The holiest place in Islam is undergoing an enormous facelift. Not very many Westerners seem to realize, or care.Basharat Peer writes about the hajj in this week’s New Yorker. What he found in Mecca is at once tragic and awesome. The Saudis, it seems, are eager “to erase all vestiges of the past.” The Saudis Wahhabi faith decrees that “revering structures with ties to the Prophet can lead to idolatrous practices.” So, only days after soldiers of King Abdul-Aziz al-Saud conquered Mecca in 1924, the destruction of buildings associated with the Prophet began, including his presumed birthplace and the house of his wife Khadijah. A 221-year old Ottoman fortress that stood a few hundred feet from one of Mecca’s gates was demolished in 2002. A Turkish minister described this action as “no different from the pulling down of the Buddha monuments in Afghanistan.” Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud is at work on another project that will enlarge the space around the Kaaba by demolishing the Ottoman portico and older pillars surrounding the courtyard of the Grand Mosque, which Peer calls the most beautiful parts of the mosque.With the destruction of the old comes the construction of the new. Money is no issue. King Abdullah, the current monarch, has overseen the building, at a cost of $2 billion, of the Clock Tower complex, a “cluster of connected towers housing a multistory shopping mall, food courts, a hospital, luxury hotels, prayer rooms, parking lots, and helipads. At almost two thousand feet, the Clock Tower is seven times the height of the minarets of the Grand Mosque.” Hotels on the upper floors can host 65,000 guests, and rooms cost thousands of dollars per night. Numerous other construction projects are under way, most of which involve complexes of hotels, shopping malls, designer outlets, and restaurants. Mobile-phone company trucks distribute sun umbrellas advertising “the superiority of the company’s connectivity and bandwidth.” The location used for the ritual Stoning of the Devil, an important part of the hajj, “looks like a massive parking garage.” It cost the Binladin Group $1.1 billion to construct.Glass, steel, and cement structures now dominate Mecca’s skyline. The Saudis believe they are creating something for the glory of God; their aim is for everyone who completes the hajj to return home with stories of Mecca’s magnificence. Yet many Muslims decry the modern architecture and rampant consumer culture now on view.According to the article in the New Yorker, the Prophet Mohammed is said to have given a hint about the end of the world: it will come “When destitute camel herders compete in building tall structures.”If you have a New Yorker subscription, check out Basharat Peer’s illuminating account of the hajj; it’s worth a read.