Louis Palme / Mar 17, 2013


Jesus once remarked, “A prophet is respected everywhere except in his home town and by his own family.” (Matthew 13:57)   How Muhammad must be rolling in his own grave these days!  The imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca has launched an expansion program which includes the demolition of the Ottoman and Abbasid sections of the Mosque as well as Muhammad’s birthplace, all dating back to the 7th Century.  In Medina, the masjid an-Nabawi (the Prophet’s mosque) could be destroyed if expansion plans there are carried out.  Anywhere else in the world, even a sarcastic remark about Muhammad could land someone in jail, but he gets no respect in his home town.   A full report with photographs of the destruction can be found at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-photos-saudi-arabia-doesnt-want-seen--and-proof-islams-most-holy-relics-are-being-demolished-in-mecca-8536968.html


 From the Western mind-set, the destruction of historical sites is deplorable.  Regardless of contemporary thinking, historical markers, gravesites, and buildings are considered part of the cultural heritage.   The 2001 destruction of the massive 6th Century Buddha statues in Bamihan, Afghanistan, (with the aid of Saudi Arabian demolition experts) was an international tragedy.   Muslims tried to destroy the pyramid of Menkaure in Giza in 1196, and the nose of the Sphinx was chiseled off around the same time.  (This was falsely attributed to Napoleon who visited Giza in 1798.)  Today, Muslims in Egypt are calling once again for the destruction of the pyramids. Good luck with that!  The Wahhabi view is that anything that existed during the pre-Islamic period of ignorance (jahiliyya) is irrelevant to Muslims, and the honoring of any gravesite (even of deceased family members) is a distraction from their devotion to Allah.  It is estimated that 95 percent of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone.


Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it:

Western cultures, on the other hand, believe that historical markers and objects contain important knowledge (lessons of good and evil) that should be shared with future generations.  There are monuments at Auschwitz, Pearl Harbor, and Nagasaki.  In Australia there are numerous monuments to the early founders of that nation.  One monument to John Batman erected in 1881 in Melbourne bears an inscription that in 1830 he founded a settlement on the site of Melbourne, “then unoccupied.”   Attached below the original inscription was a new plaque which says, “When the monument was erected in 1881 the colony considered that the aboriginal people do not occupy land.  It is now clear that prior to the colonization of Victoria, the land was inhabited and used by aboriginal people. – Melbourne City Council, 1992”    We remember both our accomplishments and our mistakes.


Mecca, we have a problem:

So, the bulldozing of historical sites in Mecca and Medina is driven by a much greater problem than the preservation of historical markers.   Central to the ideology of Islam and to the economy of Mecca is the Hajj.  Allah decreed that every Muslim who can must make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in his or her lifetime.  This is ordered in the Quran which says, “People owe Allah to make pilgrimage to the House, whoever is able to find a way.” (Surah 3:97) and “Complete the Hajj (performed during a 10 day window around Ramadan) and ‘umra (a lesser pilgrimage that can be performed at any time during the year) for Allah.” (Surah 2:196). (In 2013, the Hajj is expected to occur between October 13-18, depending on the visual sighting of the moon.  What a  nightmare for travel agents!) The Hajj been the principal source of income for Mecca since before Islam. 

The problem is that devout Muslims cannot get to Mecca anymore.  If the king of Saudi Arabia, “the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques,” cannot accommodate Muslims on their Hajj, he has failed in his principal duty.  Right now the physical capacity of the Grand Mosque during the Hajj season is 3 million pilgrims.   Do the math.  With 1.2 billion Muslims who live an average of 70 years, Mecca can accommodate only 17% of Muslim pilgrims today.  Even considering the poor who would never be able to afford the trip, there is no way Mecca can accommodate all those who want to fulfill their Islamic duty.   (Compounding this problem is the fact that many Muslims make numerous pilgrimages during their lifetimes.)  Muslim countries are now given quotas on the number of visas that will be granted to pilgrims.  As a result, there is an on-going major effort to expand the capacity of the Grand Mosque and other sites that must be visited during the Hajj despite the destruction of historical artifacts.   The bin Laden family  has made much of its money from contracts to expand the Grand Mosque.  That’s why they are bulldozing Mecca and Madina.


