I arrived at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today for my first book event of this year’s packed programme, brolly in hand and wearing two layers of cashmere. Yes, it is August, welcome to Summer in Scotland.
Ziauddin Sardar’s new book, Mecca The Sacred City was the topic of discussion and the charismatic author was full of hilarious anecdotes and opinions of Saudi Arabia that mirror my own. Of course, unlike him, I’m not a respected scholar nor have I spent time living there.
It is in the direction of Mecca and the Ka’aba that all Muslims turn to when (or if) they pray. Mecca is the birth place of the Prophet and pilgrimage to the Ka’aba is one of the five pillars of Islam, a duty for all Muslims. So why do the guardians of the holiest sites in the Islamic behave like ‘cultural terrorrists’? Ziauddin Sardar is no fan of the Saudi Kingdom and especially dislikes their urban planning.
Demonstrating a colossal lack of cultural and historical empathy, the Saudi Authorities bulldozed 600 years of Ottoman ruins in Mecca and razed mountains around the valley in which ancient Mecca was said to lie in order to expand the city. Sound familiar? And we wonder at the barbarism of ISIL maybe they were inspired by others whose actions went unnoticed.
The book is about Mecca the city, historic believers and non-believers, not about pilgrimage. It is about revered mystics and the intelligent women that helped save the city time and again by financing amenities such as water, hospitals and education only to be erased and suppressed by Wahabi Islam, the most extreme version practiced in Saudi Arabia.
You can still buy tickets to events similar to this and other amazing ones through the Edinburgh International Book Festival and at their on-site box office.