Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Can Islamic archaeological sites be saved from Muslims?

by Salman Hameed

We have been hearing about the destruction of Islamic heritage in Mali and more recently in Libya (tip from Tom Heneghan). These are outrageous actions by puritanical idiots inspired by Wahabism. Where are the street protests for the destruction of these mosques and shrines? However, on the positive side, these actions are finally focusing some light on the destruction of numerous archaeological sites important for early Islam. The destroyers call themselves the guardians of the Holy cites of Mecca and Medina. I was looking to see what sites in Saudi Arabia are included in the list of UNESCO's World Heritage and if those included Prophet's (pbuh) birth place or other locations vital for history and archeology. And I found two places: One is a site of Nabataeans from 1st century BC, and the other - and I kid you not - is Daiyah - the first capitol of the Saudi dynasty. And that's about it.

So here are two articles that address this Saudi penchant for historical destruction. The first one is called It is time to Occupy Mecca - to save Mecca by Omid Safi, and it contrasts this disregard of history with naked commercialism (tip from Tabsir):
No, it’s not the Americans, or the Israelis, who would be destroying Mecca. 
It’s the so-called Guardians of the two holy sites (Mecca and Medina), the Saudi royal elites, who have negligently stood by over the last two decades as the majority of holy sites in these two most sacred Muslim cities have been destroyed, sacrificed to the false gods of modernization, capitalism, and progress. 
Saudi Wahhabis have a long history of destroying shrines, including those of the family of the Prophet in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.   
The graves of the descendants of the Prophet now look like dusty rubbles, with only stones to identify them.    Armed Saudi policemen beat away and arrest pilgrims who stop to offer their respect. 
The early Wahhabis even had designed to destroy the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, as they assumed that Muslims who were offering blessings and salutations on the Prophet (as the Qur’an commands them to do!) were in fact idolaters.  
The Saudis have destroyed or bulldozed some 300 sacred sites and shrines in Mecca and Medina in creating what many are calling the new “Las Vegas.”
And here in an excellent piece on Jadaliyya called Crimes Against Civilization in Hejaz by Faisal Husain (tip from Amina Steinfels):
While bemoaning the tragic fate of what they considered to be “their” heritage in Timbuktu, almost all Arab and Muslim regimes—and the authors and intellectuals their media empires feature—have acquiesced to what has been happening at the heart of the Muslim world since the rise of the first Saudi state in the eighteenth century. The actions of Salafis in Mali are trivial when compared with those committed by the Saudi regime. Indeed, the Saudi regime has set the precedent for Ansar al-Din in Mali and puritans in Muslim societies by systematically destroying Islamic historical and sacred sites and harassing, sometimes even butchering, those who attended them. Nevertheless, most Muslim nations, for different reasons, have not uttered a word of protest against the destruction of Islam’s holiest sites within the borders of the Saudi Kingdom. 
Among international actors, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has displayed the most egregious hypocrisy, itself established in the aftermath of the 1969 arson attack on al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The organization’s zeal for protecting Muslim sites under Israeli occupation from destruction and its absolute indifference and disregard for sites bulldozed by the Saudi regime is astonishing. Worse, it has recently issued a statement on Timbuktu deploring “bigoted extremist elements” for destroying Mali’s “rich Islamic heritage.” The insincerity of the Organization’s Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu, who is a respected figure, and his organization have eroded whatever credibility they have left today.
The following paragraphs will highlight very briefly both historical and current instances when the Saudi regime systematically engaged in acts far worse than those of Ansar al-Din in Timbuktu, yet they have been almost completely ignored by the same parties that condemned the destruction in Timbuktu. Hopefully, this will raise awareness about the gravity of the persisting tragedy in the Hejaz and put an end to this era of historical amnesia.
And here is the bit about Mecca:  
Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, has not been spared from desecration. In the last decade, academics, urban planners, and journalists have documented the destruction and desecration of various sites around the Grand Mosque, most notably the ochre-colored Ottoman Ajyad fortress and Bayt al-Mawlid [the Prophet’s birthplace]. The house of the Prophet’s wife Khadija (d. 619), where Muhammad resided during the first years of his mission and where his only daughter Fatima was born, has also been demolished. Historically, the people and rulers of Mecca appreciated the significance of the house of Khadija, and it was converted into a small mosque during the Umayyad period, shading it by a dome and introducing into it a prayer niche. It played a central role in different religious ceremonies organized by rulers seeking to buttress their religious credentials among Mecca’s residents. Instructed by the Ottoman Sultan Mustafa II (d. 1703), the governor of Jeddah, Sulayman Pasha, held an annual ceremony there during the month of Ramadan to mark the anniversary of the day the Prophet received his first divine revelation. One writer describes the ceremony:
The Pasha was to execute these new responsibilities of his with great humility and solemnity… During this ceremony, men led by the Pasha and other dignitaries, would voluntarily walk along in congregation at a gentle pace from the Haram’s door known as the ‘Bab al-Haririyin’ towards the house of ‘the Mother of the Believers’, the Lady Khadijah, where the Prophet was residing at the time he received his first “Wahi”, marking the beginning of his mission as a prophet and messenger of Allah… There, they would listen to the recitation of some Verses from the Qur’an and Orations (‘Hadith’) of the Prophet and compositions in his praise, offer the ‘Fatihah’—(recitation of the opening chapter of the Qur’an)—towards the end in honour of the Prophet and make their way back towards the Grand Mosque and re-enter it through the entrance called ‘Bab ‘Ali’. Sweets and refreshments would then be offered there to the congregation under the Dome of ‘Abbas.[2]Upon the remains of this once-sacred spot, the Saudi regime has built a toilet complex.
Hey - but at least the pilgrims can check time on a large clock towering over the mosque in Mecca. They may not want to be late for shopping. And with the destruction of old sites out of the way, there is  space for more hotels:  
The Saudi regime continues to bulldoze Mecca’s and Medina’s monuments, constructing on their ruins skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and shopping malls. Among the few surviving sites, Ottoman-carved columns dating back to the seventeenth century in the Grand Mosque, the green dome that adorns the mosque housing the Prophet’s tomb, and the sixth century house where the Prophet was born are all under threat of destruction. With pre-modern Mecca almost wiped out, the annual spiritual journey to Mecca and Medina has been turned into “a new spectacle.” In the words of the Saudi Minister of Hajj, the pilgrimage now resembles “twenty Super Bowls in one stadium, when two million will come, and . . . these two million people will actually be taking part in playing the game.”[9]
Unfortunately, the acquiescence of governments and regional bodies and the blackout imposed on the matter by their media empires have allowed the cleansing of the Hejaz to continue largely unopposed. They helped to anesthetize the general public to the gravity of what has happened to sites of great historical and religious significance, lulling it with illusory nostrums that celebrate King Abdullah’s large commercial development schemes in the Hejaz. In one instance, a self-ascribed “liberal” and “independent” Kuwaiti daily, al-Qabas,informs its readers, in a piece that mentions the word tatwir [development] more than half a dozen times, that Mecca is “heading to become the capital of hotels in the world.” Not once have al-Qabas and mainstream media outlets in the Gulf broached the bitter consequences of Saudi “development” schemes; that the soon-to-be “capital of hotels” is actually being “choked” and built on the ruins of Islam’s earliest surviving material legacy. In the words of a Kashmiri writer, “Modern Mecca [now] feels as if it were built by a people without history or tradition—a sprawling imitation of modernist architecture.”[10]
Read the full article here.

Also see earlier posts:
How is history viewed in Saudi Arabia?
The Problem with peddling pseudoscientific claims regarding Mecca Clock
Mecca Clock: Seeking Prestige via Borrowed Science

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