Monday, September 28, 2009

"Where the Prophet Trod, He Begs, Tread Lightly"

The 8th Shawwal (of the Muslim lunar calendar) marks the tragic demolition of Jannatul al-Baqi. Jannatul al-Baqi is a cemetery in Medina, adjoining the Prophet's Mosque. Buried there are Wives and Companions of the Prophet, several noble personalities of the Ahlul Bayt (the noble progeny of the Prophet Mohammad), and a host of lesser luminaries from the spiritual and intellectual history of Islam. This was done by the forces of King Abdul Aziz al-Saud in the year 1345 AH (April 21, 1925) (Algar 2002:43).

This was the second time the Saudi-Wahhabis engaged in the sacrilege of the two holy cities. From 1806 to 1812, during about six and a half years of their rule in the two cities, the Saudi-Wahhabis faithfully engaged in their (now) signature activity of dome demolition. In Mecca, the domes over the houses reputed to have been the birthplaces of the Prophet, Khadijat al-Kubra, Imam Ali, and Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, were destroyed, and the tombs and mausolea in the historic cemetery of al-Ma'la were levelled to the ground. In Medina, the treasury of the Prophet's Mosque was plundered but attempts to demolish the dome surmounting the grave of the Prophet were abandoned when several of the zealots entrusted with the task fell providentially to their deaths (Algar 2002:27). About four years earlier, in 1801/2, Saudi-Wahhabi forces had similarly pillaged the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq, the place of martyrdom and burial of Imam Husayn (Algar 2002:24).

Around the year 1818, the Ottamans carried out the reconstruction of the razed places of the two holy cities. Between 1848 and 1860, further renovations were made at the expense of nearly seven hundred thousand pounds, most of which came from the donations collected at the Prophet's tomb.

However, these sites were demolished once again in 1925. The sacrilege and destruction of sacred sites in Hijaz by the Saudis continues till this day.

See Jannatul al-Baqi pictures before and after the demolition here

Also see a previous post on the topic, here

Here is a poignant piece from NY Times:

Where the Prophet Trod, He Begs, Tread Lightly
Published: Friday, February 15, 2002

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia ? Sami Angawi built his house around the wind.

The Saudi architect began with the corner that catches the north wind from Syria and the west wind from the Red Sea. He designed the three- story structure from there.

He laid mosaic tiles on the floor of an indoor swimming pool that he lined with green pillars. He found a 300-year-old carved wooden door in old Mecca, white stone at the Red Sea, ceramics in Morocco and Turkey and inlaid wood in Syria. He designed stained-glass windows, a Japanese-style dining area with sunken brocade-covered seats and a roof garden where he sometimes sleeps under the stars.

In a kingdom that has come to value the new, because the old recalls backwardness and poverty, Dr. Angawi is struggling to preserve the past.

"Islamic architecture is the outward reflection of culture and civilization," he said over cardamom coffee and cookies of dates and nuts.

"The goal is to find calmness, tranquillity and peace in your surroundings, the same as you do with a soul mate."

To this end, Dr. Angawi has embarked on a treacherous campaign: to record and save what remains of the historic sites of Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, and Medina, which houses his tomb.

Dr. Angawi's mission runs counter to the kingdom's longest and most ambitious building project: the never-ending modernization of the two holiest sites of Islam with roads, tunnels, housing and parking lots for the more than two million pilgrims who visit each year. That has meant the razing or covering over of hundreds of historical sites, many of them relating to the life and times of Muhammad, Dr. Angawi said.

The most recent demolition came several weeks ago when Saudi authorities ignored protests from Turkey and destroyed an 18th-century Ottoman castle overlooking Mecca's Grand Mosque.

The six-acre site of the Al Ajyad fortress, which was built by the ruling Ottomans to protect the city and its Muslim shrines from invaders, will be used now for high-rise residences, a five-star hotel, a trade center and a parking lot. One of the two main contractors for the $120 million development plan is the bin Laden family.

Turkey's culture minister, Istemihan Talay, called the Saudi action a "cultural massacre." The Saudi minister of Islamic affairs, Saleh bin Abdul-Aziz bin Muhammad al-Sheikh, insisted that the fortress was only being dismantled and would be rebuilt elsewhere.

But for Dr. Angawi, the razing of the fortress is part of a strategic decision to destroy monuments dating back to early Islam out of the misguided fear that they could become places of idol worship.

The decision illustrates that the Taliban's destruction of two 1,500- year-old giant Buddhas at Bamiyan last year, which drew international outrage, was not an isolated phenomenon, but is grounded in the harsh version of Islam dictated in Saudi Arabia.

In fact, there is a Saudi fatwa, or religious ruling, signed by the kingdom's most senior religious authorities in 1994, that allows the destruction of historical places as a way to discourage idolatry.

"It is not permitted to glorify buildings and historical sites," the fatwa stated. "Such action would lead to polytheism because people might think the places have spiritual value. And the prophet (peace be upon him) has forbidden building on or praying at graves because it is a form of polytheism. So it is necessary to reject such acts and to warn others away from them. May God guide us all."

A copy of Fatwa No. 16626, which has never been made public, was obtained by The New York Times . Dr. Angawi said the fatwa appeared authentic.

The struggle to preserve his country's religious heritage has been a long and painful one for Dr. Angawi, who said he is now "close to 50." He studied architecture at the University of Texas and focused on the architecture of Mecca for his doctorate at the University of London.

In 1975, he created the Hajj Research Center in Jidda to fill in the historical gaps relating to the pilgrimage to Mecca. But in the face of opposition, he abruptly resigned in 1988. "It was like seeing my children killed every day," he said.

In the library of his home, Dr. Angawi pulled out a 100-year-old photograph of Mecca and pointed out three forts and several mosques and schools that no longer exist. In recent years, a well where Muhammad is said to have dropped a ring has been paved over and the site of a major Islamic battle has become a parking lot.

"Can you imagine if the Jews found the home of Moses?" he asked. "It would be on every television news show, in every newspaper. Instead, the sites of the prophet are gone. The gardens that he walked in, the wells that he drew water from ? gone."

"I am loyal to my government," Dr. Angawi insisted. "My battle is with religious extremism."

He blamed what he called "our religious fanatics" for the demolition policy. But he said that he had found some refuge from such views in both his scholarly study of Islam and in his private life. He is using CD- ROM's to study Islamic texts and challenge rigid Islamic interpretations.

Dr. Angawi, the father of five, often fishes on the Red Sea. His wife of 30 years designs and sells traditional crafts from their home.

About a year ago, feeling the need for an "intellectual partner," he took a second wife, Fatina Anin Shaker, a well-known retired sociology professor 10 years his senior with a Ph.D. from Purdue University.

He informed his first wife of his decision, and neither he nor she wanted a divorce, he said. (In Islam, a man is allowed to have four wives.)

"I just wanted someone to make use of my creative mind," he said. "When you have so many sides, there should be something that completes you. And it was done in God's way."

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