would become objects of worship themselves.
Dr. Ahmed of London has cataloged the destruction of more than 300 separate antiquity sites, including cemeteries and mosques. He says the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived was razed and today a dilapidated library, with its windows and doors shuttered, stands in its place.
"It is not respecting the Kaaba, not respecting the house of God or the environment of the sanctuary," Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who wants to preserve Mecca's heritage, said of the development. "You are not supposed to even cut a tree in this city, so how could you blow up a mountain? The Islamic laws have been broken."
Progress has exacted a heavy price in Mecca. More pilgrims than ever can come here, thanks to billions spent on tunnels and infrastructure to accommodate them. But in exchange, the city's once famed night market, where pilgrims brought their wares to sell, is gone. The Meccan homes and buildings that filled the area near the mosque were demolished in the 1970s to enlarge the mosque. The neighborhoods and families who lived near the mosque and welcomed pilgrims have long since moved away.
Mecca has long been a commercial as well as a religious center, but increasingly global brands dominate here.
Mr. Angawi, the Saudi architect, has led a lonely campaign within the kingdom to bring attention to the destruction of the historic sites. Dr. Ahmed has worked to lobby Asian and Arab governments to press the Saudis to stop such demolitions. And Mr. Ahmed, in Washington, has built a database of the historic spots now destroyed. Many Muslims inside and outside Saudi Arabia have remained silent about the issues, they say, fearing the loss of financing from Saudi Arabia for religious institutions and projects.
Saudi officials say they have been painstakingly preserving the Islamic artifacts they find, and operate two small museums in Mecca. In all, they say, more than $19 billion has been spent on preserving the country's Muslim heritage. They dismiss their critics as cranks who have no following.
Developers and real estate agents, meanwhile, say the construction makes room for even more Muslims to take part in the hajj, and therefore serves the greater good.
That suggests that the changes are far from over.
"Mecca has never been changed like it has now," Mr. Angawi said. "What you see now is only 10 percent of what's to come. What is coming is much, much worse."
Hassan M. Fattah writing for The New York Times
A very timely and needed article. It seems that the Saudis have shifted their financial schemes from oil to bilking their Fellow Muslims of their wealth. Remember what happened to the Mekkans in the time of the prophet (pbuh) when they used to bilk the pilgrims. May Allah (swt) deal with it in His time, for us, is on judgement day.
I just have one thing to say how come there are no malls and mcdonalds by the pyramid? or by the wall of Jews ...how come the Saudi (not Muslims) have scoop so low??
Its now, oh lets pray at the Kabah, and ill meet u afterwards at the mall, well eat mcdonalds and go shopping. And then well go on those amusement rides. wow :(
They're trying to remove your love of the Prophet PBUH) from ur hearts....
WE.Muslims are all aware of the fact,that the costodian of the Holly cities of Mecca and Medina are the HOUSE OF SAUD..they own the whole country of saudi arabia..including the Holly cities and the Muslim Ummah in that country.and they are the best freinds of the west and their so called modern agenda..
The house of SAUD sold all Ullumaa for their FATWA..the Oil revenue goes to their account,they are the KINGS and SULTANS the rest is just subjects who have no say of anything but follow them blindly .
Today all muslims live under JAHILIYA state ,we have no justise and Unity and equality and we care less about the state of our affairs ..
Those who have sanctioned the development in mecca have made an unwise decision. ahadith and the quran warn us of such behavior; i.e. foll0owing the ways of the zalimoon and mushrikeen.
First of all the Wahabi/Salafi is quick to scream Bidah, Bidah....Innovation,Innovation about everything humanly possible....lines in a mosque...bidah!misbaha....bidah!!any and all things are bidah if they weren't the way of the Prophet(pbuh) and the sahaba,there children,and then their grandchildren....ALL OTHER GENERATIONS are out the conversation to them....Well my question to them....did these 3 generations, the salef as they are called see it fit to destroy the Prophet(pbuh) home for fear of shirk....did the four great khaliphs live a life of preference where they exploited the wealth they had at their disposal?? now these people wearing this mask of salafi....they're rasing up a building that rivals the skyscrappers in NYC directly across Masjid al-Harram!!!call me crazy but if that isn't BIDAH......i don't know what is!! Even the last home of the khaliphate, the Ottomans who have been demonized by the salafis never dared to raise any building in Mekka that was taller then al-Kaaba in height.....Allahu Akbar!!! brothers/sisters in Islam....please where do we go? how do we stop this catastrophe!!! I am ready to do whatever it takes to reclaim Mekka from the hands of the unfit back into the hands of this Ummah!! We'd better shape up Muslims!! this issue is an idication as to how low we've declined as a nation....May Allah help us first in uplifting our Ummah once again to its glory days and may Allah protect us from the rebellious!! Ameen
Are we to turn to the days of ignorance? I am deeply concerned as a Muslim, as a human being and as an architect. The destruction of such important pieces of architecture and historically important sites with the false pretext that they can be worshiped is truly idiotic. Could they not use this same pretext for the kaba, are they to destroy it to? Audhubillah! Just the immense size of this project is ridiculous, and why next to the kaba? Who are they selling or leasing to? Are they going to allow people in kufr to enter makkah next so they can make more money? May Allah give them what they deserve.
