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Friday, November 2, 2012

Kalau Makam Nabi Di Musnah ?

(Crescent International, October 2012): In 2007 the palace “scholar” Abdulaziz al Sheikh called for the demolition of the graves of Prophet Muhammad (saws) and his two companions buried beside him, Abu Bakr (ra) and Umar (ra).

Continued destruction of Islamic historical and sacred sites by the US-zionist puppet Saudi regime once again underlines its deep animosity towards Islam.

On October 26, the Saudi tribe announced plans to begin expansion of Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah in order to “accommodate” 1.6 million worshippers. Once again, the so-called “modernization” and “reconstruction” comes at the expense of Islamic sites.

The new project aims to destroy the mosques dedicated to the first Caliphs, Abu Bakr (ra) and Umar (ra), as well as Masjid Ghamama, built to mark the spot where Prophet Mohammed (saws) is thought to have led his first prayers for Eid.

Speaking with the British daily, The Independent, Dr Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation said that “no one denies that Madinah is in need of expansion, but it’s the way the authorities are going about it which is so worrying, there are ways they could expand which would either avoid or preserve the ancient Islamic sites but instead they want to knock it all down.”

Citing the Washington-based Gulf Institute, the Independent states that 95 percent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years. In 2007 the palace “scholar” Abdulaziz al Sheikh called for the demolition of the graves of Prophet Muhammad (saws) and his two companions buried beside him, Abu Bakr (ra) and Umar (ra).

The destruction of Islamic sites continues with furious pace. This stands in sharp contrast with the preservation of sites linked to the ruling tribe. In Najd the properties of al-Saud and Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab are often turned into museums or maintained in good condition as national heritage sites.

Emulating the practices of their Zionist counterparts in Palestine, the Saudi regime conducts its aggression against Islam by misinforming the Muslim masses. In the past, the Saudi hordes destroyed many historical sites by claiming to uphold the banner of “tawheed” and combating “shirk.”

This included demolishing monuments erected over the graves of the Prophet’s (saws) family and his companions buried in Jannatul Baqi‘ in Madinha, as well as sites in Makkah. For instance, the house of Khadijah (ra), the Prophet’s (saws) first wife where the noble Messenger (saws) spent many blissful years, was slated for demolition but the Makkans pleaded with the authorities to preserve it. They pledged to turn it into a library.

Later, the Makkan municipality turned the area into a parking lot and then built toilets over it. How disrespectful can these people get?

The Saudi occupiers also take offence at Muslims climbing the Jabal al-Nur (the Mountain of Light) in Makkah to reach the Cave of Hira where the noble Messenger (saws) received the first revelations of the Qur’an. The ignorant extremist Saudis consider this “bid‘ah” (innovation) and have vowed to destroy the entire mountain so that Muslims would no longer visit the Cave of Hira!

One wonders why they are so obsessed with preventing Muslims from linking with Prophetic history and experiences?

The weak Muslim response to repeated Saudi assaults on Islamic sites would only embolden the ruling tribe to continue with its Khawarij-like policies.

Saudi Arabia to raze Prophet Mohammed’s tomb to build larger mosque

(RT, 31/10/12): The key Islamic heritage site, including Prophet Mohammed’s shrine, is to be bulldozed, as Saudi Arabia plans a $ 6 billion expansion of Medina’s holy Masjid an-Nabawi Mosque. However, Muslims remain silent on the possible destruction.

Work on the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, is planned to start as soon as the annual Hajj pilgrimage comes to a close at the end of November. 

After the reconstruction, the mosque is expected to become the world’s largest building, with a capacity for 1.6 million people.

And while the need to expand does exist as more pilgrims are flocking to holy sites every year, nothing has been said on how the project will affect the surroundings of the mosque, also historic sites.

Concerns are growing that the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will come at the price of three of the world’s oldest mosques nearby, which hold the tombs of Prophet Mohammed and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar. The expansion project which will cost 25 billion SAR (more than US $6 billion) reportedly requires razing holy sites, as old as the seventh century.

