It appears that, while Saudi Arabia will kill citizens for blasphemy, they do not appear to have much respect for Islamic history or preservation. Photos snuck out of Mecca show wholesale destruction of ancient sections of holy sites as part of an expansion project. What is astonishing is the lack of any effort of preservation due to . . . you guessed it, Wahabi clerics who declared that the sections are better destroyed in the name of Islamic principles. It is ironic that, as a non-Muslim, I am outraged by the loss of such historical areas. Photos of the destruction were published here by The Independent.
Saudi authorities have ordered the demolishing Ottoman and Abbasid sections on the eastern side of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. The “Grand Mosque” has long featured columns as the last remaining sections of the mosque which date back hundreds of years and formed the inner perimeter surrounding the Kaaba.
These columns were inscribed with Arabic calligraphy marking the names of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions and key moments in his life. Indeed, one of the columns marked the spot where many Muslims believe Muhammad began his heavenly journey on a winged horse.
The person in charge of this destruction is Wahabi cleric and imam of the Grand Mosque, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais. The work is being done by the Saudi Binladin Group – the kin of Osama Bin Laden and a close family to the Royal family.
It seems bizarre that the expansion (which is clearly needed) would not involve simple preservation of the columns and other historical items. However, an estimated 95 percent of Mecca’s original buildings have been lost in the last two decades. The principal reason for this destruction is the Wahabbi cleric views preservation of Islamic sites as encouraging shirq – the sin of idol worshipping. This “sin” appears to include even areas where Muhammad is believed to have sat and prayed. Thus, you will be killed in Saudi Arabia over a cartoon of Muhammad but not destroying centuries old archeological sites tied to his life.
Academics in Saudi Arabia have been struggling to preserve mosques and other areas also designated for destruction by appealing directly to the King. However, they are finding resistance from the powerful Wahhabi hierarchy in the Kingdom.
While the Taliban shocked the world by their destruction of ancient art and the two ancient statues of the Buddha called Bamiyan, the Wahhabis have shown the same contempt for Islamic historical artifacts and structures. What is astonishing is that such preservation is valued by non-Muslims who are not engaging in any idol worshipping. While I will never be able to see the columns as a non-Muslim barred from Mecca, I still want the columns preserved for history and for those Muslims visiting Mecca.