IMPORTANT: please pass on

Read the full text to see the shocking actions and statements by the Saudi regime.

Mecca Bucks: Why Saudis invited Starbucks to Islam’s holiest city


Zvika Krieger, The New Republic Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Multinational capitalism and its edifices rise in the shadow of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

According to some popular Muslim accounts, the marble Kaaba structure at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca was built first by the angels before God created mankind, reconstructed by Adam, and later rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael. It’s safe to say that none of these builders could have anticipated the latest use of the Mosque’s image, in a promotional DVD for the Abraj Al Bait Towers, a giant new skyscraper complex slated to be built just across the street from one of the entrances to the Grand Mosque. The DVD shows a beautiful woman sitting in one of the towers’ luxury apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook thousands of pilgrims circling the Kaaba below. Eyes flashing a come-hither stare from beneath her tightly wound headscarf, she asks prospective buyers in Arabic, “Would you like to be here in this place in front of the Kaaba year after year?”

Unlike the United Arab Emirates, with its Western-friendly, oil-money-flush megalopolises Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia had, until very recently, resisted commercializing its major cities–particularly Mecca, site of Islam’s holiest relics, where millions of pilgrims flock yearly to perform the hajj. But the dramatic rise in global oil prices, and the construction boom across Saudi Arabia that followed, has finally caught up with the city where Mohammed was born.

A report by the Saudi British Bank (SABB), one of the kingdom’s biggest lenders, estimates that $30 billion will be invested in construction and infrastructure in Mecca over the next four years from local and foreign companies. Up to 130 new skyscrapers are anticipated, including the $6 billion Abraj Al Bait Towers, a seven-tower project that, once completed in 2009, will be one of the largest buildings in the world, with a 60-floor, 2,000-room hotel; a 1,500-person convention center; two heliports; and a four-story mall that will house, among 600 other outlets, Starbucks, The Body Shop, U.K.-based clothing line Topshop (Kate Moss is a guest designer), and Tiffany & Co. En route to the hajj, pilgrims already have the opportunity to stop at cosmetic superstore MAC, perfumery VaVaVoom, and Claire’s Accessories. H&M and Cartier are on the way. “All the top brands are flocking here,” says John Sfakianakis, SABB’s chief economist. “The only thing missing is Filene’s Basement.”

The boom is coinciding with Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy, as well as its joining of the WTO in 2005, which forced the kingdom to open its retail sector to foreign companies. Still, it’s not surprising that multinational capitalism has honed in on this market: Lots of tourists on vacation, no matter how holy, tend to have a lax grip on their wallets. But, to pull off this remarkable transformation of Islam’s spiritual seat, including the destruction of many sites with sacred histories to make way for malls and luxury condos, the luxe brands of the world have had to lean on some unlikely allies.

Irfan Al Alawi, the founder and former Executive director the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation and the most vocal opponent of the destruction of Mecca’s historic sites, lives in a house in Mecca built mostly out of salvage from demolished Meccan buildings: hulking wooden doors, intricately carved panels, and ancient stone columns. As the scion of a prominent Hadhrami family descending from the prophet Mohammed, the 40 year old historian has a significant amount of leeway to criticize the government–often joking with the secret police guards stationed outside his house to track his comings and goings (Saudis are thrown into prison on a daily basis for much less).

Alawi uses his freedom to rail against the transformation of his hometown, giving presentations to groups of businessmen about the obliteration of Islam’s most significant places. Alawi estimates that over 300 antiquity sites in Mecca and Medina have already been destroyed, such as the house of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, which was leveled to make room for the Mecca Hilton Hotel. (According to Ivor McBurney, a spokesman for Hilton, “We saw the tremendous opportunities to tap into Saudi Arabia’s religious tourism segment.”)

“It’s not just our heritage, it’s the evidence of the story of the Prophet,” Alawi says, sitting in his incense-filled living room, dressed in his trademark woollen cloak and intricately wound turban–itself an act of rebellion against the austere white robes and simple headdresses that Saudi men are expected to wear. “What can we say now? ‘This parking lot was the first school of Islam’? ‘There used to be a mountain here where Mohammed made a speech’? … What’s the difference between history and legend?” he asks. “Evidence.”

