by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 5, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1429)
While Muslims everywhere are concerned with the attacks on Islam and Muslims by our external enemies, particularly the US and its allies, far less attention is paid to the fact that Islamic history and culture are under attack from those who claim to be their guardians. ZAFAR BANGASH, the Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), discusses the Saudi authorities’ destruction of historical sites in the Hijaz.
Muslims are under attack on almost every front, from the military to the cultural and areas in between. Not only are tens of thousands of Muslims being slaughtered by foreign forces inIraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya, but in many Muslim countries (Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, for instance) their own armies are attacking them as well. The military assaults are compounded by cultural attacks from the West. But perhaps even this grim reality pales into insignificance when compared to what the Saudis are doing in the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, jointly known to the Muslims as the Haramayn. A toxic mixture of greed and Wahhabi zealotry has led to the destruction of Islamic monuments, which, in a few years, will have completely wiped out the rich historical heritage of early Islam forever.
While most Middle Eastern oil-producing countries are gripped by construction-mania, turning deserts into imitations of New York, Houston or Las Vegas, the Saudis have embarked on an enterprise that will destroy the physical heritage of the Ummah. If the Saudis had concentrated on building Riyadh in the image of Las Vegas few Muslims would be bothered, but they are going after Makkah and Madinah, obliterating the historical sites of Islam and replacing them with concrete and glass towers that not only surround the Masjid al-Haram but dwarf it, assaulting its spiritual ambience.
Most Muslims are already denied the opportunity to perform Hajj because of exorbitant prices that continue to increase each year. Instead of being the spiritual journey that Muslims long for, Hajj has been turned into a financial racket in which Saudi royals and their allies gouge the hujjaj of their life's savings. Categories of Hajj have been developed; travel agents in the West now offer Five-Star Hajj packages as if the Hajj were a holiday trip to Disneyland. Such distortion of one of the fundamental ibadaat of Islam is completely contrary to the spirit of Hajj and the principle of equality and brotherhood that the Hajj is supposed to demonstrate, as emphasized in the Qur'an and exemplified by Allah's Messenger (saws). But the House of Saud is not interested in the teachings of the Qur'an or Sunnah, although they are quick to denounce as bida‘ any act of which they do not approve. The Saudis' own mega-bidas are justified by their paid agents and court-ulama by spurious arguments for such violations of Islam's fundamental principles. Were the Prophet (saws) to appear today, the Wahhabis might well accuse him too of introducing innovations in the deen and indulging in bida‘ (nastaghfirullah min dhalik).
Although the court ulama seem to find nothing wrong with the Saudi desecration of Islam's historical sites and the commercialization of Hajj, it has not escaped the attention of others, including some non-Muslims. Zvika Krieger, for instance, writing in the New Republic magazine on March 26, drew attention to a promotional DVD that lures future “spiritual tourists” to Makkah. Prepared for the Abraj al-Bait Towers, a giant new skyscraper complex that will be built at a cost of US$6 billion just across the street from one of the entrances to the Haram, it “shows a beautiful woman sitting in one of the towers' luxury apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook thousands of pilgrims circling the Ka‘aba below. Eyes flashing a come-hither stare from beneath her tightly wound headscarf, she asks prospective buyers in Arabic, ‘Would you like to be here in this place in front of the Ka‘aba year after year?'” Must hujjaj be enticed with such vulgar ads to visit the House of Allah? Surely they are coming as pilgrims and not as tourists going to a casino in Monte Carlo or Las Vegas?
Beyond this sort of vulgarity lies the even greater issue of historic buildings and sites that have either been destroyed or are scheduled for destruction. The vandalism to which the Baqi‘ Cemetery in Madinah has been subjected will seem minor if the Saudis succeed in their nefarious designs for the Prophet's (saws) grave in Madinah. Some ten years ago, Muqbil ibn Hadi al-Wadi'i, a student at the University of Madinah, wrote a thesis titled “About the Dome Built over the Grave of the Messenger,” sponsored by Shaykh Hammad al-Ansari. In this paper, Muqbil ibn Hadi demanded that the Prophet's grave be brought out of the Mosque. He said that its presence and the dome over it were major innovations (bidas) and that both have to be destroyed. His thesis was applauded and received high marks from the university, confirming their complete disrespect of the Messenger of Allah (saws).
