‘It’s easier to find a Cinnabon in Mecca than the house of the Prophet’

These days it‘s easier to find a Cinnabon in Mecca than the house where the Prophet Muhammad was born.

As a result, some complain that the kingdom‘s Islamic austerity and oil-stoked capitalism are robbing this city of its history.

Abraj al-Bait is a complex of seven towers, some of them still under construction, rising only yards from the Kaaba, the cube-like black shrine at the center of Muslim worship in Mecca. “Be a neighbor to the Prophet,” promises an Arabic-language newspaper ad for apartments there.

Saudi Arabia boasts that Abraj al-Bait — Arabic for “Towers of the House,” referring to the Kaaba‘s nickname, “the house of God” — will be the largest building in the world in terms of floor space. Developers have said the completed building will total 15.6 million square feet — more than twice the floor space of the Pentagon, the largest in the United States.

The building boom is in some cases destroying Mecca‘s historic heritage, not just overshadowing it. In 2002, Saudi authorities tore down a 200-year-old fort built by the city‘s then-rulers, the Ottomans, on a hill overlooking the Kaaba to build a multi-million-dollar housing complex for pilgrims.

“Obviously, this is an exaggerated interpretation. But unfortunately, it is favored among officials,” said Anwar Eshky, a Saudi analyst and head of a Jiddah-based research center.

Other sites disappeared long ago, as Saudi authorities expanded the Grand Mosque around the Kaaba in the 1980s. The house of Khadija, Muhammad‘s first wife, where Muslims believe he received some of the first revelations of the Quran, was lost under the construction, as was the Dar al-Arqam, the first Islamic school, where Muhammad taught.



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