Over protests by groups like the Islamic Supreme Council of America and the Muslim Canadian Congress, Saudi authorities have authorized the destruction of hundreds of antiquities, such as an important eighteenth-century Ottoman fortress in Mecca that was razed to make way for the Abraj Al Bait Towers– a move the Turkish foreign minister condemned as “cultural genocide.” An ancient house belonging to Mohammed was recently razed to make room for, among other developments, a public toilet facility. An ancient mosque belonging to Abu Bakr has now been replaced by an ATM machine. And the sites of Mohammed’s historic battles at Uhud and Badr have been, with a perhaps unconscious nod to Joni Mitchell, paved to put up a parking lot. The remaining historical religious sites in Mecca can be counted on one hand and will likely not make it much past the next hajj, Alawii says: “It is incredible how little respect is paid to the house of God.”

Ironically, however, some major culprits in disrespecting the “house of God” are Wahhabi clerics, crusading to destroy Mecca’s historical landmarks, which they fear will lead to idolatry. Developers are often tipped off by the cleric-run ministries about future construction plans. And the Abraj Al Bait Towers are being partially funded by the government through the King Abdul Aziz Endowment, which the towers’ developers describe as “a religious property” created to serve interests “vital to the welfare of Islamic society.”

Prominent clerics often speak out against conservation efforts like Alawi’s–in fact, it was Wahhabis who ran him out of his job in Mecca in the first place, after his increasingly bold criticisms of government policy irked the clerical elite.

“It is not permitted to glorify buildings and historical sites,” proclaimed Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baz, then the kingdom’s highest religious authority, in a much-publicized fatwa in 1994. “Such action would lead to polytheism. … [S]o it is necessary to reject such acts and to warn others away from them.”

A pamphlet published last year by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and distributed at the Prophet’s Mosque, where Mohammed, Abu Bakr, and the Islamic Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab are buried, reads, “The green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet’s Mosque,” according to Alawi, executive director of the London-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. This shocking sentiment was echoed in a speech by the late Muhammad ibn Al Uthaymeen, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent Wahhabi clerics, who delivered sermons in Mecca’s Grand Mosque for over 35 years: “We hope one day we’ll be able to destroy the green dome of the Prophet Mohammed,” he said, in a recording provided by Al Alawi.

The clerics’ stance permits the Saudi government to play it both ways, in a perfect marriage of the secular and spiritual. It can destroy ancient sites and still maintain doctrinal credibility; the massive, capitalistic accumulation of wealth becomes a religious necessity, not an evil. “The government has finally woken up to the commercial value of religious tourism,” Sfakianakis says, “and they are really the ones driving this construction boom in Mecca.”

Saudi officials excuse the unsavoury aspects of the development by arguing that it will help ease the housing and services crunch caused by an explosion in the number of pilgrims (while about 2.4 million hajjis visited Mecca last year, some estimate that, over the next decade, the number could rise to 20 million per year). They dismiss critics like Alawi as having an overly sentimental attachment to historical sites. “It is equally fundamentalist to say that we have to keep everything exactly the way it was while the world around us is changing every day,” says Nabeel Koshak, an associate professor at the government-funded Umm Al Qura University in Mecca. Habib Zain Al Abideen, the Saudi deputy minister of municipal and rural affairs, head of all the kingdom’s hajj-related construction projects, calls the hajj “a good opportunity to visit Mecca and Medina, do some shopping, make a vacation out of it.”

Zvika Krieger is a deputy web editor at The New Republic.

21 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Katie said,

    Hello everyone-

    I am a student at New York University and I’m actually working on a globalization group research project on this exact article for my Global Affairs class. Part of my research is to get the point of view of critics of these actions presented in the article above. I’d like to know what Muslims think about globalization and how it is affecting Mecca and the holy sites within. Basically, I want to hear your feedback.

    Please feel free to start a dialogue as I’d love to hear what you all have to say, whether you are for or against all this. I look forward to reading the responses! Thanks!


  2. 2

    Haider said,


    Try this link to see what people have said on Islamic forums:

    These two links show how Muslims should respect their heritage and that which is connected to the pious Muslims throughout history:

    As to your question on globalisation, this should provide some assistance:

    PS: Apologies for so many links. I’m a bit busy so have’nt got time to write a lengthy reply. I will try to post something in in a couple of days time. God willing.

  3. 3

    Katie said,

    Many many thanks!! I really appreciate you taking the time to help!


  4. 4

    […] Edited: 03/23/2008 at 04:16 PM by The Global Islamic Community Moderator […]

  5. 5

    […] Edited: 03/23/2008 at 04:16 PM by The Global Islamic Community Moderator […]

  6. 6

    ramzan said,

    i will pray for u because u r doing a good let me no is it so.

    they are domolishing holy sites.