The Saudis insist that colossal expansion of both Mecca and Medina is essential to make a way for the growing numbers of pilgrims. Both Mecca and Medina host 12 million visiting pilgrims each year and this number is expected to increase to 17 million by 2025.

Authorities and hotel developers are working hard to keep pace, however, the expansions have cost the oldest cities their historical surroundings as sky scrapers, luxury hotels and shopping malls are being erected amongst Islamic heritage.

A room in a hotel or apartment in a historic area may cost up to $ 500 per night. And that’s all in or near Mecca, a place where the Prophet Mohammed insisted all Muslims would be equal.

“They just want to make a lot of money from the super-rich elite pilgrims, but for the poor pilgrims it is getting very expensive and they cannot afford it,”
Dr. Irfan Al Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told RT.

Jabal Omar complex – a 40 tower ensemble – is being depicted as a new pearl of Mecca. When complete, it will consist of six five star hotels, seven 39 storey residential towers offering 520 restaurants, 4, 360 commercial and retail shops.

But to build this tourist attraction the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on.

The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimated that 95 percent of sacred sites and shrines in the two cities have been destroyed in the past twenty years.

The Prophet’s birthplace was turned into a library and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, was replaced with a public toilet block.

Also the expansion and development might threaten many locals homes, but so far most Muslims have remained silent on the issue.

“Mecca is a holy sanctuary as stated in the Quran it is no ordinary city. The Muslims remain silent against the Saudi Wahhabi destruction because they fear they will not be allowed to visit the Kindom again,” said Dr. Al Alawi.

The fact that there is no reaction on possible destruction has raised talks about hypocrisy because Muslims are turning a blind eye to that their faith people are going to ruin sacred sites.

“Some of the Sunni channels based in the United Kingdom are influenced by Saudi petro dollars and dare not to speak against the destruction, but yet are one of the first to condemn the movie made by non Muslims,” Dr. Al Alawi said.

Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam's history

(The Independent 26/10/12): Three of the world’s oldest mosques are about to be destroyed as Saudi Arabia embarks on a multi-billion-pound expansion of Islam’s second holiest site. Work on the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, where the Prophet Mohamed is buried, will start once the annual Hajj pilgrimage ends next month. When complete, the development will turn the mosque into the world’s largest building, with the capacity for 1.6 million worshippers.

But concerns have been raised that the development will see key historic sites bulldozed. Anger is already growing at the kingdom’s apparent disdain for preserving the historical and archaeological heritage of the country’s holiest city, Mecca.  Most of the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will take place to the west of the existing mosque, which holds the tombs of Islam’s founder and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar.

Just outside the western walls of the current compound are mosques dedicated to Abu Bakr and Umar, as well as the Masjid Ghamama, built to mark the spot where the Prophet is thought to have given his first prayers for the Eid festival. The Saudis have announced no plans to preserve or move the three mosques, which have existed since the seventh century and are covered by Ottoman-era structures, or to commission archaeological digs before they are pulled down, something that has caused considerable concern among the few academics who are willing to speak out in the deeply authoritarian kingdom.

“No one denies that Medina is in need of expansion, but it’s the way the authorities are going about it which is so worrying,” says Dr Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. “There are ways they could expand which would either avoid or preserve the ancient Islamic sites but instead they want to knock it all down.” Dr Alawi has spent much of the past 10 years trying to highlight the destruction of early Islamic sites.

With cheap air travel and booming middle classes in populous Muslim countries within the developing world, both Mecca and Medina are struggling to cope with the 12 million pilgrims who visit each year – a number expected to grow to 17 million by 2025. The Saudi monarchy views itself as the sole authority to decide what should happen to the cradle of Islam. Although it has earmarked billions for an enormous expansion of both Mecca and Medina, it also sees the holy cities as lucrative for a country almost entirely reliant on its finite oil wealth.

Heritage campaigners and many locals have looked on aghast as the historic sections of Mecca and Medina have been bulldozed to make way for gleaming shopping malls, luxury hotels and enormous skyscrapers. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years.

In Mecca, the Masjid al-Haram, the holiest site in Islam and a place where all Muslims are supposed to be equal, is now overshadowed by the Jabal Omar complex, a development of skyscraper apartments, hotels and an enormous clock tower. To build it, the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on. Other historic sites lost include the Prophet’s birthplace – now a library – and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, which was replaced with a public toilet block.

Neither the Saudi Embassy in London nor the Ministry for Foreign Affairs responded to requests for comment when The Independent contacted them this week. But the government has previously defended its expansion plans for the two holy cities as necessary. It insists it has also built large numbers of budget hotels for poorer pilgrims, though critics point out these are routinely placed many miles away from the holy sites.

Until recently, redevelopment in Medina has pressed ahead at a slightly less frenetic pace than in Mecca, although a number of early Islamic sites have still been lost. Of the seven ancient mosques built to commemorate the Battle of the Trench – a key moment in the development of Islam – only two remain. Ten years ago, a mosque which belonged to the Prophet’s grandson was dynamited. Pictures of the demolition that were secretly taken and smuggled out of the kingdom showed the religious police celebrating as the building collapsed.

The disregard for Islam’s early history is partly explained by the regime’s adoption of Wahabism, an austere and uncompromising interpretation of Islam that is vehemently opposed to anything which might encourage Muslims towards idol worship.

In most of the Muslim world, shrines have been built. Visits to graves are also commonplace. But Wahabism views such practices with disdain. The religious police go to enormous lengths to discourage people from praying at or visiting places closely connected to the time of the Prophet while powerful clerics work behind the scenes to promote the destruction of historic sites.

Dr Alawi fears that the redevelopment of the Masjid an-Nabawi is part of a wider drive to shift focus away from the place where Mohamed is buried. The spot that marks the Prophet’s tomb is covered by a famous green dome and forms the centrepiece of the current mosque. But under the new plans, it will become the east wing of a building eight times its current size with a new pulpit. There are also plans to demolish the prayer niche at the centre of mosque. The area forms part of the Riyadh al-Jannah (Garden of Paradise), a section of the mosque that the Prophet decreed especially holy..

“Their excuse is they want to make more room and create 20 spaces in a mosque that will eventually hold 1.6 million,” says Dr Alawi. “It makes no sense. What they really want is to move the focus away from where the Prophet is buried.”

A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – and endorsed by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz al Sheikh – called for the dome to be demolished and the graves of Mohamed, Abu Bakr and Umar to be flattened. Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymeen, one of the 20th century’s most prolific Wahabi scholars, made similar demands.

“Muslim silence over the destruction of Mecca and Medina is both disastrous and hypocritical,” says Dr Alawi. “The recent movie about the Prophet Mohamed caused worldwide protests... and yet the destruction of the Prophet’s birthplace, where he prayed and founded Islam has been allowed to continue without any criticism.”

Mecca and Medina in numbers

12m The number of people who visit Mecca and Medina every year

3.4m The number of Muslims expected to perform Hajj (pilgrimage) this year

60,000 The current capacity of the Masjid an-Nabawi mosque

1.6m The projected capacity of the mosque after expansion

Why don't more Muslims speak out against the wanton destruction of Mecca's holy sites?

(The Independent 28/10/12): Muslims are often criticised for not speaking out more vocally on key issues that affect their community. Barely a week goes by without the media asking why community leaders aren’t more vocal in condemning button topics such as terrorism or violence against women.

It’s a difficult balance and often the criticisms are unfair. One the one hand ordinary Muslims cannot be expected to answer for everything that is done in their name. But at the same time silence and reticence from a majority simply allows the vocal minority to have disproportionate influence on how Islam is both practiced and perceived by the rest of the world.

