Foreign Policy Blogs

Hard Rock in Mecca

The New Republic has an essayby Zvika Kreiger about the construction boom in Mecca, including a luxury hotel right across from the Kaaba.   This is controversial, largely because hundreds of holy sites are being destroyed. 

Over protests by groups like the Islamic Supreme Council of America and the Muslim Canadian Congress, Saudi authorities have authorized the destruction of hundreds of antiquities, such as an important eighteenth-century Ottoman fortress in Mecca that was razed to make way for the Abraj Al Bait Towers– a move the Turkish foreign minister condemned as “cultural genocide.” An ancient house belonging to Mohammed was recently 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 An ancient mosque belonging to Abu Bakr has now been replaced by an ATM machine.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, with a perhaps unconscious nod to Joni Mitchell, paved to put up a parking lot. The remaining historical religious sites in Mecca can be counted on one hand and will likely not make it much past the next hajj, Angawi says: “It is incredible how little respect is paid to the house of God.”

Kreiger talks about how replacing the sacred with the profane is being supported full-throatedly by the Wahaabi clerical establishment.   Normal Saud/Wahaab political connections could come into play, but the more interesting reason- or co-reason- is that Wahaabism believes that anything that isn't actually Allah is not worthy of veneration, as it becomes polytheism.   So taking these things out actually increases religious devotion, as you are no longer distracted.    It's nice, in a way, that the construction modern hotels and luxury shops in Islam's most sacred city isbeing defended by atavistic clerics.    It helps illustrate the eternal and torturous contradictions of both religion and politics. 

If you want to read a decent novel about the Kabaa, about Mecca and Jerusalem, I would recommend The Rock by Kanan Makiya.   Gets into the history, myth and legend of early Islam, and paints a fascinating picture of Jerusalem in the 7th-century.   If you don't want to read a novel about that…I don't know- Joyce?  Up to you, I guess.



Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a freelance writer currently based out of Chicago. He has lived in Egypt and in Yemen, and worked as a writer and editor for the Yemen Observer publishing company. He currently is an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.