The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia has attracted pious Muslims since the death of their prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. The holy pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj as it is known to the faithful, is a tradition that draws more than 15 million visitors to the city each year. The tourism industry that has sprung up around the city has been a source of consternation among members of the religious community. Due to the authoritative nature of the Saudi government, however, any criticism has been muted.


A view of the metropolis at night.

As the focus of Mecca has shifted from the spiritual to the material, historic buildings that once held great significance for the Muslim community have been destroyed to make way for high rises and tourist conveniences. 95% of the historic structures in Mecca have been demolished in the past two decades. Although true infrastructure development is needed to support the overwhelming annual crowds, many believe that capitalism has motivated developers going above and beyond. In fact, plans are in place to raze the birthplace of Muhammad to make room for the expansion of the Grand Mosque. In a telling sign of the times, the home of the prophet’s first wife has been turned in to a toilet block.

Another development that has raised eyebrows is the Clock Royal Tower Hotel, which directly overlooks the Grand Mosque. The building is complete with two helipads, 800 rooms, and the second tallest skyscraper in the world. Prices for a one-bedroom studio apartment in the complex begin at $650,000. Such a juxtaposition of conflicting values is angering Muslims worldwide.

As the Saudi government tightens its control over the country, it seems that any voices of dissent will be drowned out by the whirr of construction vehicles.


Worshippers crowd the Grand Mosque, with the Kaaba pictured in the center.