One area that you might think would see Muslims speaking out with one voice is the wholesale archaeological and historical destruction of Islam’s birthplace. Over the past twenty years, fuelled by their petro-dollars and intolerant Wahabi backers, the Saudi authorities have embarked on cultural vandalism of breath-taking proportions.

Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam, are being systematically bulldozed to make way for gleaming sky scrapers, luxury hotels and shopping malls. The Saudis insist that the expansion of these two cities is vital to make way for the growing numbers of pilgrims in a rapidly expanded and inter-connected world. And they’re right.

But does it really need to be done in a way where luxury apartments and $500-a-night rooms now overlook the Ka’aba in Mecca, the one place on earth that all Muslims are supposed to be equal?

Most appallingly dozens of early Islamic sites – including those with a direct link to the Prophet himself – have been wiped off the map. The situation is so bad that the Washington based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 percent of the millennium old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past twenty years.

Much of this cultural vandalism is inspired by Wahabism – the austere interpretation of Islam that is the Saudi kingdom’s official religion. Wahabis are obsessed with idol worship and believe visiting graves, shrines or historical sites that are associated with the Prophet encourages shirq (the worship of false gods). The rampant commercialism meanwhile is inspired by something much simpler – greed.

Muslim silence on this issue isn’t just cowardly, it’s deeply hypocritical. When an obscure group of foam-at-the-mouth Islamophobes got together in the United States to make an utterly pointless and deliberately provocative film about the Prophet Mohammad, or when a group of Danish cartoonists exercised their democratic right to lampoon a religious leader and the creeping self-censorship of the European press, protests broke out around the world.

At Friday prayers, imams and sheikhs wasted little time in giving rousing speeches about how Islam was being sullied and the Prophet insulted. The mobs came out, people died (mostly Muslims).

How many of those imams have bothered to get animated about what has happened in Mecca and Medina? How many are outraged that the house of Muhammad’s first wife Khadijah was pulled down and replaced with a block of public toilets, or that five of the seven mosques marking the Battle of the Trench outside Medina have been destroyed, or that religious police cheered when a mosque linked to the Prophet’s grandson was dynamited? It’s politically a lot more convenient to blame infidels for disrespecting your religion’s founder than it is to point the finger of blame at your own kind.

But it’s not just the Muslim world that has kept mum. When the Taliban – fuelled by same anti-idol zealotry that burns within Wahabis – blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas the world was incensed. Governments spoke out, academics were outraged and column inches filled up. With a few notable exceptions the destruction of Mecca and Medina has largely passed unchallenged.

Partly that’s down to the enormous influence Saudi Arabia wields. As the gate keeper to the cradle of Islam (since 1986 the Saudi monarchy has modestly awarded itself the title Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques), it controls who gets to go on the annual Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. Muslim countries are terrified that any overly critical statements about what is happening in the Hejaz might lead to a reduction in pilgrim quotas.

Although the Muslim media has been pretty shamefully silent, credit should go to Al Jazeera who did manage to get in and film a documentary last year about the archaeological destruction of Mecca.

Equally, in the West, archaeologists and historians – who should be on the front lines of a no-cultural-destruction-of-Islam protest – keep quiet because they won’t be allowed in to the Kingdom again if they speak up, whilst governments prefer to keep the Saudis onside because of their enormous oil wealth and supposed commitment to the so-called war on terror.

Inside Saudi Arabia itself there is a mixture of opinions. The wealthy elite think little beyond the gleaming shopping malls and hotels that keep them supplied with fat profits and luxury goods.

But there is anger among many locals in Mecca and Medina who have looked on with horror at what has happened to their cities, especially among those who have been forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for this brave new world.

The difficulty, of course, is that in a highly autocratic country where women still don’t have the right to drive and opposition to the Saud monarchy is ruthlessly supressed, there are bigger fish to fry. Archaeology and history come second to basic personal freedoms.

