The Last Moments of Makkah?The last moments of Makkah?
‘We are witnessing the last few moments of Makkah,’ said Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who is an expert on 1400-year old buildings in Saudi Arabia.
The last few moments of the City of the Ka’bah? The birthplace of the Prophet? What could he be talking about?
Angawi is not crazy, nor delusional. The Saudi government, as part of its ongoing campaign to destroy any historical vestiges in Makkah and Madinah, are soon to reduce a 230,000 square metre area near the Makkah Haram to a commercial centre with towers, flats, shops and restaurants. But it’s not just any 230,000 square metres; it’s 230,000 square metres that contains buildings that date back to the time of the Prophet (s).
And, according to Angawi, a house of the Prophet that remains standing could also soon face the demolishers’ ball, like the Darul Arqam – the House of Arqam in Makkah where the Prophet (s) taught the first community of Muslims – did. Not long ago, Angawi had identified and excavated a house of a grandson of the Prophet (s). Soon after its discovery, King Fahd had it demolished.
Over the past 50 years, the Saudis have razed over 300 historical buildings that reflected the Islamic past.
Readers who have been to Makkah and Madinah on hajj or umrah recently will know how utterly history-less these two cities seem because of the campaign to destroy everything old and replace it with tall buildings, hotels and malls. Particularly, there is a campaign to destroy anything of Islamic historical value.
The Saudis claim historical sites could result in people worshipping at them and, thereby, committing shirk (polytheism). So, rather than Muslims visiting Darul Arqam to see the place where the Prophet (s) held his first halaqat and to feel the presence of our 1400-year heritage, the Saudis feel we will go there and pray to the house itself. A bit daft, if you ask me.
I’ve visited historical sites in Cairo and Palestine. Many date back thousands of years – some to before the Prophet (s). Do people come to these sites with a sense of reverence? Definitely! I felt overawed inside the Masjid Ibrahimi in Khalil (Hebron) as I stood before the graves of the prophets Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya’qub, as I touched the rocks with which the mosque was built, placed centuries ago. I felt transported when I stood inside the Dome of the Rock and tried to see the ‘footprint of the Prophet’ on the rock (whether the footprint exists or not is another question). I felt connected to our intellectual and spiritual heritage as I stood before the tomb of Imam Shafi’i in Cairo’s City of the Dead. I felt numbed as I walked on hallowed ground in Karbala. I gazed with a feeling of timelessness as I stared at Jabal Rahmah on Arafah, where Adam and Eve are supposed to have reunited after years of separation and loss.
At many of these places, I felt like rolling on the ground, in the sand, to absorb some of the glory that lay here. Does that make me a mushrik?
No, it makes me a Muslim who sees himself as part of a long tradition, the last part of which is over 1400 years long. A tradition that stretches back to the first human beings created.
And I did not see, at any of these places, people worshipping these buildings or graves or otherwise doing anything that might lead one to regard them as polytheists. I’m not suggesting these things do not happen. I remember, for example, people in the Haram in Makkah bathing themselves with zam-zam water or praying facing the well. I have no hesitation is saying this is wrong. But I also have no hesitation in saying that the well has an important place in our history, in our tradition, in our understanding of hajj and that visiting it and drinking from it is a means of reconnecting us to that tradition.
But this is not the attitude of the self-proclaimed ‘guardians of the two holy mosques’ and their followers. Theirs is an attitude of holy arrogance. For them, there is no history, no tradition, no culture – except theirs. Nothing exists from the beginning of time until they did – with the exception of the Prophet (s). And even his existence must be sanitised so that it is a legalistic existence only. Not a human one, not a cultural one, not a historical one.
And that is why, for them, leaving a house of the Prophet (s) that Muslims can visit, marvel and celebrate at is so dangerous: because we might suddenly ‘see’ the Prophet (s) beyond his legalism, as a human being. A human being who lived in a house. Who had wives with whom he had sex – as opposed to someone who just gave us laws about sex. Who enjoyed socialising – as opposed to someone who gave instructions on socialising. Who lived within a cultural context – as opposed to someone who made statements about what kind of culture (or lack of it) his followers should have.
But sanitisation is not that simple or innocent. Replacing 1400-year old buildings with a parking lot is not simply neutralising what existed; it is, rather, replacing that with something else. Erasing the physical existence of the greatest human being to walk this earth and replacing it with a commercial enterprise.
If we remain silent witnesses to this outrage of the destruction of the one of the great cultural monuments in our tradition – the house of the Prophet (s) – then why do we complain about the destruction of the Babri Masjid or the Masjid al-Aqsa? Is it because in the one case the cultural massacres are committed by Muslims and in the other by Hindus and Jews? Surely this cannot be a good reason.
The destruction of Islamic history, Islamic cultures and Islamic traditions and the attempt to make all Islamic and Muslim practice uniform – a project the Saudis have undertaken with vigour over many decades – will leave us all poorer, colder and less able to face the civilisational challenges of our world. For without a history, without culture and without a tradition, we will have no civilisation to speak of or to fall back on. And who will we blame when our children marvel at symbols of age and tradition in the capitals of Europe, symbols which have stood the test of time, and we are unable to show them time-honouring symbols from our Islamic tradition?