Abraj Al-Bait Towers, also known as the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower, in the holy city of Mecca
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Abraj Al-Bait Towers, also known as the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower, in the holy city of Mecca
Last updated: March 13, 2014

The center of the Muslim World is being gentrified. Here’s why we should be upset.

Banner Icon If Saudi Arabia continues to build massive skyscrapers and luxury hotels in Mecca and Medina, it will mean the loss of Islamic history, writes Maureen Ahmed.

A multi-billion dollar redevelopment plan is set to invade the pilgrimage city of Mecca - and it looks like the perpetrators are coming from within. According to the Independent, part of the plan includes the replacement of a small library adjacent to Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) with a modern complex. Islamic scholars believe that the library, which stands on a raised plinth, is located on top of what remains of Prophet Muhammad’s place of birth, widely referred to as the House of Mawlid.

This isn’t the first time sacred religious sites have been destroyed in Saudi Arabia. According to the Washington-based (Persian) Gulf Institute, Riyadh has eradicated 95 percent of 1,000-year-old buildings in Mecca and Medina in the past 20 years. Bulldozers are quickly erasing Islamic archaeological and historical relics and replacing them with modern-day amenities such as glimmering skyscrapers, multi-story shopping malls and luxury hotels. 

Need a second to take this all in? To make it clearer for you, the cities of Mecca and Medina - considered to be the two holiest cities in Islam - are increasingly and strategically becoming overtaken by industrialization. How can a government that promises to protect the most venerated place for over a billion Muslims around the world, denigrate the religion by erasing key artifacts of its history?

Need a second to take this all in?The Saudi Binladin Group, the construction company in charge of redeveloping the area, is proposing that the House of Mawlid be destroyed to make way for the imam's residence and an adjacent presidential palace. While we await to hear if the plans will be approved, we're left to wonder one thing: why would the Saudi Arabian royal family want to replace Prophet Muhammad's home in the first place? 

To shed some light on this, let's note that the Saudi royal family practices Wahhabism, an interpretation of Islam that has been the kingdom's official religion since the al-Saud family rose to power in the 19th century. The Independent reports, "The kingdom’s rulers, who deny (the Prophet) was born in what is known as the House of Mawlid, are opposed to preserving relics of the Prophet because they say it encourages shirq, the sin of worshipping idols other than God." Wahhabis believe that worshipping idols or visiting graves and historical sites takes away from the message of Islam.

I am completely open to people observing organized religions (or not observing) and having their own interpretations of it.  After all, it is our fundamental right to be able to seek higher truths that bring meaning to our own lives. But is this truly about religious interpretation or is the government justifying its desire for profit gain and rapid commercialism?

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Many believe that this isn't about religion: it's about banking off of the growing number of pilgrims visiting Mecca every year, and I agree. Haaj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, brings in about two to three million people a year. That doesn't even begin to include the millions visiting during the months of Ramadan and throughout the rest of the year. There is legitimacy in expanding the mosque and increasing accommodations and services for visitors amidst an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, but it doesn't have to be in this manner. According to Jerome Taylor in this piece for New Age Islam,

"Does it (the expansion) really need to be done in a way where luxury apartments and $500-a-night rooms now overlook the Kaabah in Mecca, the one place on earth that all Muslims are supposed to be equal?"

A new residence and presidential palace will wipe out any hope left to preserve the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad, one of the last remaining historical sites in the kingdom. The small library protecting it beneath its structure is one of the last spots standing in the way of the government's plans to establish itself as an industrialized, global power. 

If the plans come to fruition, it will truly be a huge loss for Islamic history. 

Maureen Ahmed
Maureen is a dedicated feminist with demonstrated success for advocating on behalf of women, inner-city youth and communities of colour within the NYC region and beyond. She has written specifically about issues pertaining to South Asian, Middle Eastern and Muslim women for numerous platforms such as Policy Mic and She Rights. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Gender Studies and Journalism with a specialization in Social Change from the State University of New York at Stony Brook University.
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