Hajjing may be hazardous to your health:

One of the chronic problems during the pilgrimage has been deaths of pilgrims due to stampedes, fires, and jihad during the Hajj.  Here is a short list of some of the major recent ones based on Wikipedia data:



July 2, 1990 : A stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel (Al-Ma'aisim tunnel) leading out from Mecca towards Mina, Saudi Arabia and the Plains of Arafat led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims, many of them Malaysian, Indonesian and Pakistani of origin.

May 23, 1994 : A stampede killed at least 270 pilgrims at the stoning of the Devil ritual.

April 9, 1998: at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 injured in an incident on Jamarat Bridge.

March 5, 2001: Thirty five pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede during the stoning of the Devil ritual.

February 11, 2003: The stoning of the Devil ritual claimed 14 pilgrims' lives.

February 1, 2004: 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 injured in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.

January 12, 2006: A stampede during the ritual ramy al-jamarāt on the last day of the Hajj in Mina killed at least 346 pilgrims and injured at least 289 more. The incident occurred shortly after 13:00 local time, when a busload of travelers arrived together at the eastern access ramps to the Jamarat Bridge. This caused pilgrims to trip, rapidly resulting in a lethal crush. An estimated two million people were performing the ritual at the time.


December 1975: An exploding gas cylinder caused a fire in a tent colony and resulted in the deaths of 200 pilgrims.

April 15, 1997: 343 pilgrims were killed and 1,500 injured in a tent fire in MINA on 8 Zillhijja between 10 am to 12 pm. The tents are now fireproof.

November 1, 2011: 2 pilgrims, a man and his wife died in a coach fire. There were two coaches in the convoy, and a person in the second coach noticed smoke billowing from the coach in front. He radioed the driver to stop. Everybody evacuated the coach, and as the last two were getting out, the coach exploded three times. They were Abu Talha Dawood Burbank and his wife from Birmingham, United Kingdom, who had just landed in Jeddah en route to Mecca. Their funerals were held in the Grand Holy Mosque (Al Haraam) and laid to rest in the nearby cemetery.


Protests and violence:

November 20, 1979: A group of about 200-500 militants occupied the Grand Mosque, and later were expelled by Saudi Arabian Troops, Pakistani and French forces (three Frenchmen, reportedly, who converted to Islam in order to enter the Mosque), leaving about 250 dead, and 600 wounded.

July 31, 1987: Iranian pilgrims rioted, causing the deaths of over 400 people.

July 9, 1989: Two bombs exploded, killing 1 pilgrim and wounding another 16. Saudi authorities executed 16 Kuwaiti Shia Muslims for the bombings after originally suspecting Iranian terrorists.

Also, because the Hajj season rotates around the international solar calendar due to Islam’s shorter lunar calendar year,  the Hajj sometimes occurs during the hottest season of the year.  Many pilgrims die due to the extreme heat or dehydration, combined with their age and frail condition by the time they had saved up enough money for the pilgrimage.  The Hajj has also been notorious for outbreaks of contagious diseases like meningitis, yellow fever, polio, and influenza.  After one incident of a mass death in Mecca, King Abdullah was quoted as saying something to the effect of, “All those who died would have died at the same time even if they had not gone on the pilgrimage, because it was by Allah’s will.”  Right.

A call for Muslim and non-Muslim action:

It is the height of hypocrisy for the keepers of the two Holy Mosques in Saudi Arabia to show such wanton disregard for the cultural heritage of their own historical sites while at the same time insisting that non-Muslims show absolute and unquestioning respect for Muhammad around the world. Even if non-Muslims may not even enter the Hejaz region of Muhammad, photographic and architectural studies are enlightening to people of all faiths.   People who value those artifacts must protest to the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation (info@islamic-heritage.org) and to their local Saudi Arabian Embassy or Consulate.  

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