Saudi Arabia destroying ancient shrines

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.


  1. psweet says

    To be fair, we struggle with some of the same issues here, although with a bit less religious justification. Witness the battles over the Children’s Hospital in Chicago, or the interminable discussions over renovating Wrigley Field. (Okay, maybe with just as much religious justification. 😉 )

  2. steve oberski says


    Islam: The Untold Story is a documentary film written and presented by the English novelist and popular historian Tom Holland. … Holland claimed there was little hard evidence for the origins of Islam and asked why it took several decades after the death of Muhammad for his name to appear on surviving documents or artefacts. Arguing that there was little evidence for how the faith was born, he suggested that the city of Mecca may not have been the real birthplace of Muhammad and Islam, and – while not disputing Muhammad’s existence as a real historical figure – posited that much of the Islamic origin myth was later developed in the early years of the Arab Empire.

  3. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    The book on which the documentary was based (In The Shadow of the Sword) is a lot better. The documentary was really pretty weak sauce.

  4. lorn says

    Am I the only one to wonder when the crossing point will come when the desire to pack as many Muslims into one place at one time will meet with the vast opportunity such a concentration of hosts for infectious disease? For a disease agent this is a local smorgasbord that leads to a world wide orgy as vast numbers of people collect from around the globe, quietly receive their dose of mayhem, and return to their homes in highly populated areas before symptoms become obvious.

    Every year the numbers going to Mecca increase and every year the dice for flu, bird flu, and any number of other potentially infectious diseases gets rolled. It is just a matter of time before snake-eyes comes up.

    Multiple simultaneous outbreaks in four or more poor, and poorly developed, nations would overwhelm the ability to respond.

    But who am I to suggest that the Saudi leadership shouldn’t be focusing on packing as many warm bodies as possible into their religious based theme park.

  5. Corvus illustris says

    …there was little evidence for how the faith was born, he suggested that the city of **** may not have been the real birthplace of ****, and – while not disputing ****’s existence as a real historical figure – posited that much of the **** origin myth was later developed in the early years of the **** Empire.

    Isn’t there an isomorphism theorem for these things?

  6. Cathy W says

    @lorn – the Saudi authorities are at least aware enough of the potential problems that the desire of Pakistanis and Nigerians to visit Mecca might be the one thing that gets polio eradication done; they require proof of vaccination for some diseases, including polio, before issuing a visa. But I shudder to think what would happen if a novel virus turns up (say, SARS, before it became widely known), especially when you consider that this is likely to be something you’ve saved up for your whole life, and you *finally* got picked from the visa lottery – are you going to let a little cough stop you from getting on the plane?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *