The massive damage that the Saudi rulers of the Haramain have inflicted on the historical sites there is little understood outside. DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL exposes their crimes against Islamic history and some of the objects behind them.
Once again Muslims came in their thousands, travelling from places as far apart as Bukharah and Damascus. On planes, ships, buses and cars they came in the tradition of Ibrahim (as). Their destination was the House of Allah, the Sanctuary in the heart of the blessed city of Makkah. Reciting Labbayk Allahumma, Labbayk ("here I am, O Allah, here I am") and glorifying His Name, the pilgrims arrived, submitting themselves to their Creator, hoping to renew and revitalize their faith.
Remembering the supreme sacrifice made by Ibrahim, the friend (khalil) of Allah, the one who chose the straight path and who submitted completely to Allah’s Will, pilgrims from all over the world arrived in the city where Allah’s Messenger (saw) once lived and discharged the duty entrusted to him by Allah (swt). Their arrival occurred 1416 years after the Prophet (saw) recovered Makkah from the control of Quraysh in Ramadan in the eighth year after his Hijrah from the city of his birth.
In that transforming year, the Prophet of Islam also restored the Hajj to its original and intended purity of practice and purpose, and reaffirmed the supremacy of the Truth that Ibrahim (as), his great ancestor, had proclaimed. A year after Makkah was reclaimed for Islam, Allah made it unlawful for the mushrikeen to enter the sacred precinct (al-Qur’an 9: 28). Since then the manasik (the essential elements) of Hajj have been performed in and around Makkah in the manner in which they were first established. But the environs of the Noble Sanctuary have not remained inviolate, because the ruling clan in Arabia have defied this Qur’anic injunction.
The first-time pilgrims who arrived last month in Makkah were shocked to see that Allah’s House is now completely surrounded by high-rise commercial buildings, some of them much higher than the Ka’aba. Owned by Saudi princes, these desecrating monstrosities have been constructed during the last two decades. They have been erected on land and landmarks which once reminded Muslims of their beloved Prophet (saw). In a systematic effort resembling the operations of the Zionists in occupied Palestine, the Saudis have destroyed almost all of the historical sites in the Hijaz. This obliteration of Muslim history constitutes a crime against Islamic civilization for which these rulers must be called to account, for instance by an international tribunal for crimes against civilizations; they will surely be questioned in the Hereafter for having defied Allah’s commands.
The historians of Islamic civilization used to marvel at the efforts made by the Turks during their rule to preserve and document historical sites in and around the Hijaz. Before the Saudi insurgence unseated Ottoman rule from Hijaz (in 1921, with the help of British money and military), a pilgrim arriving in Makkah could visit the house, at the foot of a hill not far from the Ka’aba, where, on the first floor of a two-storey house, the baby who later became Allah’s Last Messenger first opened his eyes. It was an almost-square room on the northern side of the house, the Turk historians had determined. Shortly after his birth in that house, he was taken by ‘Abd al-Muttalib, his grandfather, to the Ka’aba, which he was later to cleanse of idols and dedicate anew to Allah alone.
The Turks also established the place where, six years after his birth, the Prophet (saw) saw his mother for the last time, as well as the place where, three years after her death, his grandfather was buried. Their understanding of the importance of history to the life of the Ummah also led Muslim historians of Ottoman times to identify and preserve the house of Khadijah (ra) in Makkah, where the Prophet lived after their marriage. They knew that the preservation of this house was not only an act of love and devotion, but also restoration of a vital symbol. By restoring her house they also restored something of the nobility of the relationship between her and the Prophet, who, when he entered Makkah in triumph and humility, expressed his desire that his tent be pitched by her grave. When his Companions (ra) showed their surprise, he explained: "When I was poor, she enriched me with her wealth; when I was called a liar, she trusted me; when the whole world was against me, she was by my side."
Ottoman historians also determined the room in Khadijah’s house where the Prophet sought comfort after his first encounter with Jibril amin in Ramadhan 610 CE, saying to Khadija (ra), "cover me, cover me." Based on the oldest historical records, this careful and meticulous effort to establish the landmarks of the life of the Prophet (saw) had not only preserved architectural structures, utensils, swords, carpets, clothes and other artefacts, but also made the life and times of the Prophet a living record for the rejuvenation of iman of those who came to Makkah. For instance, after preserving the house of Khadijah (ra), the Ottoman Sultan of the time had ordered that the house be painted before the beginning of every Ramadan, and that a group of huffaz should recite the Qur’an in the room where the Prophet first told her that he had been commanded to "Recite in the Name of Thy Sustainer, Who created; He created man from a clot of blood. Recite, for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful, Who taught by the pen: taught man what he knew not" (Q. 94: 1 – 5).
