By Daniel Howden
Saturday, 6 August 2005
Almost all of the rich and multi-layered history of the holy city is gone. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades.
Now the actual birthplace of the Prophet Mohamed is facing the bulldozers, with the connivance of Saudi religious authorities whose hard-line interpretation of Islam is compelling them to wipe out their own heritage.
It is the same oil-rich orthodoxy that pumped money into the Taliban as they prepared to detonate the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2000. And the same doctrine - violently opposed to all forms of idolatry - that this week decreed that the Saudis' own king be buried in an unmarked desert grave.
A Saudi architect, Sami Angawi, who is an acknowledged specialist on the region's Islamic architecture, told The Independent that the final farewell to
According to Dr Angawi - who has dedicated his life to preserving Islam's two holiest cities - as few as 20 structures are left that date back to the lifetime of the Prophet 1,400 years ago and those that remain could be bulldozed at any time. "This is the end of history in
The driving force behind the demolition campaign that has transformed these cities is Wahhabism. This, the austere state faith of
The motive behind the destruction is the Wahhabists' fanatical fear that places of historical and religious interest could give rise to idolatry or polytheism, the worship of multiple and potentially equal gods.
As John R. Bradley notes in his new book Saudi Arabia Exposed, the practice of idolatry in the kingdom remains, in principle at least, punishable by beheading. And Bradley also points out this same literalism mandates that advertising posters can and need to be altered. The walls of Jeddah are adorned with ads featuring people missing an eye or with a foot painted over. These "deliberate imperfections" are the most glaring sign of an orthodoxy that tolerates nothing which fosters adulation of the graven image. Nothing can, or can be seen to, interfere with a person's devotion to Allah.
"At the root of the problem is Wahhabism," says Dr Angawi. " They have a big complex about idolatry and anything that relates to the Prophet."
The Wahhabists now have the birthplace of the Prophet in their sights. The site survived redevelopment early in the reign of King Abdul al-Aziz ibn Saud 50 years ago when the architect for a library there persuaded the absolute ruler to allow him to keep the remains under the new structure. That concession is under threat after Saudi authorities approved plans to "update" the library with a new structure that would concrete over the existing foundations and their priceless remains.
Dr Angawi is the descendant of a respected merchant family in Jeddah and a leading figure in the Hijaz - a swath of the kingdom that includes the holy cities and runs from the mountains bordering
He is not alone in his concerns. The Gulf Institute, an independent news-gathering group, has publicised what it says is a fatwa, issued by the senior Saudi council of religious scholars in 1994, stating that preserving historical sites "could lead to polytheism and idolatry".
Ali al-Ahmed, the head of the organisation, formerly known as the Saudi Institute, said: "The destruction of Islamic landmarks in Hijaz is the largest in history, and worse than the desecration of the Koran."
Most of the buildings have suffered the same fate as the house of Ali-Oraid, the grandson of the Prophet, which was identified and excavated by Dr Angawi. After its discovery, King Fahd ordered that it be bulldozed before it could become a pilgrimage site.
"The bulldozer is there and they take only two hours to destroy everything. It has no sensitivity to history. It digs down to the bedrock and then the concrete is poured in," he said.
Similarly, finds by a Lebanese professor, Kamal Salibi, which indicated that once-Jewish villages in what is now
This depressing pattern of excavation and demolition has led Dr Angawi and his colleagues to keep secret a number of locations in the holy cities that could date back as far as the time of Abraham.
The ruling House of Saud has been bound to Wahhabism since the religious reformer Mohamed Ibn abdul-Wahab signed a pact with Mohammed bin Saud in 1744. The combination of the al-Saud clan and Wahhab's warrior zealots became the foundation of the modern state. The House of Saud received its wealth and power and the hardline clerics got the state backing that would enable them in the decades to come to promote their Wahhabist ideology across the globe.
On the tailcoats of the religious zealots have come commercial developers keen to fill the historic void left by demolitions with lucrative high-rises.
"The man-made history of
With the annual pilgrimage expected to increase five-fold to 20 million in the coming years as Saudi authorities relax entry controls, estate agencies are seeing a chance to cash in on huge demand for accommodation.
"The infrastructure at the moment cannot cope. New hotels, apartments and services are badly needed," the director of a leading Saudi estate agency told Reuters.
Despite an estimated $13bn in development cash currently washing around
Dominating these new developments is the Jabal Omar scheme which will feature two 50-storey hotel towers and seven 35-storey apartment blocks - all within a stone's throw of the Grand Mosque.
Dr Angawi said: "
Whereas proposals for high-rise developments in
"The house where the Prophet received the word of God is gone and nobody cares," says Dr Angawi. "I don't want trouble. I just want this to stop."
Shame of the House of Saud: Shadows over
Previously unseen photographs (NOT PUBLISHED WITH THIS ARTICLE) reveal how religious zealots obsessed with idolatry have colluded with developers to destroy Islam's diverse heritage
By Daniel Howden
Wednesday, 19 April 2006
There is a growing shadow being cast over Islam's holiest site. Only a few metres from the walls of the Grand Mosque in
The tower blocks are the latest and largest evidence of the destruction of Islamic heritage that has wiped almost all of the historic city from the physical landscape. As revealed in The Independent last August,the historic cities of
Writing in response to the article, Prince Turki al-Faisal said that
This rebuttal sits at odds with a series of previously unseen photographs, published today, that document the demolition of key archaeological sites and their replacement with skyscrapers.
Saudi religious authorities have overseen a decades-long demolition campaign that has cleared the way for developers to embark on a building spree of multi-storey hotels, restaurants, shopping centres and luxury apartment blocks on a scale unseen outside
The Wahhabis live in fanatical fear that places of historical or religious interest could give rise to alternative forms of pilgrimage or worship. Their obsession with combating idolatry has seen them flatten all evidence of a past that does not agree with their interpretation of Islam.
Irfan Ahmed al-Alawi, the chairman of the Islamic Heritage Foundation, set up to help protect the holy sites, says the case of the grave of Amina bint Wahb, the mother of the Prophet, found in 1998, is typical of what has happened. "It was bulldozed in Abwa and gasoline was poured on it. Even though thousands of petitions throughout the Muslim world were sent, nothing could stop this action."
Today there are fewer than 20 structures remaining in
Yet the same oil-rich dynasty that pumped money into the Taliban regime as they blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas in
Lay people, and in some cases even
But that legitimacy has come at an enormous price for the diversity of Muslims who look to
Instead, the homogenisation of Islam's holiest sites was allowed to accelerate into a demolition campaign that now threatens the birthplace of the Prophet itself. The site survived the early reign of Ibn Saud 50 years ago when the architect for the planned library persuaded the absolute ruler to allow him to preserve the remains under the new structure. Saudi authorities now plan to "update" the site with a car park that would mean concreting over the remains.
"The al-Sauds need to rein in the Wahhabists now," warns Dr Yamani. "
Sami Angawi, a Hijazi architect who has devoted his life to a largely doomed effort to preserve what remains of the history of the world's greatest pilgrimage sites, said that the final farewell to Mecca was imminent. " What we are witnessing are the last days of
Giant cranes and half-constructed skyscrapers tower over the Grand Mosque in
ISLAMIC HERITAGE FOUNDATION
Mountain of light
The mountain of light, or al-Nour, is next in the Wahhabis' sights. Home to the Hira'a cave, it was here that the Prophet is said to have received the first verses of the Koran. Hardline clerics want it destroyed to stop pilgrims visiting. At the foot of the hill there is a Wahhabi fatwa: " The Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) did not permit us to climb on to this hill, not to pray here, not to touch stones, and tie knots on trees..."
