Saudi Destruction of Muslim Historical Sites
by Sheila Musaji
Last year (2006) we published an article about the planned Saudi destruction of the home of Prophet Muhammad, and another about the destruction of Islam’s historic sites by the Saudi’s over the past 50 years..
The current issue of Islamica magazine - the best Islamic print periodical available in English - has a series of articles on the Saudi destruction of Muslim historical sites, and the need for preservation of remaining sites in Saudi and elsewhere. (The Saudi “repair” projects in Bosnia are also a lesson in destruction of Muslim history.) Anyone who can should check with their local news stand to see if this issue is still available, or better yet, get a subscription to Islamica if you don’t already have one. Editors note: Islamica Magazine stopped publishing in 2009, and many articles are no longer available online except for those that were reprinted on other sites. In 2010 they set up a site to archive old articles and will work towards getting all the old articles online. Here are those on this topic that are now online: The destruction of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina, Irfan Ahmed - The birth and immanent death of a sacred Meccan site, Shafiq Morton - Memorializing the sacred in the Islamic civilization context, Yousef Waleed Meri
The Ottomans did an excellent job in their centuries as custodians and protected and documented historic sites, and now their meticulous care is being reversed in a short time. In fact, the Saudi’s are also destroying Ottomon history. For example, the Ajyad Fortress (Turkish: Ecyad Kalesi) was an Ottoman fort built in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, in the late 18th century. It was destroyed by the Saudi government in 2002 for commercial development, sparking a global outcry.
History is being erased in order to accommodate ever increasing numbers of pilgrims. Over 300 sites have been destroyed in the last 50 years. 95% of the sites in Mecca have been destroyed. As few as 20 structures are left that date back to the time of the Prophet. It would seem that at this rate there won’t be much for those like Congressman Tancredo who suggested Nuking Mecca to destroy. Muslim silence over the destruction is shocking.
Five of the renowned “Seven Mosques” initially built by Prophet Muhammad’s daughter and four of his “greatest Companions”: Masjid Abu Bakr, Masjid Salman al-Farsi, Masjid Umar ibn al-Khattab, Masjid Sayyida Fatima bint Rasulillah and Masjid Ali ibn Abi Talib have been demolished.
The Saudi’s have announced an award — called “Prince Sultan ibn Salman Award for Architectural Heritage” — which will be presented in three fields — research related to architectural heritage, use of architectural heritage in new designs and heritage restoration and rehabilitation. However, by the time anyone might win such an award what will be left to protect?
What we can do is at least protest any further destruction. We can contact the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC or the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and ask them to preserve Islam’s historical sites.
UPDATE November 2010
A new 485-metre-high Mecca clocktower has been built. Some highlights about the project of which the clocktower is a part from an excellent Guardian article:
— The clocktower is part of a project that buckles under the weight of its own statistics. Abraj al-Bait, a complex of luxury hotels, malls and apartments, has an estimated value of $3bn (£1.86bn), a built-up area of 1.4m sq metres, 15,000 housing units and 70,000 sq metres of retail space.
— The level of pampering offered by some of the hotels – Asprey toiletries, 24-hour butler service, $270 chocolate selections – may jar with the ethos of sacrifice, simplicity and humility of hajj but it is not a contradiction felt by the customers snapping up royal suites at $5,880 a night, eating gelato or milling around hangar-like lobbies of polished marble in their Hajj clothing of bedsheets, towels or burqas. Raffles is reporting 100% occupancy for it 211 rooms.
— The view from al-Bait reveals the physical impact of this soaring ambition. All around the Grand Mosque and the Ka’bah, which are overshadowed by cranes and skyscrapers, construction continues at a frenzied pace. Mountains have been razed to make way for towers– a pile ‘em high and sell ‘em high approach to hospitality – and homes demolished.
— The mountains of Mecca – Omar, Kaabah, Khandama – will no longer exist. The Shamiya district has all but disappeared. From the terrace of al-Bait to street level there is a stench of machine oil and cement that mingles with the more familiar odours of hajj – sweat, hardship and flipflops.
An article Mecca for the rich: Islam’s holiest site ‘turning into Vegas’ was just published by the Independent in Britain. According to this article
But critics fear that the desire to expand the pilgrimage sites has allowed the authorities to ride roughshod over the area’s cultural heritage. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone.
The destruction has been aided by Wahabism, the austere interpretation of Islam that has served as the kingdom’s official religion ever since the al-Sauds rose to power across the Arabian Peninsula in the 19th century.
