Friday, June 6, 2008

The Rising and Falling of Islam?

Two recent posts at the Dawn Blog serve to emphasize both the apparent short-term gains in the growth of Islam as a religion and ideology, and the ultimate set-backs it will face.

First, we review Building Islam in Detroit from May 30, 2008:

"Building Islam in Detroit" is an exhibition developed by the School of International Studies at the University of Michigan, and currently on display in Lahore. The interdisciplinary project, supported and funded by Digital Media Commons and the Rackham Summer Interdisciplinary Research Fund, is an in-depth study of the various historical and contemporary Muslim buildings and institutions in Detroit. Focusing on the processes of building, inhabiting and display, it also highlights how Muslims have established their presence in the US and how they have come under scrutiny as a group after September 11.

Detroit has a rich history of Islam dating all the way back to the 1890s. Muslims from Europe, Middle East and Africa were all drawn in by the city's booming industrial economy. The city currently has a population of around 150,000 Muslims and is dotted by over 50 mosques. These numbers are fast increasing according to government estimates. "Islam is the second biggest and the fastest growing religion in America and Muslims are the largest community the American government serves," said US Consulate Principal Officer Bryan Hunt while inaugurating the exhibit. The exhibition is testament to this fact and it explores the art and architecture of the mosques, schools, neighbourhoods and the communities that Muslims have established over time. The research team, consisting of architects, historians, sociologists and anthropologists have created a virtual tour and a multimedia presentation of Muslim institutions styled in the traditions of African-American, Albanian, Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations. It particularly focuses on the development of the city's first Mosque created in 1921.

"'Muslims are the largest community the American government serves,' said US Consulate Principal Officer Bryan Hunt while inaugurating the exhibit."

Needless to say, the American government, captive to special interest groups, does not serve its majority Christian community. If that is so because of separation of Church and State, what does that say about its service to Islam?

Next, we review Cashing in on Mecca from May 29, 2008:

The holiest city in Islam is to get a 12 billion dollar facelift, according to a report in the Guardian. With homes and hills being flattened to make way for hotels, apartments, shopping malls and transport facilities for pilgrims, six development projects ordered by the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, will set out to transform the city of Mecca.

The biggest change will be to the courtyards of the Grand Mosque, which can currently hold around 100,000 worshippers during prayer times. An ambitious expansion programme has led to the demolition of 1,000 properties in the immediate Shamiya area, with Saudi authorities setting aside an estimated 157 million dollars to compensate homeowners. There will also be a new residential district to the south-west of the mosque, while construction firms have already begun to level hills to create a 230,000 square metre area that will include high-rise apartments and air conditioned prayer facilities for up to 120,000.

Up to 130 new skyscrapers are also anticipated, including projects like the Abraj Al Bait Towers, a seven-tower project that will be one of the largest buildings in the world, with a 2,000-room hotel, a 1,500-person convention centre, heliports and a four-storey mall that will house hundreds of outlets.

According to the Guardian, Mecca is a surefire business investment for developers. The world's estimated 1.4 billion Muslims are obliged to complete hajj once in their lifetime. Last year, up to four million people completed hajj, with millions more visiting during the rest of the year, making Mecca one of the most visited cities in the world. Pilgrims already have the opportunity to shop at British fashion stores Next and TopShop as well as the coffee shop, Starbucks, in between their religious rituals.

Irfan al Alawi, the founder and former executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation has protested this new development, claiming "it's the Manhattanisation of Mecca." He went on to say, "the Saudis want to build skyscrapers. The worry is that as they level hills and mountains they will destroy sites of cultural interest."

That's exactly right.

Just as the well-placed jihadists traded in Allah for the Almighty Dollar when they began to traffic heroin, so will the commercialization of the holiest place in the Islamic world lead the faithful astray through earthly temptations.

The difference, of course, is that with the world's other religions, such a process would be met through denunciations and protests; in the Islamic world, the ultimate apostasy that this will lead to will be met with cries of "takfir" and killings.

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