The systematic obliteration of Islam's cultural heritage

It's a sad reality that we can expect most Muslims to continue focusing on cartoons and YouTube videos whilst Islam's cultural heritage is systemically wiped out

Mecca meets Milton Keynes
Ghaffar Hussain
On 22 March 2013 14:49

To put it mildly, many Muslims can be highly sensitive when it comes to matter of faith. Perceived attempts to attack, mock, insult or denigrate symbols of Islam are not viewed in favourable terms and can even be met with lethal force.

It is, therefore, quite shocking to observe stunned silence in the face of the systematic obliteration of Islam's cultural heritage in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina by the Saudi regime.

A report by Jerome Taylor, that appeared in the Independent last Friday, stated:

The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of Mecca's millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone. Dozens of key historical sites dating back to the birth of Islam have already been lost and there is a scramble among archaeologists and academics to try and encourage the authorities to preserve what little remains.

The holy cities of Mecca and Medina are increasingly beginning to resemble Chicago and Las Vegas rather than quaint Arab towns in which one can envisage what life was like in the times of the Prophet of Islam. Cultural heritage sites are being bulldozed in order to make way for glitzy shopping centres, 5 star hotels, trendy apartment blocks and bland sky scrapers. In fact, when I was last in Medina, the place was starting to resemble Milton Keynes

The Saudi regime benefits enormously from the millions of Muslim pilgrims that descend upon the holy cities each year. Visitor numbers are increasing year on year and expected to rise to 20 million a year in 2020. From a business point of view this is a dream come true. Increasingly wealthy visitors from neighbouring Gulf States have the potential to transform the holy cities into a gold mine, but that is only half the good news.

The business community has found allies in the conservative Wahabi religious establishment that is keen to obliterate historical sites and cultural artefacts and, thus, pave the way for unfettered development. In Wahabi theology, cultural heritage is not only deemed valueless, it is also deemed dangerous. Wahabis are strictly against forms of Islam in which holy relics or buildings are given reverence; they are also determined to enforce this view on others, stamping out more tolerant strands of Islam in the process.

A small handful of archaeologists and NGO activists remain vocally opposed to what is happening in Mecca and Medina. But their adopted cause is not being helped by the stunning silence of Muslims around the world.

This silence can only be attributable to the fact it is not non-Muslims doing the destruction. Passions are only incited when events follow a script and this means fellow-Muslims can get away with a lot.

Since divisive and self-serving hate narratives are often the driving force behind much of the moral outrage we see in Muslim-majority countries, we can expect most Muslims to continue focusing on cartoons and YouTube videos whilst Islam's cultural heritage is systemically wiped out.

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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