The Cost of ‘Progress’: Commercialization of Islam’s Holiest Site in Makkah

Posted on March 8, 2007


Abraj Al Bait Mall Construction

Source: The New York Times
by Hassan M. Fattah

Five times a day across the globe devout Muslims face this city in prayer, focused on a site where they believe Abraham built a temple to God. The spot is also the place Muslims are expected to visit at least once in their lives.

Now as they make the pilgrimage clothed in simple white cotton wraps, they will see something other than the stark black cube known as the Kaaba, which is literally the center of the Muslim world. They will also see Starbucks. And Cartier and Tiffany. And HM and Topshop.

The Abraj al Bait Mall — one of the largest in Saudi Arabia, outfitted with flat-panel monitors with advertisements and announcements, neon lights, an amusement park ride, fast-food restaurants and a lingerie shop — has been built directly across from Islam’s holiest site.

Not everyone considers this progress.

”Mecca is becoming like Las Vegas, and that is a disaster,” said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, a Saudi opposition research organization. ”It will have a disastrous effect on Muslims because going to Mecca will have no feeling. There is no charm anymore. All you see is glass and cement.”

The mall, which opened a week before the annual pilgrimage, called the hajj, in December, is the first phase in a $13 billion construction boom in Mecca that promises to change how this city, forbidden to everyone but Muslims, looks and feels.

The Abraj al Bait housing and hotel complex, a 1.5-million-square-yard development that will include a towering hotel, has begun to redraw the skyline of this ancient religious city.

When the project is completed in 2009, it will include the seventh tallest building in the world, its developers say, with a hospital, hotels and prayer halls. A public-announcement system pipes in prayers from the Grand Mosque across the way, and worshipers can join the masses simply by opening their draperies.

In nearby Jabal Omar, an entire mountain is being flattened to make way for a huge hotel and high-rise complex. And elsewhere, cranes dot the skyline with up to 130 new high-rise towers planned for the area.

”This is the end of Mecca,” said Dr. Irfan Ahmed in London. [More]

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Here is the propaganda video launched by those carrying out this “project” to make it more palatable to the Ummah:

Here is another video with the developers of these projects in both Makkah and Medina. This video speaks for itself (in Medina prices start at 350,000 English pounds to purchase a 2-bedroom house, and a lease in Mecca also starts at the same price). The video also discusses the controversy about  the foundations of the home of the Prophet (s) which have been preserved so far, but which are now at risk:

 One final video where the developers themselves are somewhat uncomfortable with the Zam Zam tower’s overwhelming presence above the Kaaba and try lamely to justify it: