The grave of the Prophet to be destroyed – but not by crusaders

medinaDuring the crusades, there were numerous plans to try and invade Mecca and Medina to dig up the Prophet Mohammed and despoil the holy places.

The view of Templars and all crusaders was that Islam had been a terrible heresy, a theological aberration, that could be crushed by attacking its most revered site. If only the tomb of its founder could be destroyed, then the Muslim world would implode in on itself.

Most notoriously, Reynald de Chatillon (portrayed in the movie Kingdom of Heaven as something of a monster) menaced Mecca and Medina until the Saracens managed to get hold of him and end his life. It’s even said that he managed to capture Saladin’s sister (or some accounts say his aunt or mother) as she returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Over three hundred years later and Christians still dreamed of getting the Prophet’s body. The Portuguese adventurer and governor of Goa – Afonso de Albuquerque – set out in 1513 to secure the Red Sea for Portuguese ships on route to India. In the process, he hatched a plot to seize the corpse of Mohammed and wouldn’t return it until all Muslims had left the Holy Land. In the end, however, much like the crusaders before him – all his attempts to attack Mecca and Medina came to nothing.

And so – the original mosques built in the seventh century AD by Mohammed and his immediate followers survived. Until the last few years. Incredibly, the Saudi authorities have been busy demolishing buildings that the Prophet himself would have known. And their enthusiasm for the task goes beyond anything that Chatillon or Albuquerque could have possibly imagined.

The Wahhabi variant of Islam in Saudi Arabia is against any whiff of idol worship or veneration of sites not directly associated with the Prophet. As early as 1806, when the first Wahhabi state was formed in Arabia, gouged out of the Ottoman Empire, there was an attempt to destroy Mohammed’s tomb. This caused outrage across the Muslim world and was stopped. The Ottomans reasserted control but when the Saudis achieved full independence after the First World War, then the destruction began in earnest.

Ironically, as the number of pilgrims to Mecca and Medina has increased hugely in recent years – so has the pace of demolition. In effect, those going to Saudi Arabia are contributing to the leveling of the tombs and mosques dating back to the life of Mohammed.

In 1998, the grave of Mohammed’s mother was burnt down and his father’s tomb has also gone in recent years. The reason, apart from Wahhabi purity, is the massive expansion in modern religious complexes to house and channel all these pilgrims. New buildings are simply being slapped on top of seventh century structures. It would be rather like demolishing Westminster Abbey to make way for a hotel for worshipers – if that makes any sense.

And now in Medina, the biggest building in the world (the Masjid al-Nabawi) is about to shoot up sweeping away another three mosques from the century of the prophet. Unbelievably, these mosques contain the tombs – you guessed it – of the Prophet himself as well as Abu Bakr and Umar, his two closest associates. Reynald de Chatillon must be laughing in his grave.


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