"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Saturday, August 20, 2005

What Are the Saudis Up To?

I'm a nominal Trinitarian, but I must admit that I've always admired the strict monotheism of Islam.

We know that the Saudis have been pumping Wahhabism across the Islamic world, Wahhabism being an extreme fundamentalist reading of Islam, and the one that seems to be the theological underpinning of violent extremism.

Now, in their distaste for anything resembling idolatry, they're about to pave over Mohammed's birthplace.

No sage conclusion here, just pointing out a story that's gotten zero attention, and merits a bit of wonder.

Historic Mecca, the cradle of Islam, is being buried in an unprecedented onslaught by religious zealots.

Almost all of the rich and multi-layered history of the holy city is gone. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades.

Now the actual birthplace of the Prophet Mohamed is facing the bulldozers, with the connivance of Saudi religious authorities whose hardline interpretation of Islam is compelling them to wipe out their own heritage.

It is the same oil-rich orthodoxy that pumped money into the Taliban as they prepared to detonate the Bamiyan buddhas in 2000. And the same doctrine - violently opposed to all forms of idolatry - that this week decreed that the Saudis' own king be buried in an unmarked desert grave.

A Saudi architect, Sami Angawi, who is an acknowledged specialist on the region's Islamic architecture, told The Independent that the final farewell to Mecca is imminent: "What we are witnessing are the last days of Mecca and Medina."

According to Dr Angawi - who has dedicated his life to preserving Islam's two holiest cities - as few as 20 structures are left that date back to the lifetime of the Prophet 1,400 years ago and those that remain could be bulldozed at any time. "This is the end of history in Mecca and Medina and the end of their future," said Dr Angawi.

Mecca is the most visited pilgrimage site in the world. It is home to the Grand Mosque and, along with the nearby city of Medina which houses the Prophet's tomb, receives four million people annually as they undertake the Islamic duty of the Haj and Umra pilgrimages.

The driving force behind the demolition campaign that has transformed these cities is Wahhabism. This, the austere state faith of Saudi Arabia, was imported by the al-Saud tribal chieftains when they conquered the region in the 1920s.

The motive behind the destruction is the Wahhabists' fanatical fear that places of historical and religious interest could give rise to idolatry or polytheism, the worship of multiple and potentially equal gods.


Theology, or the House of Saud trying to lessen the paramount political importance of the Land of Two Holy Places, Mecca and Medina? Dunno.

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