ISLAMIC HERITAGE FOUNDATION
The Prophet's wife's grave
The ruins in the foreground are the remains of the grave of the Prophet's wife, Al Baqi, destroyed in the 1950s. The mutawi religious police are present night and day to prevent anyone placing flowers on the site, or even praying in the proximity of the graves
THE ISLAMIC HERITAGE FOUNDATION
Al Oraid Mosque
The 1,200-year-old mosque, site of the grave of the Prophet's grandson al-Oraid, is seen here being dynamited. Gathered around the site are Saudi religious police with their distinctive red scarves, who appear to be celebrating
THE ISLAMIC HERITAGE FOUNDATION
Dissident Watch: Sami Angawi
by Rachel Hoff
In 1975, Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect and scion of a respected merchant family, founded the
The Saudi royal family has since used Wahhabism to justify the destruction of historical sites throughout the region. Just as the Taliban argued as they dynamited the fifth-century C.E. giant Buddhas in
Saudi authorities tell foreigners that the destruction is based less on religious imperative than upon the need to provide more modern facilities to pilgrims. They say that construction of parking lots, high-rise apartment buildings, and hotels on top of old neighborhoods and religious sites enables greater access to the Hajj. Angawi dismisses such arguments. He counters that affluent Saudis lease the new apartments for prestige. In actuality, most religious pilgrims have no access to the new facilities.
Other incidents belie official explanations of convenience and access. After Angawi discovered and excavated the site of the house of Muhammad's grandson, Saudi king Fahd, fearing that it would become a pilgrimage site, ordered it razed. Angawi said, "The bulldozer is there, and they take only two hours to destroy everything. It has no sensitivity to history. It digs down to the bedrock and then the concrete is poured in." Frustrated, he has since kept secret the locations of his subsequent excavations, even reburying the remnants of the Prophet's home to spare it from the bulldozers.
Angawi is pessimistic about the future of the cradle of Islam. In an interview with The Independent, he said, "What we are witnessing are the last days of
Rachel Hoff is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.
 For background on the Saudi suppression of Hijazi identity, see, Mai Yamani, Cradle of Islam: The Hijaz and the Quest for an Arabian Identity (
 The Independent (
 New Statesman (
 The Independent, Aug. 6, 2005; The
 The Independent, Aug. 6, 2005; Turkish Daily News (
 Seminar in the house of Sami Angawi (attended by Michael Rubin),
 The Independent, Aug. 6, 2005.
INSIDE THE KINGDOM: PART III
February 19, 2002
Elizabeth Farnsworth interviews architect Sami Angawi in the final portion of her three-part series of reports from
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jeddah is a city of more than a million on the Red Sea that has long served as the gateway for Muslim pilgrims traveling to nearby
Architect Sami Angawi comes from an old Jeddah family descended from the prophet Mohammed. He's an authority on the architecture of his region, and his religion. He has spent the last ten years building a home that he hopes embodies both.
Traditional Hijazi architecture
SAMI ANGAWI, Architect: The house here is a reflection of traditional Hijazi architecture.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Hijazi, explain what that means.
SAMI ANGAWI: Hijazi is the local region here, which is an ancient name for this region. And Hijaz has always been the reflecting point. It's the melting pot of the Muslim world. So you can see something in Hijaz, which is from
your traditions. So it's the balance between the constant and the variable. And that's how it's always been in Islamic tradition; Islamic architecture.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Angawi has designed into his house the dualities he thinks Islam embraces. The home is very private but also open to the world, as he thinks his religion has been. Many openings to the outside are screened, but light permeates every room, flowing through windows that evoke Islam and Christianity alike. There's a sunken dining area that feels like
SAMI ANGAWI: Well, as you notice as you walk in the house from one place to another, it's
really like walking in my mind.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you mean?
SAMI ANGAWI: What I mean is, is that's how my mind works. I see things from different perspectives. I see it in layers, I see it in details, and that's why I look even at our Islamic culture and Islamic concept from different perspectives. And that's how we have to see it now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you mean?
SAMI ANGAWI: Not single minded. Not just seeing one thing. You have to see more than one thing in order to reach the balance, because you cannot have balance with just a one-sided scale.
Example of the true Jihad
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Angawi contrasts his vision of his religion with the more fundamentalist vision of Islam that has become familiar to foreigners since September 11th. He sees his house as an example of the true Jihad, as opposed to Jihad as Holy War.
