There is a veritable industry out there producing an endless stream of “reports” about imaginary Israeli efforts to destroy, damage or defile Muslim sites, in particular the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. I have repeatedly written about this vicious campaign that goes back to the days of Haj Amin al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who later gained notoriety as a Nazi collaborator. Many recent examples of this ongoing incitement have been compiled by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), and for the very latest installment, you can always turn to the website of Quds Media Center .
The manufactured outrage that usually accompanies the false reports on invented Israeli transgressions against Muslim holy places stands in stark contrast to the docile silence that has allowed Saudi authorities to transform Islam’s holiest places into glitzy luxury destinations.
However, by now several reports highlighting the destruction of historic Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia have appeared in the media. A CNN report includes some fascinating photos dramatically illustrating how much reckless construction has transformed the area of Islam’s holiest site.
As the CNN report notes:
“Lavish skyscrapers now tower over devotees circling the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque.
Most imposing is the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, a 120-floor hotel that resembles London’s Big Ben and which, at 601 meters, is the world’s second tallest building.
The U.S.-based Institute for Gulf Affairs estimates that 95% of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades.”
The Independent has also published several related reports; the most recent one is headlined “The photos Saudi Arabia doesn’t want seen – and proof Islam’s most holy relics are being demolished in Mecca.”
Previous reports include a September 2011 piece on “Mecca for the rich: Islam’s holiest site ‘turning into Vegas’” and another report from last October about “Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam’s history.”
In a related article in October 2012, The Independent’s Jerome Taylor asked “Why don’t more Muslims speak out against the wanton destruction of Mecca’s holy sites?”
It’s of course a good question given that the affected sites are part of Islam’s holiest places.
As Taylor pointed out:
“One area that you might think would see Muslims speaking out with one voice is the wholesale archaeological and historical destruction of Islam’s birthplace. Over the past twenty years, fuelled by their petro-dollars and intolerant Wahabi backers, the Saudi authorities have embarked on cultural vandalism of breath-taking proportions.
Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam, are being systematically bulldozed to make way for gleaming sky scrapers, luxury hotels and shopping malls. […] Most appallingly dozens of early Islamic sites – including those with a direct link to the Prophet himself – have been wiped off the map. The situation is so bad that the Washington based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 percent of the millennium old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past twenty years.”
Taylor goes on to argue that “Muslim silence on this issue isn’t just cowardly, it’s deeply hypocritical,” noting that it is of course “politically a lot more convenient to blame infidels for disrespecting your religion’s founder than it is to point the finger of blame at your own kind.”
But while nothing may beat the political convenience of getting all worked up about imaginary Israeli plans to destroy Al Aqsa, it turns out that the real destruction wreaked by the Saudis includes a centuries-old column (possibly dating back to the 8th century) that was “supposed to mark the spot where Muslims believe Muhammad began his heavenly journey on a winged horse, which took him to Jerusalem and heaven in a single night.”
This means of course that from the monuments associated with Muhammad’s legendary “Night Journey,” only the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem remains.
I doubt very much that any of the purveyors of the “Al-Aqsa-in-danger”-libel and similar incitement had anything to say about this. And if one hears anything from these quarters, one can expect something along the lines of a screed posted last December by Iran English Radio under the promising title “Saudi-Zionist plot to destroy cultural heritage of Muslims.” About two-thirds of the piece are devoted to summarizing western media reports about the destruction of Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia – with some added heartfelt comments like: “the Saudis are following the footsteps of the pagan Arabs in their hatred of Islam, and the Prophet’s family;” but inevitably, the last third moves on to all the usual fantasies about nefarious “Zionist” plots that justify the conclusion that “the Wahabbis and the Zionists have joined hands to destroy the cultural and religious heritage of the Islamic world.”
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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.
Under the wonderful title “McMecca: The Strange Alliance of Clerics and Businessmen in Saudi Arabia,” The Atlantic has now also published a piece on the destruction of historical sites in Islam’s holiest city. Zvika Krieger notes there that “developers and retailers have found an unlikely ally in Wahhabi clerics, who consider the veneration of historical sites to be a form of idolatry, and are happy to see all them demolished.”
Krieger highlights a pamphlet published by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs that was endorsed by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and distributed at the Prophet’s Mosque – where Mohammed, Abu Bakr, and the Islamic Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab are believed to be buried – which declared: “The green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet’s Mosque.”
According to the article, examples of already destroyed sites include an “ancient house belonging to Mohammed [that] was…razed to make room for, among other developments, a public toilet facility. An ancient mosque belonging to Abu Bakr has now been replaced by an ATM machine. And the sites of Mohammed’s historic battles at Uhud and Badr have been…paved to put up a parking lot.”
Krieger writes that when he questioned the head of all the hajj-related construction projects about the destruction of historical sites in Mecca, “he seemed unconcerned about their religious significance. More important to him was that the hajj was ‘a good opportunity to visit Mecca and Medina, do some shopping, make a vacation out of it.’”
It should go without saying that only Muslim vacationers are welcome in Saudi Arabia’s holy cities…