In 1802, AN ARMY LED BY THE SONS of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism) and Muhammad ibn Saud occupied Taif and began a bloody massacre. A year later, the forces occupied the holy city of Mecca. They executed a campaign of destruction in many sacred places and leveled all the existing domes, even those built over the well of Zamzam. However, after the army left, Sharif Ghalib breached the truce, inciting the Wahhabis to reoccupy Mecca in 1805.
In 1806, the Wahhabi army occupied Medina. They did not leave any religious building, including mosques, without demolishing it, whether inside or outside the Baqi’ (graveyard). They intended to demolish the grave of the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, many times, but would repeatedly change their minds. At this time, non-Wahhabi Muslims were prevented from performing the Hajj (pilgrimage). In 1805, Iraqi and Iranian Muslims were refused permission to perform Hajj, as were the Syrians in 1806 and Egyptians the following year. The Saudi leader at the time wanted the pilgrims to embrace his Wahhabi beliefs and accept his Wahhabi mission. If they refused, he denied them permission to perform the Hajj and considered them heretics and infidels – ignoring the word of God in Sura al-Baqara:
And who is more unjust than he who forbids that in places for the worship of God, His name should be celebrated? Whose zeal is (in fact) to ruin them? It was not fitting that such should themselves enter them except in fear. For them there is nothing but disgrace in this world, and the world to come, an exceeding torment. (Qur’an 2:114)
The Wahhabi army’s destruction campaign targeted the graves of the martyrs of Uhud, the mosque at the grave of Sayyid al-Shuhada’ Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib and the mosques outside the Baqi’: the Mosque of Fatima al-Zahra, the Mosque of al-Manaratain, and Qubbat’ al-Thanaya (the burial site of the Prophet’s incisor that was broken in the battle of Uhud). The structures in the Baqi’ were also leveled to the ground and not a single dome was left standing. This great place that was visited by millions of Muslims over many centuries became a garbage dump, such that it was not possible to recognize any grave or know whom it embraced.
The occupation of the holy places by the army and their preventing Muslims from performing Hajj led thousands of people to flee Mecca and Medina to escape religious persecution. The Muslims started to complain and express their concerns, and public opinion put pressure on the Ottoman Caliph to liberate and rebuild the two holy places and once again permit the Muslims to perform the pilgrimage. Accordingly, an army led by Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Caliph’s viceroy in Egypt, was sent. When the forces arrived in the Hijaz, a number of tribes marched in support of the army, which regained control over Medina and then Mecca.
In 1818, the Wahhabis were defeated and they withdrew from the holy places. The Prophet’s Mosque, the Baqi’ and the monuments at Uhud were rebuilt during the reigns of the Ottoman sultans ‘Abd al-Majid I, ‘Abd al-Hamid II and Mahmud II. From 1848 to i860, the buildings were renovated and the Ottomans built the domes and mosques in splendid aesthetic style. They also rebuilt the Baqi’ with a large dome over the graves of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima al-Zahra, Imam Zainul ‘Abidin (‘Ali bin al-Hussain), Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Baqir and Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq.
The graves of others related to the Prophet found at the Baqi’ include those belonging to Ibrahim (son), ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan (Companion and son-in-law), Saffia bint Abdul Muttalib (aunt), Atika bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib (aunt), Al-‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (uncle), Fatima bint Assad (Imam Ali’s mother), ‘Abd Allah ibn Ja’far bin Abi Talib (cousin) and Aqil ibn Abi Talib (The Prophet’s cousin).
The grave of the Prophet’s father ‘Abd Allah was in Dar al-Nabigha of the Bani Najjar, the house of where the Prophet learned to swim. However, his father’s grave was exhumed 17 years ago and transferred to the Baqi’. The area of the house today lies under the marble covering the plaza surrounding the mosque.
A number of the Prophet’s wives (the Mothers of the Faithful) were buried in the Baqi’: ‘A’isha, Hafsa, Juwayriya, Saffia, Sawda, Zaynab bint Khuzaima, Zaynab bint Jahsh, Umm Habiba and Umm Salama. The tomb of Khadija, the Prophet’s first wife, is in Mecca because she died before the Hijra (migration of Muslims to Medina). Her grave is in the Hajun cemetery, known as Maqbarat’al-Ma’la. The tomb of Maimouna, another wife, is also in Mecca in an area known as Sarif, which lies on the side of the Hijra Road, nearly 13 miles (20 kilometers) outside Mecca.
On April 21, 1925, the domes in the Baqi’ were demolished once more along with the tombs of the holy personalities in Maqbarat’al-Ma’la in Mecca, where the Holy Prophet’s mother, wife Khadija, grandfather and other ancestors are buried. Destruction of the sacred sites in the Hijaz continues till this day. Wahhabis say they are trying to rescue Islam from what they consider innovations, déviances and idolatries. Among the practices they believe are contrary to Islam are constructing elaborate monuments over graves and making supplications there.
The Mashrubat Umm Ibrahim – which was built to mark the location of the house where the Prophet’s son, Ibrahim, was born to Mariah, his Egyptian wife – also contained the grave of Hamida al-Barbariyya, the mother of Imam Musa al-Kazim. These sites were destroyed over the past few years.
I recently met with one of the leading political leaders of Medina and took the opportunity to speak to him about the destruction of these holy sites. He told me that the sites were not being demolished, but that torrential rain in Medina was washing away the old buildings! I told him the mosque and tomb of Sayyid Imam al-Uraidhi ibn Ja’far al-Sadiq, four miles from the Prophet’s Mosque, was destroyed by dynamite and flattened on August 13, 2002. Imam al-Uraidhi is ninth in line from the Prophet. I also asked him about the plan to demolish the last remnant of the historical vestiges of the Messenger of God, namely his noble birthplace, which has been converted into a library, “Maktabat Makka al-Mukarrama.” There was no answer.
