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Turkey v. Saudi Arabia
Top Turkish Muslim Slams Saudi Arabia for "Destroying" Mecca

As the hajj begins this week, Turkey’s chief religious authority assailed Saudi Arabia for building skyscrapers in Mecca, saying that the building project “destroys history,” dwarfs the holy shrine there, and impiously allows Muslims to look down upon the Kaaba. The accusation increases the religious dimension of the recent geopolitical strife between the two nations. The Daily Hurriyet reports:

 “I told the Saudi minister of the Hajj that it is considered wrong in our culture to look down on the Kaaba. ‘Then how did you look over it while traveling with an aircraft [over Mecca],’ the Saudi minister asked me. Well, this is another point of view,” Professor Dr. Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), told a group of journalists in Mecca on Sept. 29.

As millions of Muslims perform the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, the ongoing construction boom in oil-rich Saudi Arabia is again being questioned, particularly due to the transformation it has triggered around the Kaaba, a structure believed to have originally been built by Abraham, a prophet according to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The cuboid building is at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque, the al-Masjid al-Haram, which is now surrounded by several high rises, including the 260-meter-high ZamZam Tower.

The ongoing Saudi destruction of historic Mecca is attracting the attention of the West as well: it was the focus of the lead opinion piece, by Ziauddin Sardar, in the New York Times today. The Saudis aren’t just disregarding history, they’re pursuing the basic ideology of their state. Saudi Arabia is the product of the alliance between the Al Saud and the Wahabbi movement. From its inception in the 18th century Wahhabism has been infamous, within Islam and without, for its fanatical iconoclasm when confronted with any potential object of shirk, the Islamic term for idolatrous polytheism. Just as the Byzantine and Protestant iconoclasts destroyed Christian “idols,” shirk as imagined by the Saudis mandates the destruction of objects associated with Islam. For this reason, as Sardar points out in the Times, they have demolished the homes of some of Mohammed’s closest followers, and Saudi clerics have pushed for the destruction of the house of the Prophet himself.

The immense cultural loss (not to mention the tackiness of the new buildings raised atop the destroyed sites) is obvious, but there is also a religio-spiritual angle to Turkey’s criticism. The historical Ottoman Sultanate and the current King of Saudi Arabia share the title of “Protector of the Two Holy Places,” Mecca and Medina. When the First Saudi State captured the Hedjaz in 1805, the Sultan was compelled to protect the Hajj pilgrims by sending an Egyptian invasion to drive the Wahabbis to the desert backwater from which they came. Ever since then, the Saudis have sought to “protect” the Holy Places and purify Islam by destroying Arabia’s historical sites. By assaulting the Saudis on these grounds, the Turks both flex their neo-Ottoman muscles and undermine a regional rival simultaneously.

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  • Fat_Man

    Why should we care what they do. The real monument to Islam is the millions of graves of its victims. The absolute best thing that could happen to their so called holy places is that they be burned down, plowed under, and sewn with salt.

  • jburack

    ISIS has put the concept of the caliphate back on the table. Perhaps Turkey is flexing its muscles in anticipation of a showdown with Saudi Arabia for the mantle, once ISIS is reigned in, which will certainly happen. Iran must also have some designs along these lines. All for what? Just the latest chapter in the relentless pursuit of division and marginality. Once their oil is gone or at least the monopoly on it wittled down, this will become clear. For now, it only endangers everyone.

  • FriendlyGoat

    All this means is that someone from a high place in Turkey is nuttier than we wish for any real progress to be taking place in Turkey. As long as Islamic details are considered important, everything of actual importance is in peril.

  • lukelea

    You’d think that meteorite they all worship would be condemned as shirk too? Definitely predated the Prophet.

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