Haroon Moghul writes: If you think the Islamic State’s war on antiquities is horrifying, you are right. But it is not exceptional. It has its roots in a perverse and excessive iconoclasm, which has seen Saudi Wahhabist mandates literally crush, demolish, smash, erase, and break down the very sites and landscapes that Muslims worldwide know so well. If you think I am exaggerating, don’t. Several years ago, I helped lead a small group of American Muslims on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. We had a Saudi guide with us who, during our bus tour around Mecca and Medina, refused to let our driver stop at mosques of historical significance, because he thought we might cross the line and worship in a manner unbecoming of an austere and hardheaded Wahhabist. He treated us like children.
Which, of course, none of us were: Wahhabists, or children. (In revenge, I spent the ride back happily pointing out sites of Ottoman significance, while describing the House of Saud’s unseemly alliance with non-Muslim powers against their fellow Muslims.) My fellow pilgrims were incensed. They had paid, scrounged up and saved, and here they were, in their holy city, and they weren’t allowed to stop at, for example, the mosque where Mohammed was commanded by God to turn away from the first direction of prayer, Jerusalem, to the current direction of prayer, Mecca. (It matters if you’re Muslim.) They felt outraged. They felt they were denied the chance to experience their Islam because someone else had decided their interpretation of Islam mattered more.
And that is precisely the point. Mecca and Medina are ruled by Saudi Arabia, but they belong to the Muslim world. They are our collective sacredness. They shouldn’t be an individual possession. Islam is a very egalitarian religion. (As some Muslims joke, people who dislike organized religion should join Islam, because we’ve mastered disorganization.) Islam has few hierarchies, and those that exist are not widely shared. Why then does a regime which represents a sliver of Muslims, exports and enforces an ideology that is historically antithetical to Islam’s rich traditions of pluralism, spirituality and cosmopolitanism, allowed to control our holy cities? Why don’t everyday Muslims get a say? [Continue reading…]