In the eyes of Wahabis, historical sites and shrines encourage “shirq” – the sin of idolatry or polytheism – and should be destroyed. When the al-Saud tribes swept through Mecca in the 1920s, the first thing they did was lay waste to cemeteries holding many of Islam’s important figures. They have been destroying the country’s heritage ever since. Of the three sites the Saudis have allowed the UN to designate World Heritage Sites, none are related to Islam.
The article lists a number of sites that have been destroyed or are in danger of being destroyed.
The Independent has a very interesting photograph with notes.
A 35-minute video has been put online Wahabi Destruction Of Makkah’s Historical Places which gives a great deal of information. And, another 9 minute video Vandalization of the Holy Places also on YouTube.
Shehnaz Kermali has written an excellent article about the fact that the Saudi elite are proud of the British Museum’s current Hajj exhibition, and notes that “it’s a shame they don’t feel the same about all their heritage”.
It has been reported that the [url=http://rt.com/news/saudi-arabia-prophet-mosque-615/]Saudi’s plan to raze Prophet Mohammed’s tomb to build larger mosque[url].
The key Islamic heritage site, including Prophet Mohammed’s shrine, is to be bulldozed, as Saudi Arabia plans a $ 6 billion expansion of Medina’s holy Masjid an-Nabawi Mosque. However, Muslims remain silent on the possible destruction. Work on the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, is planned to start as soon as the annual Hajj pilgrimage comes to a close at the end of November.
... Concerns are growing that the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will come at the price of three of the world’s oldest mosques nearby, which hold the tombs of Prophet Mohammed and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar. The expansion project which will cost 25 billion SAR (more than US $6 billion) reportedly requires razing holy sites, as old as the seventh century.
... The authorities in Saudi Arabia have begun dismantling some of the oldest sections of Islam’s most important mosque as part of a highly controversial multi-billion pound expansion. Photographs obtained by The Independent reveal how workers with drills and mechanical diggers have started demolishing some Ottoman and Abbasid sections on the eastern side of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.
... But such a transformation has come at a cost. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone. Dozens of key historical sites dating back to the birth of Islam have already been lost and there is a scramble among archaeologists and academics to try and encourage the authorities to preserve what little remains. Many senior Wahabis are vehemently against the preservation of historical Islamic sites that are linked to the prophet because they believe it encourages shirq – the sin of idol worshipping. But Dr Irfan al-Alawi, executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation which obtained the new photographs from inside the Grand Mosque, says the removal of the Ottoman and Abbasid columns will leave future generations of Muslims ignorant of their significance. ...
In Saudi Arabia, Muslim historic sites, graveyards, mosques, etc. stood for centuries (some from the earliest days of Islam in the 6th century) and were protected by the Ottomans and previous generations. Under the Saudi’s these sites are being destroyed. The Saudi’s began destroying historical sites as soon as they came to power in 1806, but were stopped by the Ottomans who even attempted to restore some of the sites. The Saudi’s did not get an opportunity to continue with their destruction until after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century.
What changed between the 6th century and the 20th/21st centuries?
The destruction of Islamic cultural heritage has gone far beyond Saudi Arabia.
The Buddhas of Bamiyan stood in the Bamyan valley of Afghanistan since the 5th century AD. Islam came to this area between the 7th and 9th centuries AD. There was some damage done to the statues over the centuries, blamed on various individual kings & emperors. But the statues stood for 1,000 years in a predominantly Muslim country. The Taliban commander responsible for destroying the statues in 2001 was prevented from doing so for some years by local authorities, and even by Mullah Mohammed Omar. The Guardian reported “But the Taliban then decided to take a more pragmatic view of Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic past. In July 1999 Mullah Omar issued a decree that said the Bamiyan buddhas should be preserved. There were, he pointed out, no Buddhists left in Afghanistan to worship them. But he added: “The government considers the Bamiyan statues as an example of a potential major source of income for Afghanistan from international visitors. The Taliban states that Bamiyan shall not be destroyed but protected.”
The Taliban destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan which was condemned by most Muslims at the time it happened. This passage from an American Muslim condemnation of this act expresses the shock that such a thing could have happened:
The statues in Afghanistan are its historic treasures. These statues have existed in Afghanistan long before Afghans became Muslims. No Afghan Muslim government in the past tried to destroy them. They represent the past history of Afghanistan and its transformation into a Muslim community that recognized monotheism. Past generations and governments of Afghanistan did not destroy these images and yet Islam flourished in Afghanistan. In many other countries where Muslims are a majority, and have ruled those lands for centuries, they did not destroy the religious symbols of other people. Such images and symbols of the past still exist in almost all Muslim countries.