But hope is not lost because people do care. When I first started investigating this subject a little over a year ago I wasn’t sure how Muslims would react. Last September we published a piece in which I described how Mecca was turning into a gaudy Las Vegas. Within hours it had gone viral. All across the Muslim world news sites, bloggers and readers were reposting the article. It stayed at the top of our most read list for weeks whilst on Facebook alone it has been reposted 37,000 times. And the response we got was overwhelmingly positive.

Muslims were horrified by what was happening and they wanted to know what they could do. A few months later I was asked to give a talk on my research by the City Circle, a group of mainly young, professional Muslims who meet on a weekly basis. The crowd was as mixed as any London Islamic audience – Salafis in their three quarter length trousers and long beards, hippy looking Sufis, women in headscarves and veils, women without headscarves and beardless men in their pin-striped city suits. I expected the more orthodox members to defend what was happening in Saudi Arabia, instead everyone seemed to be equally upset.

After the talk I remember one young Saudi woman in a black abaya coming up to me with tears in her eyes. “They are literally destroying the birthplace of Islam,” she said. “This is the place where the Prophet lived and prayed. We have to do something."

Only Muslims will be able to save what little is left of the early Islamic heritage within Mecca and Medina. But I hope for both their own benefit - and the wider world’s – that they are successful.

Mecca for the rich: Islam's holiest site 'turning into Vegas'

(The Independent 24/9/11): Behind closed doors – in places where the religious police cannot listen in – residents of Mecca are beginning to refer to their city as Las Vegas, and the moniker is not a compliment.

Over the past 10 years the holiest site in Islam has undergone a huge transformation, one that has divided opinion among Muslims all over the world.

Once a dusty desert town struggling to cope with the ever-increasing number of pilgrims arriving for the annual Hajj, the city now soars above its surroundings with a glittering array of skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury hotels.

To the al-Saud monarchy, Mecca is their vision of the future – a steel and concrete metropolis built on the proceeds of enormous oil wealth that showcases their national pride.

Yet growing numbers of citizens, particularly those living in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have looked on aghast as the nation's archaeological heritage is trampled under a construction mania backed by hardline clerics who preach against the preservation of their own heritage. Mecca, once a place where the Prophet Mohamed insisted all Muslims would be equal, has become a playground for the rich, critics say, where naked capitalism has usurped spirituality as the city's raison d'ĂȘtre.

Few are willing to discuss their fears openly because of the risks associated with criticising official policy in the authoritarian kingdom. And, with the exceptions of Turkey and Iran, fellow Muslim nations have largely held their tongues for fear of of a diplomatic fallout and restrictions on their citizens' pilgrimage visas. Western archaeologists are silent out of fear that the few sites they are allowed access to will be closed to them.

But a number of prominent Saudi archaeologists and historians are speaking up in the belief that the opportunity to save Saudi Arabia's remaining historical sites is closing fast.

"No one has the balls to stand up and condemn this cultural vandalism," says Dr Irfan al-Alawi who, as executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, has fought in vain to protect his country's historical sites. "We have already lost 400-500 sites. I just hope it's not too late to turn things around."

Sami Angawi, a renowned Saudi expert on the region's Islamic architecture, is equally concerned. "This is an absolute contradiction to the nature of Mecca and the sacredness of the house of God," he told the Reuters news agency earlier this year. "Both [Mecca and Medina] are historically almost finished. You do not find anything except skyscrapers."

Dr Alawi's most pressing concern is the planned £690m expansion of the Grand Mosque, the most sacred site in Islam which contains the Kaaba – the black stone cube built by Ibrahim (Abraham) that Muslims face when they pray.

Construction officially began earlier this month with the country's Justice Minister, Mohammed al-Eissa, exclaiming that the project would respect "the sacredness and glory of the location, which calls for the highest care and attention of the servants or Islam and Muslims".