Within the last 10 years, Muqbil ibn Hadi al-Wadi’i, a student at the University of Medina, wrote a thesis titled “About the Dome Built over the Grave of the Messenger,” sponsored by Sheikh Hammad al-Ansari. In this paper, the student demands that the noble grave be brought out of the Mosque. He says the presence of the holy grave and noble dome are major innovations and that they both need to be destroyed! His thesis received very high marks. Last year, the city planning board of Medina painted the famous green dome of the Prophet’s Holy Mosque silver. After intense protests by the citizens of Medina, the board restored the dome to its original color.
In the Ottoman part of the Prophet’s Mosque, at the center of the three sections raised a bit from the ground level are three circles. The first, toward the west, corresponds to the grave of the Prophet. The next two toward the east correspond to the graves of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. Above the circles are invocations including ” Ya Allah” and “Ya Muhammad.” The latter was removed and replaced it with ” Ya Majid” by adding the dot under the ‘ha of Muhammad to make itjim and two dots under the second mint of Muhammad to make it ya. There are qasidas written by rulers of the Muslim world, such as Sultan ‘Abd alHamid. Many verses of the famous Burda of al-Busayri had also been painted over. On the Qibla side, the brass partition that is divided into three sections between two columns, the authorities have also tried to cover the famous two verses inscribed in the east from the story of al-‘Utbi as mentioned by Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir. “O best of those whose bones are buried in the deep earth, and from whose fragrance the depth and height have become sweet! May I be the ransom for a grave in which you dwell, where purity, bounty and munificence.”
If one raises his head a bit, he will see on the first section of this partition a green banner, on which the words of the Almighty are framed in yellow:
O you who believe! Raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family, nor speak aloud to him in talk, as you speak aloud to one another, lest your deeds be rendered fruitless while you perceive not. (Qur’an 49:2)
The Sacred Chamber has four exterior doors: on the south, Bab al-Tawba (The Door of Repentance), on the north, Bab al-Tahajjud (The Door of Night Prayer), on the east, Bab Fatima (the Door of Fatima), and on the west, Bab al-Nabi (The Door of the Prophet) – also known as Bab alWufud (The Door of Delegations). These gates have been present since the year 668 AH except for the Gate of the Night Prayer, which was installed in 729 ah. Inside there are two gates, one on either side of the triangular part of the interior compartment. All of these doors are covered by brass shelves holding Qur’ans, an attempt to prevent the public from looking inside the Sacred chamber.
The Wahhabi religious authorities are, unfortunately, on a fast track. In 1998, the grave of Amina bint Wahb, the Prophet’s mother, was bulldozed in Abwa and gasoline was poured on it. Even though thousands of petitions throughout the Muslim world were sent to Saudi Arabia, nothing stopped this action. One of my late teachers, Sheikh Sayyid Muhammad ibn ‘Alawi al-Maliki, a Meccan who was a great historian on the holy sites and inherited his knowledge from his father and forefathers who were all teachers of the holy Haram, showed me pictures of the grave of Sayyida Amina marked with a pile of stones after the destruction. The House of Khadija was excavated during the Haram extensions, then hurriedly covered over so as to obliterate any trace of it. This was the house where the Prophet received some of his first revelations and it is also where his children Umm Kulthum, Ruqqaya, Zaynab, Fatima, and Qasim were born. Dar al-Arqam, the first school in Islam where the Prophet taught has also been demolished. It was in the area of Shi’b ‘Ali near the Bab ‘Ali door opposite the king’s palace. It is now part of the extension of the Haram.
The authorities plan to demolish the house of Mawlid, where the Prophet was born. About 60 years ago, this house, which used to have a dome over it, was turned into a cattle market. Some people then worked together to transform it into a library, which it is today. It is lined with shelves of books about Mecca, most of them written by Meccans. But the library is under threat again because of the new Jabal ‘Umar project, one of the largest real estate development projects near the Grand Mosque. The birthplace of the Prophet is to make way for a car park and hotels. About 99% of real estate owners in the Jabal ‘Umar area are shareholders in this company. The owners have been provided with financial incentives, including what they used to receive as rents, combining five-star facilities under the luxurious Le Meridien banner. The Meridien Towers will allow several thousand housing units in Mecca to be available during specified periods of time, for a one-off, fixed fee, giving the towers 25 years of shared ownership in Mecca. This scheme allow outsiders, whether Muslim or not, to invest in the city; they will be allowed to buy from a range of properties that can be used, sublet, resold or given as a gift.
For the holy month of Ramadan in Mecca, authorities built a wall enclosure in the Haram for women to pray there so men will not be able to see them. However, this has also blocked women’s visibility of the Ka’ba while they perform their prayers. The tawaf (circumambulation) for women has also been restricted to certain times. We don’t know if these changes are permanent or just for Ramadan.
In Medina, of the seven mosques at the site of the Battle of the Trench (Jabal al-Khandaq), where Sura al-Ahzab was revealed, only two remain. The others have been demolished and a Saudi bank’s cashpoint machine has been built in the area. The remaining mosques will be demolished as soon as the new mosque being constructed is ready. One of the mosques slated for destruction is Masjid Fath, the mosque and rock of victory, where the Prophet stood during the battle of the trench praying for victory. On the rock is where he received God’s promises of victory and of the conquest of Mecca.
By Dr. Al Alawi
Dr. A University lecturer and a historian on the two holy cities Executive Director Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, which was formed to help protect and preserve the holy sites in the Hijaz.