What changed between the 9th century and the 20th/21st centuries?
In Libya, the graves of scholars and Sufi saints have stood since the 15th century. In 2012 extremists began destroying these graves. In Timbuktu, Mali, hundreds of thousands of manuscripts have been lovingly maintained in its libraries since the 14th century. In the 20th century hardline extremists attempted to destroy many of these manuscripts. They set fire to some libraries, and also smashed graves and shrines. In Tunisia, extremists have attacked almost 40 Sufi shrines in the past few years. In Somalia, Iraq, and Pakistan, extremists are attacking Sufi shrines regularly. In Bosnia, Saudi Arabia has offered to help restore mosques and historical sites damaged during the war. Instead, under the pretense of helping restore them, they have been destroyed and rebuilt. Old Ottoman era cemeteries and Sufi shrines have been razed.
What changed between the 15th century and the 20th/21st centuries?
In Egypt, Malaysia, Kenya, extremists are targeting Sufi shrines regularly. Extremists are attacking minority communities, including Shia, Ahmadi, Christians, Sikhs, Sufis, etc. Even in countries where communities have lived together in relative peace for centuries, there is now a lack of tolerance, and even violence towards minorities. In Pakistan, whose “Quaidi Azam” or great leader and founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a Shia, the Shia are now undergoing intense persecution.
What changed in the 20th/21st centuries?
Something new and destructive became a force within many Muslim communities. Certainly, colonialism and the many destructive legacies of colonialism have had a negative impact. The formation of the State of Israel by decree of former colonial powers and without taking into consideration the rights of the existing local community had a profound effect on not only the Middle East, but on the world. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire also had a negative impact.
All of these are important - but one negative force is rarely mentioned. That is the rise of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, followed by the discovery of vast oil resources making the Saudi’s extremely wealthy. This allowed them to use those vast resources to spread their particular interpretation of Islam around the world.
It is past time for Muslims around the world to speak out against this destruction of our heritage. It is not only buildings that are being destroyed.
A Jewish Voice Left Silent: Trying to Articulate “The Levantine Option”, David Shasha http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_jewish_voice_left_silent_trying_to_articulate_the_levantine_option
After Jews and Arabs: Finding Our Common Humanity under the Rubble of Violence, David Shasha http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/after_jews_and_arabs_finding_our_common_humanity_under_the_rubble_of_violen
American Muslims Issue Statement Against Taliban Destruction of Buddhist Statues http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/american-muslims-issue-statement-against-taliban-destruction-of-buddhist-st
Contested Histories and Disembodied Voices: How to Speak of the Arab Jew, David Shasha http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/contested_histories_and_disembodied_voices_how_to_speak_of_the_arab_jew1
Creating Common Platforms Between Muslim and Western Societies to Tackle Extremist Discourse, S. Abdallah Schleifer http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/creating_common_platforms_between_muslim_and_western_societies_to_tack
Destroyed Sufi Shrine In Kashmir Revered By Both Muslims And Hindus http://www.ibtimes.com/destroyed-sufi-shrine-kashmir-revered-both-muslims-and-hindus-704237
DESTRUCTION OF SITES IN SAUDI ARABIA
Big Bin – the Royal Clock Tower of Mecca, Aziz Poonawalla 5/11
Builders erase Mecca’s history 7/05
Bulldozing Islam 10/2006
Destruction of early Islamic heritage sites, Wikipedia entry
Crimes Against Civilization in the Hejaz, Faisal Husain http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/7155/crimes-against-civilization-in-the-hejaz
The Destruction of Holy Sites in Mecca & Medina – Destroying Islamic Heritage 2/10
The destruction of Mecca: Saudi hardliners are wiping out their own heritage, By Daniel Howden 8/2005
Developers and Purists Erase Mecca’s History, Laith Abou Ragheb 7/06
Destruction of Islamic Architectural Heritage in Saudi Arabia: A Wake-up Call, Saeed Shehabi 2/2008
Destruction of Historic Meccan Sites Should be Avoided, By Mirza A. Beg
The Hajj exhibition is in stark contrast to Saudi Arabia’s cultural vandalism, Shehnaz Kermali
It is time (and past time) to Occupy Mecca—to save Mecca, Omid Safi http://archives.religionnews.com/blogs/omid-safi/it-is-time-and-past-time-to-occupy-mecca-to-save-mecca
Luxury Architecture in Mecca: Has Hajj Lost Its Egalitarian Spirit? 1/11
Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam’s history http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/medina-saudis-take-a-bulldozer-to-islams-history-8228795.html
Mecca Conference Criticized for Hypocrisy on Holy Site Destruction, Sherrie Gossett
Mecca for the rich: Islam’s holiest site ‘turning into Vegas’ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/mecca-for-the-rich-islams-holiest-site-turning-into-vegas-2360114.html
Mecca goes upmarket 12/2010
New Clock Tower in Mecca Challenges Greenwich Mean Time 8/2010
New Look for Mecca: Gargantuan and Gaudy 12/2010
New Projects Bury Makkah Heritage 9/11
photo of how Grand Mosque is being overshadowed by construction 4/06
Photographs of Masjid al Haram in 1880, unknown year, 1910, 1954, 2000, 2004.