How this upstart Saudi came to the conclusion that building the dome was a bida‘ or that the grave needed to be taken out of the Masjid-e Nabawi needs critical review. Is he more knowledgeable about Islam than the illustrious Sahaba (Companions) of the noble messenger of Allah (ra), who did not object and in fact paid great respect to the messenger (saw) by visiting his grave? Further, two of his closest companions are also buried beside him. Does Muqbil ibn Hadi know more than Abu-Bakr and Umar (ra)? The question that Muslims must ask is: what right do the Saudis have to do whatever they like to these sites? The Saudis do not own the Haramayn; they are usurpers of the Arabian Peninsula, whose name they have illegally changed to “Saudi” Arabia. This is bida: Allah's Messenger named this land the Arabian Peninsula (Jazeerat al-Arab). In their zeal to impose their own distorted version of Islam on everyone, they have embarked on wholesale destruction of Islam's historical sites. Last year the city planning board of Madinah changed the colour of the famous green dome of the Prophet's Mosque and painted it silver. The green dome identifies and symbolizes the Prophet's grave; due to the Mosque's expansion, it has now been surrounded, yet it is a unique visual focal point. Was the purpose to pave the way for its destruction, since most Muslims might not even realize what had happened if they hear or notice that a silver dome has been destroyed in Masjid-e Nabawi? After all, a number of silver domes in the Masjid-e Nabawi have already been obliterated using the pretext of expansion and renovation. Intense protests by concerned citizens forced the board to restore the dome to its original color, but it would be wrong to conclude that the Wahhabis have realized the error of their ways.
In their zeal to “save” Muslims from shirk (associating partners with Allah) and bida‘ (innovations in the deen), the Wahhabis have been involved in the destruction of historic buildings and sites for decades. “It is not permitted to glorify buildings and historical sites,” proclaimed Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Baz, the kingdom's chief alim, in a much-publicized fatwa in 1994 when he was alive. He went on: “Such action would lead to shirk (polytheism). … So it is necessary to reject such acts and to warn others away from them.” But the Wahhabi zealots are not content with mere warnings. They have embarked on a plan, in conjunction with the hordes of Saudi princes, to destroy Islam's heritage. One is constrained to ask how many Muslims have become mushriks by visiting these places and what right the Wahhabis have to prevent Muslims from doing so?
Dr Irfan al-Alawi, historian, founder and former executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, who is one of the most vocal opponents of the destruction of the Haramayn and their environs, says that last year the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs distributed a pamphlet in the Masjid-e Nabawi calling for the demolition of the green dome. Endorsed by Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh, the kingdom's current grand mufti, the pamphlet brazenly declared: “The green dome shall be demolished and the three graves [where the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar are laid to rest] flattened in the Prophet's Mosque.” The groundwork for such sacrilegious statements was prepared by another prominent Saudi scholar, the late Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymeen, who for 35 years delivered khutbas in the Masjid al-Haram. “We hope one day we'll be able to destroy the green dome of the Prophet Muhammed [saws],” he said, in a recording provided by Dr Alawi.
Dr Alawi estimates that 300 historic sites have been destroyed or are scheduled for destruction. An old house that had belonged to Umm al-Mu'mineen Khadijah al-Kubra (ra) was recently razed to make room for a public toilet facility, among other things. The birthplace of the Messenger (saw) in Makkah was first turned into a library and named “Maktabat Makka al-Mukarrama”, and is now being turned into a parking lot. While libraries are important, the plan was not based on the Wahhabis' desire for learning but on their determination to destroy all vestiges of Islam's heritage. The few remaining historical sites in Makkah can be counted on one hand and will probably not survive much past the next Hajj, according to Dr Alawi. “It is incredible how little respect is paid to the House of Allah [in Makkah].”
An ATM (cash-dispensing machine) has opened on the site where the ancient mosque named after the first khalifah, Abu-Bakr Siddiq (ra), once stood. The sites of the historic battles at Uhud and Badr have become parking lots. The graves of Amir Hamza (ra) and the other shuhada of Uhud have suffered even greater indignity: garbage litters the site and the Wahhabis expressly forbid any identification-markers on them, again under the spurious excuse that this would lead to shirk. The 1,200-year-old mosque and tomb of Sayyid Imam al-Uraidhi ibnJa‘far al-Sadiq, four miles from Masjid-e Nabawi in Madinah, was destroyed by dynamite and flattened on August 13, 2002. Imam al-Uraidhi was ninth in line from the Prophet (saw).