SAMI ANGAWI: There is always a choice in what's called Jihad, which is, again, misunderstood by Muslims and by non-Muslims. Jihad starts with yourself, with your inside, with your body,with your family, with your house. This is Jihad what I'm trying to do. The beauty you see is the
Jihad of trying to do something beautiful.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It's almost as if in your art and in your person you want to embody this vision of Islam that you think is the proper one, or is the way it should be? How would you put it?
SAMI ANGAWI: I put it that I'm not inventing anything. I put it that I'm part of a tradition, part of a heritage, which is 1,400 years old if we take it to the prophet Mohammed. If we take it to Abraham, it's at least 5,000 years old, or how long ago Abraham was. And it's a continuity of tradition. Not only ours, but tradition since the beginning of time. We believe in continuity.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In the past, Angawi said, Islam was open to many influences and traditions; and this is what made it a great civilization. He's worried that in
SAMI ANGAWI: The way it's taught is mainly in one direction, of one view. Again, I'm not saying it's right or wrong. This is not for me. I'm not a religious specialist. But I know when I look at my Islamic culture and Islamic tradition and civilization, I know that one of the reasons that we did have this great civilization is because different views were represented: The flexibility that was there, the adaptability that was there. And we very much need that now, to bring that back and to teach our children how to have a dialogue, how to discuss, how to interact with other people; how to be friends and how to follow the prophet.
The prophet at that time had said, "My companions are like the stars. Whichever one you follow, you are on the right path." And so that even though the companions had many different opinions, he didn't say, "shut up," and "you are right," and "he was wrong." No. He was always against extremism. He discouraged and even spoke strongly against extremism. Our crown prince was saying that recently. He was saying, "Don't be extreme on religion. Don't be extreme on religion.
Don't be extreme on religion." Three times.
Islam in his work
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The extremism of the Islam taught in
SAMI ANGAWI: I feel very, you know, bad about those places being gone. You know, like this one here is one example, and I have many other examples. This is the tomb of the first wife of the prophet, which was there and was totally demolished and is gone because of certain viewpoints that this could lead to idolatry.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It could lead to idolatry?
SAMI ANGAWI: Idolatry, yes. Again, another site, which I worked on in discovering and actually digging, the house of the prophet in
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Angawi also said that in the great mosque in the old days, four schools of thought were taught, and that a pilgrim could choose up to 35 different "rings" of teaching in the courtyards. I asked him what it's like now.
SAMI ANGAWI: Unfortunately, it developed into a way, which is only one viewpoint is presented. And of course, if all the time you just listen to yourself, or those who only compliment you all the time, you think you're right and nobody else is right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So now, there's really only one form of Islam being taught in
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Angawi said his house is his answer to how more balance can be achieved through evolution, a respect for the past, and not radical change. He promotes dialogue about Islam in his work in Jeddah, as well as at Harvard, where he teaches part of each year. And he is convinced evolutionary change in his religion is already underway.
SAMI ANGAWI: I'm living now. But living now does not mean that you cut yourself from the past. Or appreciating the past and carrying on with it doesn't mean you do not live now. And that was always the challenge in Islamic tradition, Islamic culture, is to carry on.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sami Angawi, thanks for being with us.
SAMI ANGAWI: Thank you very much.
Copyright © 2003 MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. All Rights Reserved.
Sami Angawi: Biography
Dr. Sami Angawi has a Doctor of Philosophy in Islamic Architecture from the
The Amar Centre for Architectural Heritage is a private organization located in
Revival and development of traditional architecture through research and studies.
Restoration and rehabilitation of traditional buildings and houses.
Designing new buildings and projects based on the continuity of the traditional line of architecture from all aspects.
To carry out these activities the Centre has developed architectural library containing more than 50,000 images of traditional architectural elements and buildings stored in the computer using the laser disc technology, as well as a library of architectural drawings of many elements with varying designs and styles. The Centre has close contact and collaborates with various universities, research institutions and professional organizations on both local and international levels.
Site Location Country Images
Al-Makkiyah Residential Villa Jeddah
Amar Headquarters Jeddah
Harat al-Bab Restoration
Author Title Type Year
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture and Project Architect Al-Makkiyah Residential Villa text & image report 2007