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Posted Online on Wednesday 31, August 2005 03:55 IST

Profit before the Prophet 

By Yvonne Ridley <mail@yvonneridley.com>

The Milli Gazette (online edition)

One day during my detention by the Taliban I was asked about where I was born and, out to impress my captors, I said I came from the tribal areas of England near the Scottish Border. I was desperate to get them to sympathise and identify with me, in the hope this would make it difficult for them to kill me.

So, clutching at this latest straw I told them I was not really English but a Geordie ... a tribal dweller from the north. Since most of them were Pashtuns, they nodded in approval and were quite amused to discover that the UK had its own tribal areas and its own version of Pashtun-like people. That is basically where the favourable comparisons ended because their beautiful, dramatic Afghan countryside is nothing like my home town Stanley, in County Durham … a bleak little backwater in the boondocks of Britain.

Quite what they would have made of the ramshackle pit village where I was born I am really not sure but during a recent trip north I discovered that the local government authority had set about landscaping and improving Stanley. The urban facelift removed some ugly carbuncles and I suppose it was an improvement although we are not talking silk purses and sows’ ears here. But I am all in favour of urban renewal and improvement.

This is how the Prophet's house [white structure on the right] looks at this moment
This is how the Prophet's house [white structure on the right] looks at this moment

I doubt if any tourists will ever flock to Stanley although they might happen upon it by accident. But if you drive about eight miles to the west of the town you will happen across one of Britain’s best kept secrets – Durham City. It is an archaeologist’s dream not to mention an architectural vision mainly because the city has been preserved and no one is allowed to build anything that would detract from Durham Cathedral, once voted the most beautiful building in the world ahead of the breath-taking Taj Mahal.

Now I can almost hear you shouting: “Get to the point, sis. What on earth is this article about?” Well it is all about Makkah. Yes, that’s what I said. I know it is a long haul from Durham City not to mention a giant leap from Stanley, but you will just have to display some "Sabr" here.

As most of you know I visited Makkah earlier this year and to tell the truth I found it far more endearing and captivating than Medina, the burial place of The Prophet (greetings, peace and blessings be upon him and his family). This did irk some of the residents of the latter who remarked to me enthusiastically: “All the Makkans have got is a stone but we have the Prophet (greetings, peace and blessings be upon him and his family).”

Now while the residents of Medina are far nicer in character than the Makkans, their city has been ruined by giant hotels, monster tower blocks and endless slabs of marble piazzas and shopping areas. By comparison, Makkah had clung on to some of its old charm with winding streets, death-defying steps and cobbled paths. And if you look closely you can see some old homes with unique architectural features.

Now I am told that the bulldozers are going to move in … with the blessing of the Saudi authorities.

Please, please help join in the campaign to stop this vandalism. I know as Muslims we are not supposed to place anything on a pedestal or worship anyone but Allah (swt) and quite right too. But can the hardliners just remove their blinkers for a second. They will rip out the last vestiges of original charm if they let anymore bulldozers loose in Makkah. The latest target is the home of the Prophet Muhammad (greetings, peace and blessings be upon him and his family). I really cannot understand why the authorities want to wipe out their own heritage?!

Canadian broadcaster and activist, Toronto-based Tarek Fatah said last week: “In January 2002, Turkey accused Saudi Arabia of a ‘cultural massacre’ following the demolition of an historic Ottoman castle near the holy city of Makkah. “The spat between Turkey and Saudi Arabia barely caused a stir anywhere in the Muslim world, let alone international circles. The Ottoman fort’s destruction is not the only massacre of culture that the Saudis have done in the name of money and Islam. In the 1980s, they demolished part of the two hills of Safaa and Marwah to build a palace for the late King Khaled. “These historic hills were where Abraham left Hagar, and where Muslims during Hajj run between the two hills to commemorate Hagar’s search for water for her infant son. Not one Imam or Muslim leader protested. After all millions of dollars have the power of silencing even the most "pious". But that is not all. The Saudis are now planning to destroy the very house of Prophet Muhammad (greetings, peace and blessings be upon him and his family).”