I have yet to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but when I do In Sha'Allah, I believe that the last thing I would like to find there would be a Starbuck! We need to preserve our beloved holy city. Nothing can justify what is taking place..I really feel sad.
I am indeed saddened that we are losing our heritage. I feel that part of being Muslim is knowing where we came from so that we can have a better idea of where we are headed. If our heritage is being converted into shopping malls, then what will our focus be as we look to our future.
I would suggest that the Saudi government should rather expend resources in educating the Hujjaaj about the dangers of committing shirk at historical sights, instead of turning a blind eye at Hujjaaj turning Starbucks and McDonalds into new forms of idols.
I would further suggest that iviews and other websites & international bodies set up public (or private) petitions to the Saudi Government to consult with the Ummah at large before they destroy any further sites. And futher, all destroyed historical sites should be reconstructed, even if it means that high-rise apartment buildings, hotels & shopping malls that were built in their place should be removed. The interest of the Ummah should take precedence over the interest of the investors.
The Haramain should also be restored. The Al-Aqsa precincts may be a good present-day example if we would like to see an example of how the historical essence of the Haramain can be preserved while still keeping a sense of antiquity. (minus the Zionist encroachment of course)
If the Saudi Government refuses to take heed, then they should be compelled, by taking the case to the International Court at the Hague, or trough another forum, to hand over custodianship of the Haramain to a representative international Muslim body, and then to pay for the reconstruction as well.
Personally, I do not know about the level of "Sahhi" of this hadith. But whether it is true or not, it poses as food for thought.
While every mark of the beloved Prophet's (PBUH) residence in Makkah is being razed to the ground in the name of Wahabi puritanism, lingerie shops are propping up close to the birthplace of Islam and its Prophet (PBUH). Puritanism indeed! Mind you, Saudi Arabia is not a country strapped for land. I ask the Mall developers - why not choose a city other than Mekkah? Indeed men are blinded in their pursuit of wealth. If you have connections and the money, even the most staunch of Wahabi purists can be bought! So much for pursuing a Spartan life-style.
The Saudis and their Wahabi counterparts have literally hijacked Islam by their control of Mekkah. It is time, we Muslims stand up and claim what belongs to us. Mekkha does not belong to the Saudis just like the holy Prophet (PBUH) does not belong to the Saudis.
The noble Prophet (PBUH) said that Mekkah's thorny bushes must not be disturbed and its pristine nature preserved for the rest of posterity. It is amazing how men with money, power and a faulty idealogy are deluded into thinking that they can do anything.
" He has no worry with poverty of Ummah but had concern once this Ummah aquired wealth" As a Muslim I have complete confidance in Allah, that the place will be saved against all odds. Remember war of Elephent
I personally do not want to go to Mecca, the Holy City for all Muslims (Believers) and see the West. As one brother stated, I live in a place where I see prostitutes, drug addicts, porn channels, etc. What is next for Mecca? It is time that all Muslims stand together and protest this insanity. Saudis have surely lost their way. The reason why they are getting away with this mess is because people are not standing and protesting. As one stated, Mecca belongs to all Believers. What Saudi Arabia is doing to our holy site is a shame and a disgrace. It is money and greed that is driving Saudi Arabia. How different are they than the West?
The authors comment "You are not supposed to even cut a tree in this city, so how could you blow up a mountain?" I ask how they built in the olden times.. I am sure they cut down trees etc to build. Besides the prohibition is as I understand it for cutting grass, hunting animals etc without a cause... obviously ulema can shed more light on this ....
Also the authors comment on the Salfi's of Saudi Arabia just points out his stereotypical thinking, and shows me how closed minded he is when he is concluding that the archconservative Saudi's will destroy religious sites to build Disney land... I mean that is an Oxy Moron...
In any case there are some things that Mr. Hussain have suggested are absolutely correct and should be looked at ... but as a whole this article is one of those that is in line with bashing the Saudis' for every right or wrong.. Just because its now fissionable and the west likes it so I'll do it.... mentality..(Meaning bashing anything conservative in Islam)
Saudi family is the real enemy of Islam. But the real Devil behind Saudi family and everyone else is CAPATALISM.
Which sees no boundaries and and sucking blood from all. Destroying everything which comes in its way.
We need to focus and understand and move away from Capatalism , lean more towards socialism. Keeping our money out of our banks and a no loan No interest lifestyle. away from big Mac and support local family owned business pay by cash only policy etc etc. lean more towards green party , peace acitivist. Organic growers/ Natural growers etc.
A change of course is needed and it starts from your grocery list.
It better for you to build a good system of transportation, communication, toilet and so on for the benefit of the pilgrims. Not this building selling crap which has no value to Allah.
Please, please don't do this. Your kingdom will vanish in no time.
May Allah (SWT) give all of us Hidayaah, Ameen.
We often say I'm a Muslim or I'm a Christian but what are we doing that is Christ like or what are we doing that is Sunnah ( like the Prophet did)? They fought whether physically or mentally for justice, life or death, they fought. We cant fight because I may loose my job so I cant really say what I feel or well times have changed so it ok.
We are loosing I know we own businesses now. I know we are educated now so we can simply debate issues and what not. But who fights for justice? If we are to busy. They are building a freak show around the holiest place on earth ? They have us debating with are women that they don't need hijab because times have changed. they say its ok to drink a little and fornicate, maybe sit in the adult book store that they will build in your community and maybe your daughter shall want to grow up to be strippers.
Who are we? Who shall we be tomorrow? Who shall They make us into? Who is the they? Those with the money, those with the power? I thought we bear witness there is no God but Allah, or maybe times have changed. So debate. Be democratic. Be civil and watch it change all before your eyes. You see I see it. I live in Los Angeles were My World is a freak show. My Sisters are strippers, my Dad's go to the adult book stores and rent porn. My Brothers gang bang as my Mothers look like Twenty five year old hookers with fake breast. Yes I live in your future.
First of all, thank you for this article. I did not know that there have been so many bad changes made to the city Mecca. I am totally against all of the recent changes to Mecca. And I hope that the powers that be in the area will not change Medina too.
By the time I and my family are able to make Hajj I hope that Mecca will not look like Disney Land...May Allah forgive us all!
the stucture of this building in front of the
Kaaba. It hauntingly looks like the Empire
State Building in New York and next to it the
Twin Towers. I agree we should not allow this
most sacred place become an amusement park. But
perhaps its too late to protest. This should
have been stopped before it was built. May
Allah stop the return of idols to the Kaaba.
Our Prophet(Sal) destroyed those idols and
we should not allow this desecration to occur.
Bin Laden can now make a compelling argument about the unholy corruptness of the Saudi dynastic monarchy (unIslamic) and its enabling of the US invasion of Iraq (supposedly a fellow, brethren "Muslim state).
I will never forget as a college student crying in the middle of the night as US cruise missiles flew over Saudi Arabiia (who knows maybe over Mecca) from USS warships in Arabian Sea and Bahrain to hit the city of Baghdad (An Islamic caliphatic capital).
The sheikdoms have done many good and remain generous, but what good is generosity when it is tribal-based when we forget about our other fellow Muslims or when that generosity is based upon their suffering?
Is not a greater bond we all share our undelible belief in Allah and Prophet (saws)?
Under the guise of piousness these Saudi worldly pleasure-seekers have destroyed our collective holy sites that has been preserved for a millenia. Indeed we must all speak up and collectively rail against this corrupt regime (I'm surprised at my degree of anger). Lets clean up our own backyard before raising a darn finger at the "West" for the dire problems facing the Ummah.
May be somebody will think of adding amusement parks like Disneyworld / Orlando there, too; people can pray and enjoy at the same time.
Funny, the article talked only about infidel currency (US$).
A) Commerce is a part of Islam, and the growth of commerce is not a bad thing, citing Starbucks is a poor attempt at swaying the reader's opinion
B) While the Kaaba must be protected, and the process of Hajj, there is nothing to make a compelling argument that the entire city of Makkah is holy
C) It is indeed likely that if we knew where the Prophet (PBUH) was buried and where he lived these would become worship sites
D) Investment must be made somewhere with Saudi Oil money, it is only natural the Makkah become the grandest city in the Muslim world, why not? Why shouldn't Makkah be our symbol of pride, with towering sky scrapers
But what frustrate me the most is that the muslim masses around the world do not know or do not care of this destruction. I wonder what the reaction had been if this had, God forbid, been carried out by Israel (se: al-Quds) - would the reaction be any different?
In the end the Saudi government can not do what it sees fit out from its own narrow minded views, be it commercial or religious, as this is the heritage of all humanity.
All this is comming from a person who do not even sleep with his feet pointing in the direction of the holy city of Macca. Just the thought of me or anyone els actually speeping above the holy place and the centre of Islam makes me sick and afraid of the Lord. This is very sad indeed!
ps. i don't know what i should vote for: i am for it or against it? against what: the sale of mecca to las vegas investors? or for such wanton destruction? better stay in the middle!!