Islam, like all religions, is full of contradictions. For example, some of its adherents are very sensitive to slights and in those countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka, there have been clashes between the majority Buddhists and minority Muslims sometimes resulting in mosques being damaged or destroyed, provoking great anger.
But then we find that in Saudi Arabia, the government is destroying some of the oldest sections of the most important mosque in Mecca and other shrines in that city.
While there is little disagreement over the need to expand, critics have accused the Saudi regime of wantonly disregarding the archaeological, historical and cultural heritage of Islam’s two holiest cities. In the last decade Mecca has been transformed from a dusty desert pilgrimage town into a gleaming metropolis of skyscrapers that tower over the Masjid al-Haram and are filled with a myriad of shopping malls, luxury apartments and five star hotels.
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.
How can one of the most hardline Islamic countries get away with destroying their own religious buildings? Islam has strong prohibitions against religious icons which is why drawing images of the prophet Mohammed or depicting Allah in any way, even in a complimentary form, is frowned upon. So the Saudi government justifies the destruction by saying that these shrines are encouraging a form of idolatory. But cynics suggest that what the government really cares about is modernizing the city to cater to and accommodate more visitors.
There is no god but money.