Saudi Arabia has been accused of an unprecedented onslaught on historic structures in the heart of Mecca and Medina — the cradle of Islam, revered by the worldâ€™s 1.5 billion Muslims.
During a meeting at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, world heritage experts called on Saudi authorities to halt the destruction of sites linked with Islamic history, a Press TV correspondent reported.
The experts also voiced concerns over the future of Mecca and Medina due to the rising destruction of historic structures.
They say itâ€™s feared that a number of historic sites will be lost permanently if the current course of destruction is allowed to continue.
â€œI call it cultural vandalism, of course we lost foreigner historical sites over the past sixty years, which will never be replaced again,â€ Irfan al-Alawi, from Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told Press TV.
Saudi authorities, however, argue that they are trying to prevent idolatry.
Necessary expansion and development, or wanton destruction of Islamic history and heritage — thatâ€™s the debate forming around the current work of authorities in Hijaz, Saudi Arabia. The land is home to Islamâ€™s holiest sites, where millions of Muslims travel every year for the annual hajj pilgrimage.
A number of sites have already been destroyed, including homes and mosques dating back to the period of Prophet Muhammad (s). And thereâ€™s now a fear that new projects will mean the permanent loss of earlier Islamic heritage sites.
The experts in the London meeting criticized the Saudi authorities for wiping out â€œIslamâ€™s historical heritage.â€
They also voiced concern about increasing commercial development in Mecca which â€œis destroying the cityâ€™s cultural identity.â€
But Saudi authorities claim that they must remove relics from the time of Prophet Muhammad (s), in order to prevent people from worshipping them. Thereâ€™s also increasing demand for larger facilities as the number of Muslims from around the world hoping to perform hajj continues to grow, the officials say.
Some religious leaders say destroying the most precious sites in Islam for fear of idolatry is like killing a child for fear that he may grow up to be less than pious, or perhaps to prevent his parents from loving him too much. In effect, they say, behind the obsessive fear of idolatry lies a complete lack of understanding along with a fanaticism so extreme, it prevents such individuals from even being able to appreciate their own past.