  7. 7

    Haider said,

    As’salamu ‘alaykum,

    Jazak’Allahu khayr for your kind words Sidi.

    If you want more articles on this subject then let me know.

    • 8

      uzma amin attarya said,


      I want to download the video of Goole earth shows that HAZRAT MUHAMMAD (PEACE BE UPON HIM) is right. How can i download and share it with people.

      • 9

        Haider said,

        walaykum as’salaam,

        Just provide the link to the video and people can see it that way, Insha’Allah Azza wa’jal.

        Ya Ghousul-Azam Madad!

  8. 10

    mohammed said,

    Give me a sword i want to kill all these wahabis

  9. 11

    Haider said,

    As’salamu ‘alaykum,

    Violence is not the answer my friend. Have patience, Insha’Allah Aza wa jal.

    The Pseudo-Salafis (Wahhabis) came into power by killing Muslims. We do not want to do the same. Instead, lets focus on firstly educating ourselves and then the confused individuals who blindly follow the corrupt Aqida of Mouhammed abdul wahhab najdi. This will enable us to intellectually defeat these Pseudo-Salafis.

  10. 12

    Sadique Akhter said,

    Assalam O Alaikum,
    It is really shameful for the robber Saud’s predecessors. but it is also true that Qayamat has to come and all these happenings are anticipated by the Beloved Prophet Sallallaho alaihi wasallam. We have to keep patience and try to save our Imaan.Insha Allah Aj-wajal everything will be accordingly Hamare aaqa sallallaho alaihi wasallam.

  11. 13

    Hashmi said,

    I was wondering – is that really true? About the green dome on destruction list? I cant believe it. I was there 2 weeks ago, in Madina and am dismayed at the amount of history they have destroyed.. but still – the green dome? They wouldnt dare… or would they? 😦

  12. 14

    Haider said,

    Yes, sadly it is true. Dr Irfan Alawi has the recording and I have heard it myself.

  13. 15

    Mohamed Sadiq said,


    i’ve read the article and i’m shocked! knowing that it is true is just very saddening.

    i thank you for putting up this article. And InsyaAllah i shall pray for you. And may Allah and His Rasool Bless you for your work and give you more and more in this life and the hereafter.

    just a sharing; One scholar/Shaykh said that Mecca should be left alone, because ultimately Mecca is a sacred holy land and it should be left to Allah to care for its visitors or pilgrims who come only for Allah and nothing else. Like the story of Abraha & the elephant army who came to destroy the Kaabah, the Prophet SAW Grandfather who was the Chief of Mecca at that time did not put up any defences, because he said that Mecca belongs to Allah and only Allah will handle its affairs. My (Prophet SAW Grandfather) job is to ensure the safety of the people. and surely as mention in the Holy Quran the enemy was defeated solely with the power of Allah.


  14. 16

    Mohamed Sadiq said,


    Oh, and 1 more thing.

    May i have the permission to take extracts of the article???

  15. 17

    Haider said,


    The article was taken form ‘The New Republic’ and was written by a person whom I know. So, unless that site has an issue, I’m sure you can take extracts from the article. Insha’Allah Azza wa’jal.

  16. 18

    Rabiya said,

    Assalam waleakum

    Brother Haider

    MashaAllah ur site is helpfull for us

    your from Ahle sunnath wala jamath

    khuda hafiz

  17. 19

    Ismaail said,

    Dear Brothers/ Sister in Islam,
    Assalaamu alaikum Wa reahmathullaahi Wa barakaathuhu !
    I am glad to see these Sunni website blog and request to publish my website to help me for a cause of building a Madrassa.For details visit website

    “Appeal to all Muslim Brothers and Sisters”
    Having read about JHNU and its vision now to make it real we need your arms .We have identified a land in Bangalore at Marenahalli Village Jala Hobli (near Devanahalli Airport). The cost of site per square feet is 450/- (Indian Rupees) We have booked one site of 1200 Square feet and reserved one site of 1200 Square feet along with this we also have 1200 square feets of site land allocated to Masjid by the Site builder.The cost of per site is valued at Five lakhs(5,00,000)Indian Rupees Its a very ideal location and we have to settle the complete amount by the end of November 2010. Please help as much you can.Give your Zakat, Sadqa , Fitra & Volunteer Donations.Please act now click on “Jazaak Allahu Khaira”

  18. 20

    ashraf said,

    starbucks also providing free coffee to american soldier in iraq war….killing innocent people

  19. 21

    mustafa said,


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