MADINA: Faced with the problem of accomodating an ever growing number of pilgrims to Makkah and Medina every year, the Saudi Arabian government has launched an ambitious expansion project of Masjid-e-Nabawi, which potentially includes razing of Riyad-al-Jannah (Garden of Paradise) and the graves of Holy Prophet (pbuh) and caliphs Hazrat Abu Bakar (RA) and Hazrat Umar (RA).
According to a report by United Kingdom daily The Independent, the project, due to start after this year’s Hajj pilgrimage ends, will turn the mosque into the world’s largest building, expanding its current capacity to hold 1.6 million worshippers.
Riyad-al-Jannah is believed to be a holy site, with Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) once having decreed that the area between his house and pulpit was one of the gardens (rawdah) of Paradise.
The multi-billion dollar plan further includes demolishing three of the world’s oldest mosques dedicated to the aforementioned Caliphs and Masjid Ghamama, built to mark the spot where the Prophet is believed to have given his first Eid prayers.
This plan has already received a lot of flak from Muslims around the world, including heritage campaigners, having already criticised the Kingdom’s disdain for preserving the historical and archaeological heritage of the country’s holiest city, Makkah.
Most Muslims and heritage campaigners were appalled to see historic locations of Makkah and Medina bulldozed to make way for gleaming shopping malls, luxury hotels and towering skyscrapers.
The Washington-based Gulf Institute had estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years.
“No one denies that Medina is in need of expansion, but it’s the way the authorities are going about it which is so worrying,” says Dr Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. “There are ways they could expand which would either avoid or preserve the ancient Islamic sites but instead they want to knock it all down.” Dr Alawi has spent much of the past 10 years trying to highlight the destruction of early Islamic sites.
With a booming middle class in Muslim countries, both Makkah and Medina are struggling to cope with the 12 million pilgrims who visit each year – a number expected to grow to 17 million by 2025.
The Independent’s report further says that other historic sites lost to ‘development’ include the Prophet’s birthplace – now a library – and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, which was replaced with a public toilet block.
Neither the Saudi Embassy in London nor the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had responded to the Independent's requests for comment. However the Saudi government has defended its expansion plans in the past.