The Razing and Preservation of Historical Sites

The current Custodians of the Sacred Sanctuaries consider it necessary to expand the Mosque of the Sacred Sanctuary in order to accommodate the projected quantities of future Pilgrims. They have decided to raze several historical mosques and sites in order to carry out this expansion.

There has been a lot of heated discussion concerning the issue. So far I have not seen solid, shari‘ah-grounded justifications from either side which is binding upon their disputant.

I personally am against razing the buildings for various reasons and would rather see them left alone or somehow preserved within the expansion. Unfortunately, none of these reasons is so compelling that it would require an opponent to change his mind. Some of these reasons include:

  • That they have been preserved until now is an argument based on presumption of continuation (istishab), which is not universally accepted and, in any case, still leaves us asking why it was the the case to being with.
  • Coupling the above with consensus of prior generations holds no water with those who consider consensus to exist only within the earliest generation(s). It also does not hold water if the consensus is based upon interests (maslahah) or custom (‘urf) if either one has changed.
  • That the buildings are endowments (awqaf) and cannot be removed is a strong argument for those who consider it impermissible to move an endowment. But it holds little weight with those who consider it permissible to sell the land of the endowment and to relocate it elsewhere (when certain conditions are met). Those in favor of razing the building need only adhere this latter opinion and claim that the conditions are met. One might object that there is a conflict of interest or bias if the expansion and awqaf being razed are being managed by the same body.
  • That the buildings are places of barakah and for this reason should not be destroyed is, for some, sufficient reason to raze the buildings.
  • That the buildings are a historically significant, a tie to and reminder of the past which should be maintained for future generations of Muslims carries little weight with urban planners who see that the benefits of the expansion outweigh the benefits of the buildings.

Would it possible to have a discussion on shari‘ah-grounded justifications for and against their preservation? (Keep it civil.)

  • Ammar Abdulhaleem

    In my opinion, there is no benefit, religiously, regarding a building from a couple of hundreds of years ago. At best, the most it would do would be attract a couple of tourists and stuff. It would also invite Shirk and the like because people will claim it is the house of Hamza (r) or the house of the Messenger (s), and they’ll treat it as some kind of legislated holy site.

    Umar (r) cut the tree where the Messenger (s) took the bay’ah of the 1,400 Companions during Hudaybiyyah because first and foremost, he feared people would take it as a holy site where they would travel to/visit – just like these claimed ‘historical sites’ (don’t get me wrong, some are great).

    We should realise that the people come there for worship, not to see some museum of Islamic History. If a few useless buildings are destroyed either a) to expand the Haram and the prayer area/mataaf, or b) to make the journey of the Umrah/Hajj more comfortable for the people by providing nicely adorned stores where the pilgrims can buy food, clothing, dates, perfumes, and the likes – then that’s 100% fine logically and religiously.

    It’s clear that this is part of the things that Islam came with – to make easy for the people. So for example, someone with food served is preferred to eat first and then pray the prescribed prayer. The same goes for the person who may need to use the bathroom.

    Making an analogy, as someone who has been there, having these variety of stores and malls around the Haram makes the ‘Ibadah easy, thanks to Allah. Everything is at your reach so you can rest assured. If they weren’t there, the pilgrims would’ve had a harder going outside the Haram (it takes forever to get in and out of the Haram’s vicinity with all the people/crowds) and finding what they need there and so on. These things are there to accommodate the pilgrims in my opinion.

    I think a lot of this backlash comes from this idea of the “Saudi Arabia Hate Train”. It seems people aren’t slightly apperciative of anything they do in good. People feel the need to hate anything associated with Saudi and they’ll use the most illegitimate of excuses to do it sometimes (again, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is or isn’t a legitimate problem, but you get my point).
    And Allah knows best.