Despite having enough solar power to energize the planet for the next 20 centuries, Saudi Arabia has instead reaped the benefits of its oil reserves for decades. This wealth has spurred a spate of massive developments in Mecca, transforming a small desert hamlet into a thriving metropolis. But this may be a curse for Islam’s holiest city and the 6 million pilgrims who flock there each year.
Last August, the Kingdom unveiled a $21.3 billion plan to upgrade the Grand Mosque in Mecca to accommodate an additional 2.5 million pilgrims a year. 20 Percent of the demolition has been completed, and a new $1.8 billion railway to link all of the holy sites in Mecca is also underway. How does one tap into the divine amidst so much noise and distraction?
Demolition before Ramadan
The new Haram expansion project will cover an area of 356,000m2, according to Construction Week Online, and is being built around the Kaaba shrine towards which Muslims point while conducting their prayers each day.
In order to accommodate the growth, owners of real estate in the area were displaced, although their compensation is included in the overall price tag.
The addition will be linked to the existing mosque via a series of pedestrian bridges and then entire complex will feature air conditioning systems to relieve visitors from the extraordinary heat.
Saudi Binladin Group are the main contractors carrying out the project and King Abdullah has ordered for the demolition to be completed before Ramadan so that employees can conduct their fast without being subjected to hard summertime construction work without sustenance.
Spiritual epiphany amidst the noise?
Last year Arwa reflected on the change that has occurred in Islamic architecture. She quoted renowned Qatari architect, Ibrahim Mohammed Jaidah, who told the Peninsula Qatar that “the new developments in Islamic cities don’t reflect the Islamic art of architecture as it was in the past.”
“Kaaba, the first building chosen by Ibrahim was reflecting the simplicity of Islamic architecture,” he said.
But now this crucial site is being drowned out by incessant developments. Although the Kingdom should be lauded for making the pilgrimage, during which Muslims fulfill their Hajj and Umra duties, comfortable and safe, and although a green guide has been launched so that this deluge does not completely destroy the earth, the spirit of the pilgrimage is completely lost.
How many epiphanies have you had while standing in the middle of a giant building with the noise of air-conditioning units and escalators and foot traffic drumming in your ear? Most people retreat to a quiet space, either in a mosque or in nature, to find the quiet voice of their conscience or creator.
In 1850, the above wikipedia image depicts, the holy city was a place that could offer genuine sacred appeal. None of the massive glass and steel buildings that now exist were there before. Mecca was a manageable place with organic infrastructure, a place with character and spirit.
But what about now? I hate to be the one to say it, but Mecca is becoming nothing more than another mega urban sprawl.
As salaamu alaikum. The Kaaba and the Grand Mosque surrounding it is now, as it was during the time of the Prophet (a.s.), a place of crowds and loud remembrance of the Creator. My epiphany during my 2005 hajj (and yes, epiphanies are possible when surrounded cheek to jowl by 4 million people) was that the pilgrimage is a kind of boot camp in which we learn to stay focused on Allah in the midst of the rough and tumble of the world.
If you can stay focused with thousands of people stepping over your head as you prostrate or hold on to your patient focus on the Creator while stranded, tired and hungry on a steaming hot bus in an immense traffic jam, then you will be more able to incorporate and maintain your remembrance of Allah when you return to your distracting, loud, cacophonous life at home.
The pilgrim gets out of the hajj whatever her or his intentions were going in. We may prefer different architectural styles, a more green environment, and better protection of historic sites. But ultimately, nonstop, noisy construction can’t destroy the hajj. A hajj can only be destroyed by an inattentive heart.
April 20, 2012
the "about" section of ILLUME's website says "...while upholding the highest level of journalism ethics and standards."
was there any point to this article? stating a problem and pointing fingers are some things that 6 year-olds do. if there is a problem at hand, why not state some possible solutions. it sounds like this article is suggesting that 4 million pilgrims should be sent back home, and we shouldnt fulfill the 5th pillar of Islam.
If you study history, Hajj season has always brought about a great number of people even since before the prophet muhammad sallallahu'alayhiwasallam. everytime they needed to expand, they did construction, then moved on with life.
stop complaining ya ummah. stop complaining through the keyboard, get up, and help change things for the better in the world.
April 20, 2012
Sad to see that it is looking like Las Vegas. Now you can rent a room at the 60th floor of one of the surrounding buildings and do all haram stuff in there whilst looking down at the Kaaba.
April 20, 2012