The Wahhabis' zealotry works in tandem with the greed of thousands of Saudi “royals”—sons, daughters and grandsons of Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud, founder of the Saudi dynasty. Destruction of Islam's historical sites facilitates the construction of hotels, restaurants and other modern structures on the pretext of providing better services for the hujjaj. This is a complete fraud: the overwhelming majority of hujjaj will never be able to afford the kind of prices such hotels charge.
To get an idea of what is afoot, consider this report by the Saudi British Bank (SABB), one of the kingdom's biggest lenders. It estimates that $30 billion will be invested in construction and infrastructure in Makkah alone, from local and foreign companies, in the next four years. Up to 130 new skyscrapers are anticipated, including the $6-billion Abraj al-Bait Towers, a seven-tower project that, once completed in 2009, will be one of the largest buildings in the world, with a 60-floor, 2,000-room hotel; a 1,500-person convention centre; two heliports; and a four-storey mall that will house, among 600 other outlets, Starbucks, the Body Shop, UK-based clothing line Topshop (Kate Moss is a guest designer), and Tiffany & Co. Rich ‘pilgrims' can already shop at cosmetic superstore MAC, perfumery VaVaVoom, and Claire's Accessories. H&M and Cartier are on the way. “All the top brands are flocking here,” says John Sfakianakis, SABB's chief economist, proudly. Crass materialism of the worst kind is replacing the spiritual aspects of Hajj, all in the name of progress. When the house of Abu-Bakr (ra) was destroyed to make room for Makkah's Hilton Hotel, Ivor McBurney, a spokesman for Hilton, had the gall to say: “We saw tremendous opportunities to tap into Saudi Arabia's religious tourism segment.”
Most Muslims visiting Makkah long to climb to the top of Jabal al-Nur (“the mountain of light”), to visit the Cave of Hira. It was to this cave that the Prophet (saws) used to retire in the month of Ramadan for prayer and meditation. He (saws) received the first revelations of the Qur'an while in the cave. The Wahhabi zealots want to destroy the mountain to prevent pilgrims from visiting the cave. At the foot of the hill the Wahhabis have posted a fatwa: “The Prophet Muhammed (saws) did not permit us to climb on to this hill, not to pray here, not to touch stones, and tie knots on trees...” Can the Wahhabis provide any evidence that he forbade Muslims from going there, or are their rants based on their hatred of Islam and the Muslims' attachment to and love for Allah's Beloved Messenger?
By contrast, there is no doubt that both the Qur'an and the Prophet (saws) absolutely forbid Muslims to take the kuffar as their awliya (masters and protectors), yet Wahhabi ulama have never issued a fatwa condemning the subservience of the House of Saud to the greatest enemies of Islam. As recently as last May, US president George Bush was in the kingdom. Bush has the blood of millions of Muslims on his hands; perhaps that is of little concern to the Saudis, but if Muslims wish to climb the Jabal al-Nur to reach the Cave of Hira and link with the history of divine revelation, the Wahhabis go berserk. The Muslims' devotion to the Sunnah so irks the Wahhabis that they want to destroy an entire mountain. Such thoughts can only emanate from demonic minds. Perhaps in a few years' time the mountain will be dynamited to build a hotel owned by some prince, or even another parking lot.
At every step, the Saudis are violating the principles of Islam. For instance, part of the $6 billion funding for Abraj al-Bait Towers is coming from the King Abdul Aziz Endowment (Waqf), which the towers' developers conveniently describe as a “religious property” created to serve interests “vital to the welfare of Islamic society.” What religious interest is being served and why is it considered vital to the interests of the Islamic society when the Saudi royals line their pockets with money even stolen from Waqf Funds? It is appallingly hypocritical and criminal of them to do so, but it is their wanton destruction of irreplaceable historical sites that is inexcusable.
“It's not just our heritage, it's the evidence of the story of the Prophet,” according to Dr Alawi. “What can we say now? ‘This parking lot was the first school of Islam'? ‘There used to be a mountain here where the Prophet Muhammed (saws) made a speech'? ... What's the difference between history and legend?” he asks. “Evidence,” he replies without waiting for an answer, “that the Wahhabi zealots are busy obliterating.” Regrettably, few people in the Muslim world have expressed any great concern, much less alarm, to prevent the Saudis' vandalism in order to preserve the most significant history and monuments of Islam.
The important question is why there is such indifference among Muslims to the destruction of the symbols and sites of Islam.