Photograph of Jannat al Mualla at Mecca before and after demolition, inside the Jannat.
Photographs of Jannat ul Baqi before and after it was razed
Photographs of Medina in 1907, old photo year unknown.
photos of super tall development projects in Mecca
Photos of Abraj al Bait construction project near Kaabah 2/2006
Preservation of historical sites in Saudi Arabia sparks heated debate 1/10
Plans to revamp Islam’s holiest city are worrying Muslims around the world 12/08
Protecting Historical Sites in Saudi Arabia, Irfan Ahmed 2/2006
Public Toilets Built Over House of Sayyida Khadija by Saudi’s 2/2006
Proposed al Shamiya project in Mecca - Skyscraper City
The Price of Progress: Transforming Islam’s Holiest Site, Hassan Fattah 3/2007
Sacred Land Film Project
Saudis Accused of Razing Islamic Sites 3/2011
Saudi Clerics Want to Restrict Women Praying at Kaaba 8/2006
Saudi Arabia Seeks Tourists 5/06
The Saudis’ relentless drive to destroy the historic sites of Islam, Zafar Bangash 7/2008
Save the Hijaz Petition
Shame of the House of Saud: Shadows Over Mecca, Daniel Howden 3/2007
Transformed Mecca 11/10
Under the vandals hammer, destruction of historic Saudi sites
VIDEO Vandalization of holy places 1/2011
Don’t Fear All Islamists, Fear Salafis, Robin Wright http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/must-read-dont-fear-all-islamists-fear-salafis
Extremists set fire to one of world’s great libraries in Timbuktu http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/mali-extremists-set-fire-to-one-1561032
FACT SHEET: Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land http://imeu.net/news/article0023369.shtml
Going After the Dead, Sidi Nazim Baksh http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/going-after-the-dead
HISTORY OF THE CEMETERY OF JANNAT AL-BAQI http://www.al-islam.org/shrines/baqi.htm
History of The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church Of Egypt http://st-takla.org/Coptic-church-1.html
How American Jewry Missed the Sephardic Israeli Saga: The Perspective of an Arab-Jew , Dr David Rabeeya http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/how_american_jewry_missed_the_sephardic_israeli_saga_the_perspective_of_an_
Ibn Taymiyyah and His Fatwa on Terrorism, Asghar Ali Engineer http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/ibn_taymiyyah_and_his_fatwa_on_terrorism
In Egypt, Copts, Muslims and a tale of two churches, Dr. H.A Hellyer http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/in_egypt_copts_muslims_and_a_tale_of_two_churches
Inside Wahhabi Islam http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1571144.stm
Islamic Spirituality: The Forgotten Revolution: the Poverty of Fanaticism, Abdal Hakim Murad http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islamic_spirituality_the_forgotten_revolution
Islamists Make Sufi Shrines A Target In North Africa, Kiran Alvi http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/02/10/171508858/islamists-make-sufi-shrines-a-target-in-north-africa
Libya: Attack of the body-snatching, shrine-bulldozing, mosque-destroying extremists, Omid Safi http://archives.religionnews.com/blogs/omid-safi/attack-of-the-body-snatching-shrine-bulldozing-mosque-destroying-extremists
Libya Officials Seem Helpless as Sufi Shrines Are Vandalized http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/29/world/africa/in-libya-extremists-vandalize-sufi-shrines-with-impunity.html
Libya Sufi shrines attacked ‘by Islamist hardliners’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19380083
Libyans rally against destruction of Sufi shrines by Salafists http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2012/08/27/feature-01
The Loss of Meaning: The Destruction of Muslim Holy Sites, Sheikh Faraz Rabbani http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the-loss-of-meaning-the-destruction-of-muslim-holy-sites
The Mardin Conference – Understanding Ibn Taymiyyah’s Fatwa, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/mardin_conference
The Mecca Charter: Saudi Exploitation of Religion for Secular Ends?, Dr. Robert D. Crane http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_mecca_charter_saudi_exploitation_of_religion_for_secular_ends
The menace of Wahhabism, Shaykhu-l-Islam Ahmad Zayni Dahlan http://www.sunnah.org/aqida/fitnatulWahhabiyyah.htm
