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The makeover of Mecca

They are tut-tutting that the holy city will become a mini Dubai, a consumerist paradise. Yes, Dubai is about consumerism. So is religion. It is all about buying a bit of sawaab (reward for piety). The very fact that Saudi Arabia has a monarch whose lifestyle isn’t exactly an example of austerity should make the criticism invalid.

  • "Architectural designs being considered by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia could see the mosque at the heart of the city expanded fivefold to hold 5 million worshippers in one go. However, much of the land around the historic site, including ancient mountains, is likely to be flattened to accommodate seven-star hotels and towering blocks of luxury flats."

While during the actual rituals people are on one plane, so to speak, the fact remains that you live and travel according to your means. I do not know how many would be able to afford the ‘Pilgrim Express’ that will travel at high speed between Mecca and Medina. Will it also stop at Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City? If it does, then will the devotees try and get a taste of the malls and the financial bounties on offer?

A digression here: A while ago there was a report about Saudi women boycotting lingerie shops. The reason?:

  • “Only men are employed as sales staff to keep women from having to deal with male customers or work around men. But in lingerie stores, that means men are talking to women about bras or thongs, looking them up and down to determine their cup sizes, even rubbing the underwear to show how stains can be washed out.”

One woman even complained that some salesmen say, “This is not the right size for you.” How do they manage to figure it out through the abaya (the full veil)? If a man walks into shop for his wife, what would be their attitude?

Back to the holy city. The improved facilities would most certainly not help the majority who live in very basic tents. Surely, this should be the priority where there have been instances of fire. And how will these posh enclaves make things easier for desperate devotees who push and shove to get to the site, many dying in the stampede?

Pilgrimages work at one level where the followers are true to their faith in spirit. It probably acts as a cleansing exercise. But let us not expect it to transform those who perform the Haj into better human beings, because there is no one standard for a better human being…better than what or who? And each society follows certain mores and our reactions depend on our socialisation as well as our individual development.

Dissing consumerism is fine if it colonises minds. Until then, we all need some retail therapy. Let me buy my MAC and you can pray wherever you want. When we later sit and talk, let us not judge each other for these actions because we are a bundle of several aspects, some invisible to the naked eye.

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Farzana, if it's not too

Farzana, if it's not too intrusive a question, have you ever gone on the Haj?

I, too, read about the Saudi lingerie shops. Goodness, I don't think I'd want to buy my bras and panties from a man. I understand why the Saudi women decided to boycott.

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No..and yes...

No, Ellen, it is not too intrusive to ask. I have never gone on the Haj or made any sort of pilgrimage. Some members of my immediate family have, of course...and I do get a bottle of zam-zam (holy water) from them.

Re. the lingerie shops, may I say that I am surprised by your personal observation? See, this too is a stereotype where I assume that a western woman would be perfectly all right with it. I might add here that, except when I was young and it bothered me, now I am quite okay with male sales staff. I find them getting embarrassed sometimes!