Plans are underway for Saudi Arabia to develop more than 100 historical sites in the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, reported Gulf News yesterday.
An announcement was made on Monday by the Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, during a ceremony in Makkah’s Hira Cultural District.
— وزارة الحج والعمرة (@HajMinistry) September 18, 2023
“The programme of the Guests of the Most Merciful seeks to develop experiences of pilgrims to make it rich and unforgettable in Holy Mecca and Al Medina Al Munawara,” Al-Rabiah said.
Doyof Al Rahman (Guests of the Most Merciful) forms part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, and involves the integration and cooperation of scores of entities in the public, private and non-profit sectors.
“God has blessed our country with a great honor, which is serving the Two Holy Mosques and the Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. Makkah and Madinah have a great history and Muslims are eager to know about it,” the minister added.
He also announced the launch of an online platform for booking tickets to visit historical and cultural sites in Makkah, including the Cave of Hira and the other sites that are to be developed.
Last year, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman launched the second phase of a restoration project aimed at preserving and refurbishing historic mosques across the country. The year before, the initiative saw the renovations of the Jumu’ah and Qiblatain mosques built by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
In previous years, Saudi religious authorities faced criticism from the wider Muslim world over the destruction of most of the ancient Islamic heritage in the country, owing to mosque expansion and development or based on the belief that some of the sites, such as shrines, were a form of idolatry.
According to an article by Time magazine from 2014, “Over 98% of the Kingdom’s historical and religious sites have been destroyed since 1985,” citing the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation in London.
However, there are indications that the religious establishment are lifting some of the restrictions previously in place, in line with Vision2030 and the Crown Prince’s aspirations to return Saudi Arabia to “moderate Islam.”
In June, coinciding with the annual Hajj, Saudi authorities relaxed restrictions on Shia pilgrims visiting the Jannat Al-Baqi cemetery in Madinah, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, to engage in religious prayers and recitation.