King Abdullah, the reigning king of Saudi Arabia, calls himself the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – allegedly protecting Mecca and Medina, the two main holy cities of Islam. So recent reports about plans to demolish key holy sites in both cities is raising some eyebrows.
In recent years, violent protests and outrage have erupted worldwide after events Muslims have perceived as insulting to their faith and their prophet Mohammed. These include after U.S. soldiers burned parts of the Koran earlier this year, the posting on YouTube in September of clips from the film Innocence of Muslims and the publication of anti-Mohammed cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2005. Those protests racked up dozens of deaths.
Considering the sensitivity, it’s a surprise to hear reports in recent weeks that Saudi Arabia has been destroying Muslim holy sites in the faith’s two holiest cities. Surprising because there have been no reports of violence or protest.
Damian Thompson, editor of blogs for Britain’s Telegraph, writes that Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi regime is set to “to smash up the ancient buildings of Mecca and Medina.”
He reports that in Islam’s holiest city Mecca – the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed and the city where the Koran was written – the house of one of Mohammed’s wives was razed to make room for public bathrooms. This and other sites are at risk due to some very big expansion plans by King Abdullah.
Britain’s Independent reports in an article titled “Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam’s history” that the Saudis plan to build a huge mosque in Medina – that will be able to hold 1.6 million people “but are demolishing irreplaceable monuments to do it.”
The Independent reported on October 26:
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.
Just outside the western walls of the current compound are mosques dedicated to Abu Bakr and Umar, as well as the Masjid Ghamama, built to mark the spot where the Prophet is thought to have given his first prayers for the Eid festival. The Saudis have announced no plans to preserve or move the three mosques, which have existed since the seventh century and are covered by Ottoman-era structures, or to commission archaeological digs before they are pulled down, something that has caused considerable concern among the few academics who are willing to speak out in the deeply authoritarian kingdom.
The paper reveals this isn’t the first time Islamic heritage sites have been demolished by the Saudis:
Ten years ago, a mosque which belonged to the Prophet’s grandson was dynamited. Pictures of the demolition that were secretly taken and smuggled out of the kingdom showed the religious police celebrating as the building collapsed.
The disregard for Islam’s early history is partly explained by the regime’s adoption of Wahabism, an austere and uncompromising interpretation of Islam that is vehemently opposed to anything which might encourage Muslims towards idol worship.
The Independent article – that was interestingly also picked up by Press TV which belongs to Saudi Arabia’s archrival Iran – quotes an estimate from the Washington-based Gulf Institute “that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years.”
Last year, TheBlaze reported that Israel has been delaying the reconstruction of the rickety Mughrabi Gate Bridge which spans over parts of the Western Wall – the holiest site in Judaism – up to the Temple Mount. This, due to concerns radical Islamists might use it as a pretext to riot, as has occurred in past occasions that Muslim authorities have accused Israel of harming their holy sites.