The memory of that first revelation, the room where Khadijah (ra) assured her husband (saw) and where the first believer in the mission entrusted to him, his first follower, expressed her belief on the veracity of his mission, were all preserved by the Ottomans in a manner that a pilgrim visiting these places felt as if he were a witness to the dawn of a new epoch in human history.
The Ottoman Turks also preserved the house of Waraqah ibn Naufal, Khadijah’s first cousin, to whom she had taken her husband shortly after the first Revelation, and who had said, "by Him in whose hand is Waraqah’s life, there has come unto you, O Muhammad, the same Namus who had come to Moses and, O son of my brother, thou wilt be called a liar and ill-treated, and they will cast thee out and make war upon thee; and if I live to see that day, God knows that I will help His cause." The historians also identified and preserved the house of Arqam Makhzumi (ra), the first waqf (endowment) in Islam, where Umar ibn al-Khattab accepted Islam and where the Prophet (saw) and his Companions (ra) used to gather to pray and discuss the affairs of the nascent Muslim community. Likewise they had also located the house of Umm Hani (first cousin of the Prophet saw, daughter of his paternal uncle Abu Talib), now taken into the Haram, from where the Prophet (saw) went on his Isra’ (night journey). The old graveyard of Makkah, where many of the Prophet’s ancestors were buried, was also restored; graves were marked, maps were drawn and plants were cultivated.
The extent of the care that went into the preservation of these sites can be judged from the Ottomans’ methods of restoration. When Ottoman historians identified Masjid al-Bilal on a hill close to the Ka’aba, its roof had collapsed, its walls were falling down, and the small courtyard was full of rubble. They first salvaged big stones that were still standing intact, then separated lime, dried mud and sand from the site and picked up every single stone of that structure. Then they located the quarry of the original stones in the nearby hills, and ordered their masons to chisel the replacements according to the same size and design. When they were finished, this old mosque was restored using the original stones, mud and sand, and their analogues, thereby preserving continuity with history and yet making it a site where pilgrims could pray and recall the courage and resilience of Bilal (ra), whose resonant voice was the first to give the adhan in Makkah.
The adhan, let us recall, is not only a call to come and worship the Creator; it is also a call to come together in the house of Allah to discuss, plan, organize and promote the affairs of the community of believers (hayya ala al-falah). This essential function of the mosque has now lapsed, although the call itself is still a presence in the Muslim world, repeated five times a day in every mosque in Muslim countries and most mosques elsewhere.
Muslims also built mosques to commemorate historical events. Thus a mosque was built by the early Muslims at Aqabah, the place of the first and the second pacts with the people of Madinah, then known as al-Yathrib. These two pacts established the legal framework for the first Muslim state; they were also instrumental in sorting out some of the practical details for the migration of the Prophet (saw) to Yathrib (which did not begin to be known as Madinah until after his arrival there). When I visited this mosque in January 1998, it was in a state of extreme neglect. It was without a roof, its four walls, covered by cheap yellowish paint, were crumbling, and its courtyard was littered with rubbish.
All this was the result not only of neglect; the meticulous restoration work of several generations of Ottoman historians, archaeologists, masons, carpenters and artisans in the Hijaz has been systematically and ruthlessly destroyed by the Saudis and their henchmen. All identification marks have been removed, and the beautifully decorated pillars in the Haram have been painted with tawdry silver paint.
It is a very similar story in Madinah. Pilgrims arriving there are shocked to see five-star hotels around the green-domed Mosque and the resting-place of Allah’s Habeeb (saw). As if pointing up the enslavement of the rulers of Arabia, these vulgar symbols of pomp and luxury have been erected by the Saudi princes—who ‘own’ almost all the buildings around the two holiest Mosques of Islam—by annihilating the historical sites of Madinah. Thus, just across from the Prophet’s Mosque, on a street that still bears his name, the house of Abu Dharr Ghifari (ra) is no more; likewise the well in the courtyard of Masjid al-Quba, the first mosque of Islam, where the Prophet of Islam (saw) one day sat with his Companions (ra), has disappeared. Nor is any sign left of the date-palm garden that the first generation of Muslims planted to ransom Salman al-Farsi (ra) from his Jewish master, who had bought him from bandits, who had captured him by treachery while he was travelling in search of the true Prophet and the true faith. (The well was there until 1965, and I visited the garden in 1997).
This systematic campaign to obliterate all traces of the life and times of the Prophet of Islam (saw), and of his Companions (ra), is not merely the result of greed for money; there is a distorted belief-system behind it as well. In fact, the Saudis have committed most of their crimes against Islamic civilization ostensibly to purify Islam. From a misconstruction of the views of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab on tauheed (monotheism), the Saudis have derived a license to erase all visible reminders of the inspiring life of the Prophet of Islam. And they claim to do all this in the name of Islam, to preserve its monotheism.