More than 70 Indian Muslim scholars denounce the Taliban destruction http://www.themodernreligion.com/jihad/afghan/support.html
Muslim-Christian Relations, The Good, the Bad http://www.soundvision.com/info/jesus/muslimchristianrelations.asp
Muslim, Jews and Christians - Relations and Interactions, Dr Gordon Newby http://www.iis.ac.uk/view_article.asp?ContentID=106331
Not to be outdone by Robertson, Mohler claimed that Buddhism, Hinduism, and Marxism are “demonstration[s] of satanic power” http://mediamatters.org/research/200603200013
Pat Robertson, the Taliban, and destruction of “idols”, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/destroying-idols
Prophet Muhammad’s Charter to the Monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/prophet_muhammads_charter_to_the_monks_of_st_catherines_monastery
The Prophet of Islam and the Monks of Christendom,, Reza Shah Kazemi http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_prophet_of_islam_and_the_monks_of_christendom
Pakistani Taliban target Sufi shrines http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/pakistani-taliban-target-sufi-shrines
Rediscovering the Arab Jewish Past, David Shasha http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/book_review_rediscovering_the_arab_jewish_past
Saudi Destruction of Muslim Historical Sites, Sheila Musaji (with collection of articles on this specific topic) http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/saudi_destruction_of_muslim_historical_sites1
Saudi Wahhabi Aid Workers Bulldoze Balkan Monuments http://www.angelfire.com/ar/rawdah/03buldoz.htm
The Saudi-isation Of Pakistan, Parvez Hoodbhoy http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_saudi_isation_of_pakistan
Salafi Burnout http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/salafi-burnout
So, what did the Muslims do for the Jews?, David J. Wasserstein http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/so-what-did-the-muslims-do-for-the-jews
Sufis and Salafis of the West: Discord and the Hope of Unity, Yahya Birt http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/sufis_and_salafis_of_the_west_discord_and_the_hope_of_unity
Sufism may be powerful antidote to Islamic extremism, Jane Lampman http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1205/p13s02-lire.html
Sufism re-emerges in Somalia as al-Shabab’s control wanes http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18467464
Terrorism, Salafi Jihadism and the West, Tariq Ramadan http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/terrorism-salafi-jihadism-and-the-west
Timbuktu library – a treasure house of centuries of Malian history, Peter Walker http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/28/timbuktu-library-centuries-african-history
Timbuktu’s Ancient Libraries: Saved by Locals, Endangered by a Government http://world.time.com/2013/02/04/timbuktus-ancient-libraries-saved-by-locals-endangered-by-a-government/
Tradition and truths in the Muslim world, H.A. Hellyer http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/tradition_and_truths_in_the_muslim_world
The truth about the expulsion of Jews from Arab Countries, Esther Meir-Glitzenstein http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/must-read-the-truth-about-the-expulsion-of-jews-from-arab-countries
Wahhabi Theology http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/loc/sa/wahhabi.htm
The Wahhabi Threat To Islam, Mona Eltahawy http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17037-2004Jun4.html
WAHHABISM: UNDERSTANDING THE ROOTS AND ROLE MODELS OF ISLAMIC EXTREMISM, Zubair Qamar http://www.sunnah.org/articles/Wahhabiarticleedit.htm
Where Did Al-Qaeda Come From?: Why No One Wins If Islam Loses The Blame Game, Dr. David Liepert http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/where-did-al-qaeda-come-from-why-no-one-wins-if-islam-loses-the-blame-game
Who or what is a Salafi? Is their approach valid?, Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/who-or-what-is-a-salafi-is-their-approach-valid
World reaction to destruction of Bamiyan Buddha’s http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/monitoring/media_reports/1202432.stm
Why the Taliban are destroying Buddhas, W.L. Rathje http://www.usatoday.com/news/science/archaeology/2001-03-22-afghan-buddhas.htm
Originally posted March 2007