Has everyone seen this?

The hotel complex being built.

Yes, that’s Mecca. Overlooked by a giant hotel complex in the shape of Big Ben, properly known as the Abraj al Bait Towers, which opened for business this year. Here’s another picture:

The view from the mosque up the tower

It is the world’s second largest building, and the world’s largest hotel–complete with a spa and four story shopping mall (including Gucci and Starbucks) inside. Apparently, as it’s bigger than Big Ben, there are some people who believe Greenwich Mean Time should be replaced with Mecca Time, moving the time standard to the Bigger Ben. They tore down an 18th Century Ottoman citadel to build it, which, I guess if you live in the Middle East isn’t that old. Hotel rooms in Raffles Makkah (the hotel) can be had for as low as $347/night (I got this figure from going to their website and checking reservations for weeknight stays. I’m sure you could find different rates if you tried.) A Royal Suite with a Ka’aba (the famous Mecca mosque) view goes for $2667/night.

Upon seeing this, my first question was, what soulless corporate conglomerate is cashing in on pilgrims with no concern or respect for Islam? Then I found out that the project is part of the King Abdulaziz Endowment Project, and was developed by the Saudi Binladin Group, Saudi Arabia’s largest construction company. So… America did not build this. Muslims built a gigantic replica of a British landmark to overlook their holiest site.

I’m having a really hard time with this. I don’t have a holy site, but if there was some major religious center in, say, Sweden that had lasted for centuries and was an important part of my religious and cultural heritage, and somebody built a hotel looming over it that out-did Vegas and was patterned after a Middle Eastern landmark… I would be deeply bothered. Not because it’s patterned after something in the Middle East specifically, but because it wasn’t Norse, and it’s a Norse holy site. Building something that gaudy and huge overlooking a sacred spot would piss me off to begin with, and definitely detract from the sacredness of my experience when I visited. But there would be added insult to the injury if the place was patterned after a cultural icon from a nation with a history of hostility towards my way of life… as England showed toward the majority of the planet when they went through that imperialist phase. (No offense, my English peeps; America isn’t exactly a shining example of be and let be, either.)

But this is not my holy site. And it was built by people who practice this faith. I feel I should let other people do what they do and it’s not my business to interfere, but… I dunno. Something about this makes me sad. And I can’t help wondering if this is less about faith and more about class warfare.

What do you think, Realm? A good idea? A travesty? Completely not our business? Had you heard of this yet? (Please speak your opinions, but avoid hostility. Anything that makes generically negative assumptions about all Muslims based on the ones who built this will be treated as trollish and smashed. My guess is there are Muslims who are far more distressed by the towers than any non-Muslim could possibly be. I would be really interested to hear opinions from Muslims, if any happen to read this post!)

+ Featured Image: Makkah Panorama 2011 by Wurzelgnohm “This is a panoramic overview of the city of Makkah (Saudi Arabia) taken from the crescent located at the top of Abraj-Al-Bait-Towers in about 585m height. It was built from 67 single photos. It covers about 180° from west over north to east. It shows important places like for example the Holy Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) or the Light Mountain (Jabal al-Nour).”