This terrible effort to reduce Islam to a set of dry, ineffectual personal beliefs, rather than a living and vibrant faith that commands its followers to act to establish Allah’s vicegerency on earth, has also destroyed some of the most stirring monuments of Islamic history: Badr, the site of the first battle between the Muslims and the Quraysh, the place where Allah sent angelic troops to help the believers, is now a heap of rubble. The site of the Battle of the Trench (6 AH) has been obliterated by a new road. This place, still known as Sab’ Masajid ("seven mosques"), has been shrinking for many years; in August 2002 there were only four of the original seven left, and one of those four, that of Fatima (ra), was locked.
All of this is a crime against Islamic civilization and history. It also shows how our enemies are busy at large-scale social engineering of Muslim history and consciousness. The Saudis’ crude efforts to efface the memory of the Prophet (saw) from the awareness of those who visit his Mosque today is nowhere so painfully apparent as in the now disfigured, partially erased and painted-over calligraphy that used to decorate the pillars of the Prophet’s Mosque. Those stunning calligraphic motifs, the flowering of Islamic art, the work of some of the best artisans of the Ottoman period, are no more. Those expressions of unbounded love for the Prophet, chiseled, engraved and calligraphed by reverend hands, now cry out to the Muslims for their ruthless murder.
These are, however, not the only crimes of the ruling clan that has occupied Islam’s cradle and homeland. Their enslavement to the West, their distorted faith and their greed for riches and comfort, have combined to produce one of the worst police states in the world. Their social policies have resulted in the widespread use of drugs throughout occupied Arabia. Expatriates working there report a terrible breakdown of family life, such as young men who stay away from their classes to protect their mothers from their fathers, who habitually beat their wives in order to find excuses to divorce them so that they can marry younger women while still remaining within the limit of four wives. They also tell of various conferences that have been held in the Intercontinental Hotel, in front of the Haram in Makkah, which non-Muslims (Jews, Christians and atheists) have attended. This is a violation of the Qur’anic injunction that such people are not allowed in the sanctified precinct.
In their mental enslavement to a dry, ritualistic and empty set of beliefs, the Saudi usurpers have not only committed crimes against the memory of the Prophet of Islam (saw); they have also submitted the Hajj to the same degradation. In an open and defiant rejection of the practice of the Prophet (saw) and his Companions (ra), the court-appointed imams today merely repeat ritual formulas in their khutbas (sermons), without addressing the issues and difficulties faced by the Ummah today. They speak not from their hearts, but from their stomachs. Their copy-book khutbas are devoid of effective words to stir the hearts and consciences of the pilgrims to go forth and help their brethren in faith who are suffering in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq and elsewhere.
Given this state of affairs, the Ummah not only faces the task of liberating al-Quds, the third holiest place of Islam, but also of liberating its first two holy places, where a ruthless clan of debauched men is mocking the memory of the Prophet (saw) and his Companions (ra). The House of Allah cries out to be rescued and cleansed. True, there are no portraits or graven images in the Haram, and the Ka’aba is not occupied by those who openly associate others with Allah, as the Quraysh did. But the armed guards who now stand at the entrances to the Haram, often shouting at pilgrims, represent a modern form of shirk (association). These guards are the paid servants of those who are the slaves of greed, caprice and their own fancy, rather than willing and obedient worshipers of Allah. They have violated the commands of the Qur’an, they have desecrated the memory of the Last Prophet, and they have become like "those who sold their religion for a cheap price", as the Qur’an tells us (Q. 3:77). They have no right to call themselves guardians of Allah’s House; their profane presence there is a blasphemous affront.
There are more than 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today who face the Ka’aba in their daily prayers. These believers are the real guardians of the House. They constitute a unique community with a unique history; its desecration must not be permitted to continue. The places where the Noble Messenger (saw) once lived, the ground on which he walked, the air that received his words—all of these are the shared heritage of all believers (and ultimately of all human beings), that is being destroyed systematically by the Saudi regime and its patrons. The few places still standing face the threat of bulldozers, which have been working around these sanctuaries for decades. Al-Safa’ and al-Marwah, two of the signs of Allah (min sha’a’ir Allah, Q. 2:158) have already been destroyed. Last year I saw these terrible machines, controlled by their terrible masters, tearing apart Mount al-Qaboos, where Abu Qahafah of Banu Taim, the father of Abu Bakr Siddique (ra), once stood with his daughter, Qutaylah, to witness the arrival of the Prophet at Makkah to liberate it.
So there is an urgent need for Muslims to come together to form an international, Ummah-wide organisation whose task will be the preservation of historical sites. This body should coordinate the Muslims’ international pressure against the further destruction of Muslim historical sites and evidence. There are many in the West who have campaigned for the preservation of important sites of various other civilizations; similarly it is our duty to do likewise for our own past. One thing is absolutely certain: if we do not do this for ourselves and our descendants, no one else will do it for us. It is already the last minute; we must act now, before what little is still salvageable is also lost.