For sometime, criticisms have started to voice themselves with regards to Mecca’s conspicuous neoliberal transformation. Personally, I have only visited it before the tower clock new building was put in place (fortunately). Even back then, the tower overlooking the haram (that is the environs of the mosque) was enough to instil a claustrophobic sense. (word of mouth was that it was for royalty to pray in- I have no idea if this was true or if the building exists).
Being a pilgrim involves orienting to spatiality and temporality very differently and even in otherworldly ways. Until now I can not grapple with the fact that a clock tower dominates the skyline of the ritual that is meant to run counter to most of the things modern temporality stands for..
Back then – as a teenager- I wasn’t convinced that royalty can pray from an elevated building and not with people (if the urban legend is true), or the fact that the first building that greeted me when I existed the haram was a shopping mall.
Years have passed, and I am sure that if I go there again the city would have changed beyond my recognition. An Architecture professor has compared current Mecca to Las Vegas, and voices that couldn’t be so critical before -just because the city is the site of the holiest of rituals- are more open about the very neoliberal face it is pulling off. (Also about how an expensive endeavour pilgrimages itself is becoming for the majority of muslims). Check this: A prayer for Mecca:
Further interesting links and readings on this issue, are:
- Rosie Bsheer on chocking Mecca: Part 1, Part 2, on the the politics of redevelopment of Mecca, and in interview on the have and have nots in hajj.
- Last year saw the infamous crane collapse before the hajj season.
- In Arabic, Prof. Ali Abdelraouf has recently published his book from Mecca to Las Vegas.
- The video prayer to Mecca and the Rosie Bsheer links I collected from the brilliant Pascale Menoret‘s Facebook profile (author of Joyriding in Riyadh), where he also posted google earth images comparing 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2016 Mecca, and where he invites us to do the same.
But on a more beautiful note: take a look at one of the aesthetic imaginations hajj sprinkles elsewhere. In Egypt, murals (or now more fashionably called graffiti) have been painted for ages on the houses of those who were lucky to perform pilgrimage. (also Malcolm Miles wrote about them in his Uses of Decoration).