Commentary by Brett Auriemma
For anyone familiar with the Islamic faith, the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is surely a familiar location. As the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Mecca is one of the most important places in the world for the more than 1 billion Muslims. Most significantly, the cube-shaped Kaaba in the center of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca is considered the holiest location on Earth by Muslims. This site is well known as the destination for the annual pilgrimage, or Hajj, that able-bodied Muslims are required to take once in their lifetimes.
However, controversy has recently erupted among many Muslim scholars because of an expansion project being undertaken by the current rulers and Muslim clerics of Saudi Arabia. This expansion is perceived by some as a necessity, because the Hajj attracts nearly 3 million pilgrims each year, a more than 1,000 percent increase from just four decades ago. The issue at hand is that this expansion project has led to the destruction of many historical sites, some of which are directly linked to Muhammad himself. Also, the current expansion does not just include additions to the Mosque, but also the construction of new hotels and shopping malls catering to extremely wealthy individuals.
Despite the exterior beauty that some of the new structures do indeed possess, I find it quite alarming that ancient sites such as the house where Muhammad was born are being flattened in the name of so-called progress. Expansion and renovation to the Sacred Mosque and the surrounding area is nothing new, but it has also never been undertaken on a scale such as this before. The troubling aspect is that this current expansion has actually caused thousands of Mecca residents to be forcibly relocated and their neighborhoods to be demolished. While senior Muslim clerics have defended this project because they claim building mosques is an act of piety, I see nothing reverent about displacing families and destroying historical monuments to make this happen.
When I think of comparable monuments or memorials in America, I cannot help but try to imagine the public outcry if an area such as the Mall in the District of Columbia was being “renovated” in order to make room for hotels or office buildings. Even worse, I can never imagine having to abandon my house solely because of a government construction project.
While I understand that this is an imperfect comparison, it can’t be denied that the Saudi government has both displaced citizens and destroyed historical locations and artifacts. The politicians and businessmen in Saudi Arabia need to take a step back and realize that sometimes constructing more grand structures doesn’t necessarily mean these structures are better in the long run.