Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On the importance of history, Paris Hilton, and the destruction of the Prophet's gravesite

I remember touring the historic landmarks of London and Paris. We admired Westminster Abbey, and stood for more than a minute taking in the breathtaking view of the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking the river Seine. While I enjoyed my time in both cities and enjoyed them on an aesthetic level, it wasn't until I visited Turkey and Spain that I learned the emotional tug history and historic sites can have. Neither Turkey or Spain are my genetically ancestral homelands but visiting them, seeing the sites, I felt myself drawn in on a level that transcended mere aesthetic admiration. I felt a connection. Standing on the same streets where ancient thinkers once stood, taking in the same sunsets they once did-- it revealed to me a part of who I was. 

In 2001 I read horrified about the Taliban destroying ancient Buddhist statutes that stood the test of time for centuries succumbing to ignorant interpretations and intolerance. But this destruction of history and important artifacts are not limited to destroying that which is held dear by other faiths and cultures, that same religious school of thought is happy to destroy that which is dear to adherents of its own faith too as evidenced by the destruction-happy Saudis who have been toppling like legos all sites dear to Islam's cultural and religious heritage from Abu-Bakr's home [the first Caliph] razed to make a Hilton, to the house of the Prophet's wife Khadijah destroyed to create public bathrooms, his birth place, and his mother's grave site which was destroyed, leveled, and set alight. For what? To create luxury five-star hotels, penthouses, and malls for Paris Hilton's handbags.

Seeing the destruction of these sites, now replaced with hotels and penthouses made me think of the quote by Charles V who walked in on his people dismantling the Grand Mosque of Cordova with its brilliant architecture and designwork. He was horrified and ordered them to stop immediately lamenting to create something ordinary you destroyed something extraordinary.

If the Saudi destruction is any indication, it's a historic truth that we learn little from history.

Some might shrug and say the destruction is sad but nothing to get too worked up over, but as this article points out, this destruction of ancient religious sites is dangerous not just for the tourism value, but for other more important reasons as well:
It’s not just our heritage, it’s the evidence of the story of the Prophet,” What can we say now? ‘This parking lot was the first school of Islam’? ‘There used to be a mountain here where Mohammad made a speech’? … What’s the difference between history and legend?” “Evidence.
The destruction over the years is depressing and frustrating- but today.... today I am rendered speechless upon hearing the Saudi government intends to destroy the gravesite, the tomb, the final resting place of our beloved Prophet Muhammad later this year.

Someone once remarked that the historic sites of Mecca and Medina should be granted independent status like The Vatican- funded by all Muslim countries and decisions about those sites, dear to billions of people worldwide, made by a collective whole of the faith, not the people who happened to be born in the area where the sites reside. Reading about the newest intention to raze the tomb of the Prophet I can't help but agree. I am outraged. I am furious. And yet there is nothing I can do. No change.org petition or twitter hashtag to start- nothing can be done. They will do what they will do, and in doing so take away any signs of the origins of the faith. In my lifetime, all evidence of the origins of my faith will be gone. In pursuing the creation of ordinary they will continue to destroy that which can never again be replicated.

We'll be remembered more for what we destroy than what we create.” - Palahniuk

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Salaam sis, I respectfully agree with them on this one. For more info, you can read here: http://islamqa.info/en/110061
As a practicing Muslim who holds my faith very dear to me, I understand the reasoning behind why this is happening, and I agree with it. I would advise Muslims to study our faith and its origins, ask scholars for their opinion, etc. rather than get information from sources like Wiki and LATimes articles that inevitably skew the point of view instead of spreading that of our deen. There are so many extremely special sites in Makkah and Medinah that Muslims are encouraged to visit that they do not even know about, like this: http://muslimmatters.org/2013/05/24/9-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-prophets-mosque/, or knowing about the details of hajj: http://muslimmatters.org/2010/10/22/some-practical-tips-for-hajj-mabroor/. I think it's important to focus on the importance of the sites that Allah swt told us to pay attention to, rather than the other way around. Anyway, that's my take on it. :)

Aisha said...

Salaam Anonymous- I appreciate your respectful disagreement with the piece. Honestly, if we could have more dialogue in this manner, it would be so beneficial for everyone. I appreciate you sharing your perspective on the matter- that being said, my linking to the articles/wikipedia were not to cite any islamic POV but to cite facts about destruction taking place which news papers and wikipedia [when it has cite verifications] can effectively do. As for visiting sites people do not know about, that's great to spread awareness but I disagree with destroying historic sites or razing the grave of the prophet. If an outsider came and did this, it would be deemed a grave insult but for "our own"no one bats an eye? Additionally, these historic sites aren't being razed to make spaces for poor people to reside or find shelter during Hajj/Umrah they are all being done in pursuit of helping the rich be more comfortable and allowing the wealthiest people in the world to shop in style after salaat and to have luxury accomodations. I understand your approval of their actions because you identify with the intent they put on paper but I also see that what they are destroying and replacing isn't exactly noble but more in pursuit of the golden calf (i.e. greed].