The 400,000 square metre development is being built to accommodate an extra 1.2 million pilgrims each year and will turn the Grand Mosque into the largest religious structure in the world. But the Islamic Heritage Foundation has compiled a list of key historical sites that they believe are now at risk from the ongoing development of Mecca, including the old Ottoman and Abbasi sections of the Grand Mosque, the house where the Prophet Mohamed was born and the house where his paternal uncle Hamza grew up.

There is little argument that Mecca and Medina desperately need infrastructure development. Twelve million pilgrims visit the cities every year with the numbers expected to increase to 17 million by 2025.

But critics fear that the desire to expand the pilgrimage sites has allowed the authorities to ride roughshod over the area's cultural heritage. 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.

The destruction has been aided by Wahabism, the austere interpretation of Islam that has served as the kingdom's official religion ever since the al-Sauds rose to power across the Arabian Peninsula in the 19th century.

In the eyes of Wahabis, historical sites and shrines encourage "shirq" – the sin of idolatry or polytheism – and should be destroyed. When the al-Saud tribes swept through Mecca in the 1920s, the first thing they did was lay waste to cemeteries holding many of Islam's important figures. They have been destroying the country's heritage ever since. Of the three sites the Saudis have allowed the UN to designate World Heritage Sites, none are related to Islam.

Those circling the Kaaba only need to look skywards to see the latest example of the Saudi monarchy's insatiable appetite for architectural bling. At 1,972ft, the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, opened earlier this year, soars over the surrounding Grand Mosque, part of an enormous development of skyscrapers that will house five-star hotels for the minority of pilgrims rich enough to afford them.

To build the skyscraper city, the authorities dynamited an entire mountain and the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress that lay on top of it. At the other end of the Grand Mosque complex, the house of the Prophet's first wife Khadijah has been turned into a toilet block. The fate of the house he was born in is uncertain. Also planned for demolition are the Grand Mosque's Ottoman columns which dare to contain the names of the Prophet's companions, something hardline Wahabis detest.

For ordinary Meccans living in the mainly Ottoman-era town houses that make up much of what remains of the old city, development often means the loss of their family home.

Non-Muslims cannot visit Mecca and Medina, but The Independent was able to interview a number of citizens who expressed discontent over the way their town was changing. One young woman whose father recently had his house bulldozed described how her family was still waiting for compensation. "There was very little warning; they just came and told him that the house had to be bulldozed," she said.

Another Meccan added: "If a prince of a member of the royal family wants to extend his palace he just does it. No one talks about it in public though. There's such a climate of fear."

Dr Alawi hopes the international community will finally begin to wake up to what is happening in the cradle of Islam. "We would never allow someone to destroy the Pyramids, so why are we letting Islam's history disappear?"

Under Threat

Bayt al-Mawlid

When the Wahabis took Mecca in the 1920s they destroyed the dome on top of the house where the Prophet Mohammed was born. It was thenused as a cattle market before being turned into a library after a campaign by Meccans. There are concerns that the expansion of the Grand Mosque will destroy it once more. The site has never been excavated by archaeologists.

Ottoman and Abasi columns of the Grand Mosque

Slated for demolition as part of the Grand Mosque expansion, these intricately carved columns date back to the 17th century and are the oldest surviving sections of Islam's holiest site. Much to the chagrin of Wahabis, they are inscribed with the names of the Prophet's companions. Ottomon Mecca is now rapidly disappearing

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi

For many years, hardline Wahabi clerics have had their sites set on the 15th century green dome that rests above the tomb holding the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar in Medina. The mosque is regarded as the second holiest site in Islam. Wahabis, however, believe marked graves are idolatrous. A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stated that "the green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet's Masjid".

Jabal al-Nour

A mountain outside Mecca where Mohammed received his first Koranic revelations. The Prophet used to spend long spells in a cave called Hira. The cave is particularly popular among South Asian pilgrims who have carved steps up to its entrance and adorned the walls with graffiti. Religious hardliners are keen to dissuade pilgrims from congregating there and have mooted the idea of removing the steps and even destroying the mountain altogether.

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