Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

When Religious Tourism Goes Beyond Zamzam and Starts To Become ISIS

We have seen several posts on here (a few written by me) about the destruction that has been caused by ISIS. Cultural destruction is just another reason why we take up arms again them. What happens though when cultural destruction is being displayed by our biggest regional ally? No, I don’t mean Israel.

Mecca stopped being a religious site years ago. The Hajj and Mecca are a major component of religious tourism in Saudi Arabia. After oil, a lot of their money comes from tourism during the Ramadan Hajj explosion, other high holidays and the off-season Hajj trips. This excludes all the Saudis who sometimes just swing by Mecca because they can for their trip around the Kabba and head shaving on their way to Jeddah or Riyadh. Forgive the pessimism, but I have witnessed first hand how the Saudis respect Mecca less and less for its religious importance and use it more as a way to prove to their friends they are more religious than their friends especially after they take the much ridiculed and increasingly popular #HajjSelfie.

Saudis have made money for years selling vats of Islamic holy water called zamzam to Hajjis and then airlines charge them for all the zamzam they cart back to their home country since they are not allowed to take zamzam with them as a carry on.

To handle the influx of religious tourists and Hajjis, Saudis have been expanding Mecca beyond the original tourist area. They are tearing down old religious sites to make way for visitor centers, hotels, etc. This form of Saudi-led vandalism of its own sites is no different from the destruction we see with ISIS. The Wahhabis have similar beliefs to ISIS in that they do not want worship of any site or figure as is outlined in Islamic doctrine. They want to destroy anything that could be worshiped other than God. There are talks in this article about moving Muhammad’s body to a secret grave so that believers don’t worship at his grave.

Why is no one speaking out about the Saudis? Why is no one crying foul here? Oil. Bases. Money. Ally. Behold, The Kingdom.

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One comment on “When Religious Tourism Goes Beyond Zamzam and Starts To Become ISIS

  1. evanjsanderson
    November 20, 2014

    This is a good point, but something that I think a lot of the American public who don’t follow Middle East politics closely would miss. It goes beyond the cultural sector, too. Just look at how Saudi women are treated – in any other country, public policy would demand that we decry the violence and civil rights abuse that are rampant in Saudi society. However, like you said, oil speaks louder than decency. Saudi Arabia is one of our only officially sanctioned allies in the Middle East, so they basically have carte blanche to behave as they wish, without sanctions or censure. I would guarantee that there are segments of Saudi society that are outraged and appalled at cultural vandalism, at civil rights abuse, and at the skewed power dynamics in their culture. The issue is that we don’t acknowledge any of it – not the dissidence or the problem itself. We just want turn our heads as a country, and pretend none of it’s happening in the first place.

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