September 13, 2015
So here I am. In Mecca. Just a few moments away from seeing the Ka’bah and doing Umrah.
But first: dinner.
We’re staying at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. And I must say, this is probably the classiest and ritziest hotel I’ve ever been to.
I don’t really know how to feel about that.
I mean, on one hand, the presentation/décor is fantastic (and it’s great to be at a buffet where I can finally eat everything). On the other hand, is it excessive? Is it the kind of excess Islam condemns?
You’d think it’d be an easy, hardline “yes”. I mean, we’re all sitting in a 5-star restaurant wearing ihram—a symbol of luxury and a symbol of humility clashing. But I’m not going to bemoan the commercialism surrounding the holiest site in the world. Historically, Mecca has always been a city built on commercialism. And so you can complain all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve basically traded camels and caravans for Hiltons and BMWs.
Do I like it? Not really. I really don’t like having servers pull my chair out [and] fill my glass from a bottle of Nestle.
But… Islam doesn’t condemn having luxury if it’s within one’s [means]. So if a pilgrim can afford to stay in a 5-star hotel, should he relinquish it to stay in a roadside motel? Even the great scholars of Islam, like Imam Malik, were fond of good things (Imam Malik was known for his [fine] clothing).
And in addition, I actually kind of understand why such an air of luxury and class has [popped] up around the Haram. From an economic point of view, if I had 1.5 million people visit the same place in a country on an annual bases, it only makes sense to capitalize on that source/ tap into that market/ whatever business lingo you want to use. And also this: it adds to the optics of the place. It’s the holiest city in the world, wouldn’t you want it to appear beautiful, attractive, and state-of-the-art? Especially in an age where religion is mocked as being “old fashioned”.
Our first dinner in the new Hyatt Regency hotel left me with mixed feelings. But really, what else should I have expected? Our 5-star hotel was right across the street from Masjid Al-Haram (The Sacred Mosque, which houses the Ka’bah—also referred to as “The Haram”), and was one of the newest hotels in the area. It wasn’t so much the luxury that bothered me, since downtown Mecca is about as commercial and high-end as it comes. It was more the service that made me uneasy. Not that it was bad—on the contrary, it was excellent—but I’ve never really been comfortable with the idea of someone waiting on me or serving me or getting my food for me.
There were about 18 people in my group (which I’ll cover in a later entry) and all the men were robed in Ihram. All of us were sitting in a private room at a 5-star hotel, with waiters serving us and pouring our water and taking our plates and bringing us tea. As I mentioned in my entry above, it almost felt ironic: humble garments in a luxurious hotel waited on by servers.
I had anticipated the commercialism of Mecca. One of my friends told me that it was jarring for her to walk out of the Ka’ba and see a McDonald’s across the street. But the more I thought about it, the more it actually made sense to me. Having historically been a trade center, complete with wealth and luxury and all levels of society, it only made sense that the city would modernize with the times
Sheikh Tamir told us that Mecca is divinely protected from many things, including poverty (meaning its economy crashes entirely). In God’s Wisdom, He chose the holiest place on earth to be a hub of trade and economy—even before the time of Prophet Muhammad (p) it was known as a trade city. With the amount of people and the amount of money that flow through Mecca, I can see how God protects it against poverty. In doing so, the city is able to sustain itself, change and grow.