Muslims on social media have reacted angrily after Saudi Arabia unveiled plans to build a large cube-shaped structure as part of a re-development project in the capital, Riyadh's city centre.
The controversy stems from the perception that the giant building of the "Mukaab" (or Cube) shares a resemblance of the Kaaba, which is Islam's most sacred site in the Holy City of Makkah. Both terms also share a common root-word in the Arabic language.
A gateway to another world: #TheMukaab will be the world's first immersive, experiential destination. Large enough to hold 20 Empire State Buildings, the global icon will feature innovative technologies to transport you to new worlds.#NewMurabbahttps://t.co/5R4DqQdPyS pic.twitter.com/vr9M8cTI1I
— Public Investment Fund (@PIF_en) February 16, 2023
On Thursday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) announced the launch of the New Murabba Development Company, which aims to develop "the world' largest modern downtown in Riyadh". The project will see the redevelopment of Riyadh's historic Al-Murabba ("The Square") neighbourhood, which was said to be named after a square-shaped well from which the area derived its name. The Murabba Palace that was built outside the former city walls of Old Riyadh by the kingdom's modern-day founder, King Adulaziz was also named after the landmark.
According to Arab News, the New Murabba will include green and pedestrian areas, in addition to a museum, technology and design university, a multipurpose theatre and other entertainment and cultural venues.
Saudi Arabia has announced its newest gigantic megaproject: New Murabba.
The idea? Build the largest "modern downtown" in the world, an entire 19 sq km (1/2 the size of Jersey City) to be developed onto Riyadh.
But you might be wondering: what is that giant cube in the center? pic.twitter.com/TlEJATN0Cd
— Séamus Malekafzali (@Seamus_Malek) February 16, 2023
"The area will host the Mukaab, an iconic landmark that features the latest innovative technologies and will be one of the largest built structures in the world at 400 meters high, 400 meters wide, and 400 meters long to take a cubic shape to ensure ultimate utilization of space," the report added, noting that the cube-shaped building will be inspired by "Najdi architectural style", in reference to Najd, the central Arabian ancestral homeland of the ruling Al-Saud dynasty. The Mukaab will allegedly hold the capacity of 20 buildings the size of New York's Empire State Building and have a giant spiral tower in its centre, to bring about an immersive experience.
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The mega project which is backed by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is part of the wider Vision2030 strategy outlined by MbS, is anticipated to add around $50 billion to the non-oil economy, creating 334,000 direct and indirect jobs by the milestone year, by which it is also expected to be completed.
However, many Muslims on social media received the "positive" news differently, in light of the similarities with the holy Kaaba.
Academic Dr Muhammad Al-Hachimi Al-Hamidi "Is Mohamed bin Salman building his own Kaaba in Riyadh? This is the design he has chosen for his latest project; a new 'Kaaba' of entertainment!!" He also mentioned prophetic narrations relating to the Najd region from which the "horn of Satan" will on day emerge.
Another academic Asad Abu Khalil tweeted: "It appears [the crown prince] is building his Kaaba. Will he enforce it as the new qibla for worshippers?"
يبدو أنه يبني كعبتَه. هل سيفرضها قبلةً جديدة للمصلّين؟ https://t.co/onCAZ7PJYR
— asad abukhalil أسعد أبو خليل (@asadabukhalil) February 16, 2023
While Intercept reporter Murtaza Hussein observed that "Building a new Kaaba exclusively devoted to capitalism is a little too on the nose."
Building a new Kabaa exclusively devoted to capitalism is a little too on the nose. https://t.co/qQtwxoFYdd
— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) February 16, 2023
This point was shared by Managing Director of global risk and intelligence firm, International Interest, Sami Al-Hachimi Al-Hamidi who in a video said the "symbolism is striking" in that the kingdom is essentially relocating its identity "from the Kaaba in Makkah to the Kaaba in Riyadh, from a Kaaba of Islam to a Kaaba to Vision2030". He also suggested that MbS standing onto of the Kaaba back in 2019 was indicative of this move.
"When Bin Salman stood on top of the holy Kaaba in Mecca in 2019, it was almost symbolic of his intention to subjugate the Islamic influences in #SaudiArabia. Today he has embarked on another symbolic challenge in announcing plans to build a new 'Kaaba' of entertainment" pic.twitter.com/lOCH7N3lH2
— Sami Hamdi سامي الهاشمي الحامدي (@SALHACHIMI) February 17, 2023
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However, other social media users notably from Saudi Arabia responded to the criticism. "Why are foreign Muslims so easy to manipulate?" asked one user. "If every cubic shaped building is 'a new kaaba' then you will find millions of kaabas in Riyadh since we have alot of building in a cubic shaped".
Why are foreign Muslims so easy to manipulate? If every cubic shaped building is "a new kaaba" then you will find millions of kabaas in Riyadh since we have alot of building in a cubic shaped(including my house lol) starting from the criminal court & the mosque in malia and more https://t.co/bVtgrJMfDi pic.twitter.com/cWdwfmuBNS
— فرح (@far0h8) February 18, 2023
Another Saudi national accused those deriding the plans as "Saudiphobes" and described the accusations as "preposterous".
It's very telling that a cubed building in Riyadh is sending shockwaves in journalistic spheres, is generating bickering amongst Saudiphobes on social media, and even causing preposterous accusations of a "new Kaaba"!
In any case, we have much more in store 😉🇸🇦
— Saud Salman AlDossary | سعود بن سلمان الدوسري (@999saudsalman) February 18, 2023
Responding specifically to Sami Al-Hachimi's video, user Loay AlShareef made his own video "refuting the lies" surrounding talk of a new Kaaba. He mentioned that "cubical buildings are very known in Arabia". He also defended MbS's policies, and dismissed the notion that the royal is aiming to steer the kingdom away from Islam, rather towards a more "moderate" form of the religion, which the Crown Prince has previously stated.
Is MBS building a new Kaaba in #SaudiArabia ?
Refuting lies with knowledge and facts. pic.twitter.com/3s8QBsyNhN
— Loay Alshareef لؤي الشريف (@lalshareef) February 19, 2023
The latest plans by the Saudi kingdom have proven divisive among the global Muslim community, it follows the futuristic smart city project NEOM, which will include a 170 kilometre-long mega city, The Line. The $500 billion development has also drawn controversy over its lavish cost, the impact on the environment, its feasibility and alleged human rights abuses, including forced displacement of tribes that have taken place during its construction, which is on-going.
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