National Geographic : 2014 Jul
Out of Eden walk, part two 95 asbila from which we gratefully fill our canteens exist because of other wells—ones drilled in the distant oil fields of eastern Saudi Arabia. “We’ve traded away our past for wealth,” la- ments Ibrahim, a water engineer in the port of Al Wajh. “My grandfather’s 200-year-old coral- block home? Bulldozed. The docks where dhows from Eritrea brought in camels? Gone. Our city’s stone lighthouse that used to be seen from 20 kilometers at sea? Rubble. Nobody cares. It’s all old stuff. It has no economic value.” Some Hejazis blame Saudi Arabia’s ultracon- servative version of Islam for much of the era- sure of their past. In recent years, for example, urban historians have decried the demolition of the old quarters of Mecca and Medina, including the flattening of ancient structures associated with Muhammad himself. Officially this was done to provide services for the two million or more pil- grims who swell the cities on hajj. But religious authorities have frequently blessed the destruc- tion of cultural sites. Wahhabis emphasize that all the past before Islam is jahiliyya: a time of igno- rance. And they fear that even the preservation of Islamic sites may lead to the worship of objects, and not God—thus promoting idolatry, or shirk. It is worth noting that the loudest laments for the disappearing heritage of the old Hejaz come from Muslims outside Saudi Arabia. “It is difficult to get young Saudis involved in their A Styrofoam replica of the Kaaba, the “sacred house” in the center of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, serves as teaching tool in an arts center at a Jeddah mall. Parents bring children to instruct them in hajj pilgrimage rituals, like circling the Kaaba seven times.