DP Perspective – The History Rant (Hajj diary extract)

Today’s prompt was to consider how something that drives you crazy and something that makes you happy may make you change your perspective.

I started with good intentions then wandered off topic a bit. Another snippet from the Hajj diary.


The balance between preserving historical monuments and providing living architecture for modern use divides opinion. The Masjid al Nabawi (Mosque of The Prophet) in Medina is a case in point.

The Saudi approach is firmly in the present, the past is razed as much from an ideological perspective as practicality. Millennia of history and archaeological evidence have been bulldozed and concreted over and then sealed below marble. The result is a beautiful, awe inspiring space that swallows up two million people. And there is the trade-off: allowing the annual movement of so many people and accommodating their ease, comfort and visual pleasure; or retaining a sense of history and connection to the past.

We gain great architecture at the cost of our roots. The practicality is evident in the Masjid al Nabawi itself, and the ideological underpinning in the graveyard beside it. Graves dating back to the very first days of The Prophet in Medina, and perhaps even earlier have been allowed to decay, pre-existing shrines and tombs have been demolished, and there is nothing to identify where the specific graves of key individuals in Islamic history lie.

I’ve travelled much of the world. Every other country I have seen venerates, protects, or at least acknowledges the existence of its forbears and makes some attempt to protect its history. Not so in the holy city of Medina. There the past is an inconvenience and a burden against the needs of the present.

Nowhere is perfect, sometime soon I’ll be blogging about Hutchison Wampoa’s dastardly plans for Deptford, and the consequences for the historic shipyard, but I digress.

Putting aside the loss of history, the experience of the Masjid al Nabawi is exquisite. In the heat of the day huge pillars open up like flowers casting acres of shade. The marble is always cool underfoot, and aside from the very congested areas near the tomb and the pulpit of The Prophet there is always room to find a quiet spot for personal prayer and reflection. That is a remarkable feat.

Of course the trade-off is not so black and white, I was trying to begin with a sense of balance, but that is as lost as the Arabian historical record. Kerbala manages five times as many people and yet is a shrine and a city all at once, and it does this with a fraction of the wealth at the disposal of Saudi Arabia. St Mark’s Square and St Peter’s Square manage large flows of people, and yet retain their deep historical foundations.

It makes you wonder what evidence the past holds that makes them fear it so much.



More about my Hajj experiences and about my Hajj book here

If you are interested in more of my writing please check out my book:Image and Other Stories


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