Another critic is Saudi architect Sami Angawi who reckons that we are witnessing the “last days of Mecca and Medina.” Dr Angawi - who has dedicated his life to preserving Islam’s two holiest cities – reckons that as few as 20 structures are left that date back to the lifetime of the Prophet 1400 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.

Saudi critics say the real driving force behind this vandalism is Wahhaabism in reference to Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhaab ibn Sulaiman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rashid al Tamimi who was born in the year 1115 A.H.(1703 C.E.).

Now this is going to seem really ironic but I went to visit his birthplace during my trip to Saudi but when I rolled up to Uyaynah to the north of Riyadh, I couldn’t find it. Guess what? The Saudi Government had demolished it. The motive behind the destruction is the irrational fear that places of historical and religious interest could give rise to idolatry or polytheism, the worship of multiple and potentially equal gods. 

Oh for goodness sake! I just wanted to see where the brother was born. I didn’t want to throw myself onto the dirt beneath my feet to begin worshipping the ground he had walked on. Now this same mentality is being used to lay the very foundations of the Prophet’s home to waste. That particular site survived redevelopment 50 years ago when the architect for a library there persuaded the king to allow him to keep the remains under the new structure. That concession is under threat after Saudi authorities approved plans to ‘update’ the library with a new structure that would concrete over the existing foundations.

Ali al-Ahmad, the head of the Gulf Institute said last week: “The destruction of Islamic landmarks in Hijaz is the largest in history, and worse than the desecration of the Qur’an.”. Well that might be a little over-dramatic but can we have some commonsense brought into play here, please?

Makkah and Medina have already been vandalised, in my opinion, historically, architecturally and environmentally much to the disappointment of millions of pilgrims who visit the two holy cities every year, I wager.

Trying to defend the indefensible, the authorities argue that the total demolition is necessary to incorporate more apartments and hotels into Makkah and Medina to cope with the deluge of pilgrims. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish and utter piffle. Erm, anyone heard of railways, ring roads, or public transport shuttle services?

The home of our beloved Prophet (greetings, peace and blessings be upon him and his family) is to make way for a parking lot, two 50-storey hotel towers and seven 35-storey apartment blocks.

The vandalism even has a name … the Jabal Omar Scheme, and it is all within a stone's throw of the Grand Mosque. 

Now can someone please tell me why there is not a single stirring from any Muslim countries, religious leaders or other Islamic clerics and scholars?

The reality is this is all about dollars – or Rials to be more precise. Well I am not going to let Dr Sami Angawi stand alone as he sticks his head above the parapet. I am going to stand shoulder to shoulder with this great architect, who is showing great courage and determination in his one-man campaign to protect the home of our dear Prophet (greetings, peace and blessings be upon him and his family). He bluntly told the London newspaper, The Independent: "The house where the Prophet received the word of God is gone and nobody cares ... this is the end of history in Makkah and Medina and the end of their future." 

Let’s all rise up to fight this cultural vandalism. I am urging everyone to check out and sign this petition: 

 http://www.petitiononline.com/rasul/petition.html 

By signing your name electronically you will be protesting against the potential destruction and desecration of the birth place of the Prophet Muhammad (greetings, peace and blessings be upon him and his family). Surely this is a worthy jihad … well, what are you waiting for? And while you’re on with it – let’s have a little bit of integration here and get your non-Muslim friends to sign the petition as well. This petition isn't designed to protect a site of worship, it is purely to protect a site which should be a historic landmark and place of international interest.

Shame on the Saudi government for putting profit before our beloved noble Prophet Muhammad (greetings, peace and blessings be upon him and his family): The final Messenger of God, the carrier of the Banner of Praise and owner of the Ultimate Intercession!

**********

To read more on this subject:

Saudi royals destroying home of Muhammed by TAREK FATAH

Saudi royals destroying home of Muhammed by Mirza A. Beg

The destruction of Mecca: Saudi hardliners are wiping out their own heritage by Daniel Howden 

To read on this subject in Arabic:
http://www.alarabiya.net/Articles/2005/08/25/16218.htm
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