I know that we both share different perspectives on this and that I will not be able to change your point of view, and neither will you be able to change my point of view, but I respect you and thank you for sharing. Salaam.

Anonymous said...

Salam alaykum Aisha!

Love your blog! I'm a long-time reader, but first time commenter. I understand your point of view, history and culture are intimately tied to certain places, and it is sad that they're being destroyed. I know you meant it lightheartedly, but I wouldn't call the constant construction and take downs by Saudis "destruction-happy" though.

It was hard for me to understand why so much construction/destruction was always going in Makkah until I visited very recently. The truth is, there is simply not enough space. Those huge towers and even shopping malls are incredibly vital to the pilgrims that attend (maybe not the high-end stores so much though). There are tons of elderly, very young, and weak pilgrims that visit the Grand Mosque every year. Having close accommodations- food, housing, sanitation- even if it means having large hotels nearby is necessary to ease the burden on pilgrims. I'm in my mid-20s and pretty fit, but still, walking from a hotel even half a mile away in the hot hot Saudi Arabian sun is exhausting.

I'm trying to think and think, but to be honest, I'm not sure what else the Saudis could do. All the important landmarks you mentioned were incredibly close to the Kabah - sectioning off those parts of the mosque would mean having housing and even bathrooms further away the mosque. And while I do agree that landmarks are important, I don't think they're more important than making pilgrimage (which is difficult by itself, given the crowds and the heat and the rushed schedules) easier on visitors.

As a side note, one of the best things I like about Islam is that we don't create celebrity statuses for anyone in the religion. We don't have pictures of anyone, even someone as important of the Prophet pbuh. Sure, it would be interesting and maybe even spiritually uplifting to see what he looked like, where he lived etc, but it's not too big a deal for us - we stress importance on his words and his actions. I think this lack of symbolism really allows Islam to be adaptable by any culture.

My thoughts are in a bit of a jumble right now, so I'd love to hear your take on this Aisha.

And thank you again for starting this discussion!

Anonymous said...

Same anonymous from above, just wanted to add: I agree with you about the luxury accommodations. We definitely need the hotel towers, but they don't need to be 5-star hotels (although I do believe they offer subsidized rates to those who are unable to pay). They definitely need to be accessible by all, and not just the elite.

mystic-soul said...

Aisha...Baat to tumhari sach hai....magar baat hai ruswaai ki

Saudis are idiots! All societies preserve their history and culture - set aside its religious value for other muslim sects. Accommodations can be arranged little far and buses/shuttles/trains can run...but...Its all about comfort and doing Haj and Umrah with luxury and, bringing more money. Value of Haj is lost when I see people flashing iPhones, playing iPad and looking for AC and good food right at Haram.

Haj is no more a religious ritual, its a tourism.

BTW - I will not be surprise if someday I hear a strip club serving sexual needs of Hujjaj in near by Dubai (pun intended)

katery said...

palahniuk is one of my FAVORITE authors, do you read his books? another of my favorite quotes:
in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

martin luther king, jr.

Aisha said...

Anonymous, thanks for sharing your POV [and again, thank you for doing so in a manner that encourages dialogue and not defensiveness]. I see your points of view, but like Mystic Soul said in his post, perhaps they could instead invest money and infrastructure to have buses/shuttles/trains run to the holy sites and not situate everything right on top of each other. They are spending billions why not on this? Also, these sites are only now being razed after thousands of years, in my lifetime. Why the need now? More and more people? Why not limit the amount of people allowed? Sure, that stinks to have less people able to do Hajj yearly but if the cost is destruction then I'd rather have that. Can'ts peak to other countries but know for af act at least everyone I know has done Hajj multiple times- perhaps bans on people going more than once in a certain time span-- I do'nt know, just suggesting alternatives- I don't believe that this had to happen. And as for the hotels, my husband recently did Hajj and from all others I know who have been, the poor are most certainly not accomodated, if they offer subdized housing in the luxury places its something I have not seen implemented on any sort of large scale level. In fact its harder for the poor because they have to travel further and stay further away due to the luxury sites so close by. THAT being said, I do appreciate the Saudis consider all Hajjis guests of their 'kingdom' and offer free healthcare during the duration of their stay.

Again, this is just my POV and I respect you have your own take on the situation- and in my POV this is definitely a sad situation. . .

Kate- I have not! I will look him up now that you said that. ANDDDDDD KATE!!!!!! Where have you been girl?! have missed you!!!

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